Challenging Herself to Succeed: Jana’s Career Journey

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Society of Women Engineers Member Jana Gerber uses her fearlessness and problem-solving abilities to take on new challenges and build a career path that’s uniquely her own.

This post originally appeared on the SWE All Together Blog.

As North American Microgrid President for Schneider Electric, I oversee a team of 20 direct reports working with hundreds of others across the region and the globe. A microgrid is a solution consisting of software, systems, and products that support customers in their sustainability and resiliency journeys. My team is responsible for the go-to-market strategies and delivery of these complex electrical systems, and I couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity.

Furthermore, I feel like I’m taking on this challenge at precisely the right time. More and more, extreme weather events are leading to highly disruptive blackouts. At the same time, increasing energy costs and the push for electric vehicles are making power grid efficiency and resiliency paramount. Leading the microgrids strategy at Schneider Electric directly addresses these critical challenges, digitizing energy and making it more dynamic. It’s great to be a part of that and to create a pathway for other female engineers and team members to see the opportunities in the microgrid industry.

My story started with the fundamentals that I learned through my engineering education. I loved architecture and buildings in high school, which eventually led to a civil engineering degree from Washington State University. From there, my natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge helped me create a unique path and discover my real strengths with career moves every few years. Over the last two decades, I’ve taken on roles focused on engineering, marketing, management, strategy, sales, and more. In fact, I think my journey exemplifies what makes engineering today so exciting – it’s built with highly transferable skills!

Creating my path right out of college

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My first job out of college was as a structural engineer with a firm in Seattle. I worked with wonderful mentors on some fantastic projects. But after a couple of years, I realized that as much as I liked the work environment, I wanted more customer engagement, so I started exploring roles in marketing and business development. As a result, I found a position in business development at a mechanical engineering firm. I thought to myself, “This is great. Now that I know more about how a building stands up, I can learn how it works from the inside out.”

As part of the marketing department, I was exposed to all aspects of the business. This included performance contracting, which involved working on energy efficiency and savings for public sector customers. This business area interested Schneider Electric and led to their purchase of the company in 2004. It was an exciting time as I began my 20-year Schneider Electric career working on the due diligence process and learning more about business.

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A move that would expand my understanding of the business

After four years, an opportunity to be the Director of Marketing and Business Development became available with the Digital Building business unit, offering building technology that supports building management and security systems. So, my husband and I packed up and moved from Seattle to Dallas. My role included developing and maintaining offers and value propositions for building segments, including healthcare, retail, hotels, and commercial real estate. This enabled me to use engineering solutions to solve practical problems externally across a variety of customers and building types and internally with multiple stakeholders and business units.

Another turning point, another opportunity to work with end-users

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I spent five years as part of the marketing team, which has been one of my longest tenures. During that time, I had two children. As I tried to successfully manage motherhood while also strengthening my confidence in my unique career growth, I kept coming back to the word HARMONY. The definition of harmony is “the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole,” which I find very fitting since that feeling of “wholeness” can be very specific for each individual, family, and career situation. What worked for us and the factors in our life, I believe, can be very different for others.

I was again looking for my next step when Schneider announced they were building a Solution Center focused on bringing more value to customers. I thought, “I can do that – I want to work closely with sales and our customers to develop our technical and commercial offers.” So, I jumped in as Opportunity Portfolio Manager.

In this role, I built a team and our success from scratch. This meant facilitating cross-business leadership. And for me, it all tied back to engineering and problem solving — bringing parts and pieces together. I loved the challenge of uniting leadership to evaluate some of our larger projects, asking the tough questions, “Are we spending our time in the right places? Do we have the right relationships? Do we have the right technical solutions? Should we move forward in the required investment to ensure our best winning chance?”

Charting my path in sales

After years of coaching others to be confident about taking the leap into new areas like sales, it was time for me to take my own advice. With plenty of marketing experience in lead generation, building relationships, and qualifying opportunities, I felt ready to accept a position as Strategic Account Director. The move expanded my previous role to lead full-selling-phase activities. This meant more travel and opportunities to interact with people outside my organization. It also led to another job change two years later to Healthcare Segment Director.

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I led the national healthcare strategy in this position, taking on projects like the Penn Medicine pavilion, a 1.5 million square foot job with a new hospital tower. This project was very successful and got a tremendous amount of attention because the client adopted construction methodologies that were totally outside traditional approaches and used integrated project delivery and lean construction concepts. These were strategies I knew well from my engineering training.

As part of the core team, we constantly asked, “How do we eliminate waste? How do we bring value?” That required a whole new level of collaboration. The project created a space where everyone involved collocated into a shared space. This included the mechanical, electrical, general contractors, and design engineers who met daily to find new ways to innovate. The focus was to achieve the customer’s goal of creating an entirely new patient experience that felt more like a hotel than a hospital. This included giving patients a sense of control with capabilities like a remote window blind, smart temperature control, and digital whiteboards – all at a time when they often feel very out of control.

Leveraging my experience to help our largest customers

Shortly after, I was asked to take on leadership for all building segments. I happily accepted. It was exciting to have responsibility for some of our largest customers in healthcare, real estate, hospitality, and aviation. I would get the chance to take the things we did so well in healthcare and apply them across building segments and other key accounts. I knew the value of being able to apply my knowledge to other segments. Now I had to think about industrializing that knowledge and making it more repeatable and scalable. One of the first things the team did was recreate the innovation used at Penn Med in an Executive Briefing Center in Saint Louis, so we could showcase it to other customers.

Two years later, we were expanding our sustainability consulting business. Once again, I was at a place where I was asking, What’s next? How do I keep growing? Over the years, I realized how important it is to keep asking questions in my career. Ultimately, they led to my next role as Sustainability Consulting Principal. Looking back, I came full circle because I started my career in performance contracting, which is part of our sustainability business, and then came back to it in a more strategic capacity. Now I would need to think more broadly about how to help customers formulate climate change strategies and implement them to drive sustainability into their assets. It was a lot more comprehensive than simply looking at greenhouse gas emissions.

After about 20 years in my career, I was still learning a lot about sustainability scope and connecting across the aisle to find new solutions.

It was about this time that I realized that my responsibility had grown after years of building my career and helping manage and lead others. I knew that as much as I enjoyed supporting individuals and teams, I also needed to focus on helping grow the entire sustainability ecosystem. This included finding ways to show leadership inside and outside my company. These days, that also means being involved in organizations like the American Heart Association and The Association of Medical Facility Professionals. It’s about not only helping others in your career but also in your community. I’ve learned that it is important to volunteer and explore activities outside of work to achieve more balance.

A lifelong learner excited for what’s next

So, where am I now? I’m again taking on a new challenge as North American Microgrid President. It’s an exciting time as we work to tackle climate change and find innovative, sustainable, and resilient ways to build a new energy landscape. As a lifelong learner, I’m eager to think creatively to solve, How do we help our customers? How do we make organizations more resilient and sustainable? I also look forward to encouraging other female engineers to challenge themselves with non-traditional career paths that give them a wider lens on the business. It’s so important to keep learning, keep looking for the next opportunity to go on a site visit, talk to someone new, or pursue a new position. Each career move is another piece in the larger puzzle, another reason to be excited about what’s next.

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About the Author

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Jana Gerber is President, Microgrids, North America for Schneider Electric. In addition to being a member of the Society of Women Engineers, she serves as a Board Member for the Association of Medical Facility Professionals North Texas Chapter. She is a Go Red Executive Leadership Team and Circle of Red Member for the Dallas Chapter of the American Heart Association.

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