On the Business of Energy:
Jean M. LaVecchia '81 MBA rewrites the rules to the triple bottom line
For Jean M. LaVecchia, Vice President of Human Resources at Northeast Utilities,
life can be mysterious – and hopeful.
From math to human resources, man-hole covers to energy grids, Millstone to ethics reform - LaVecchia has led the charge -bringing about changes in industry and education that affect not only how we live
and learn, but how we interact with each
other and the environment. Speaking to a group of over 200 MBA students and
alumni, LaVecchia retraced her career
and the challenges that she has faced.
Graduating in 1973 summa cum laude from Connecticut College with a degree in mathematics, she began her career in the Bell Telephone system as an economic engineer for Southern New England Telephone. Luckily, her managers stressed the importance of education – providing opportunities for internal and external development. So, when she had the opportunity to enroll in UConn's Full-Time MBA Program in 1980, she jumped at the chance.
"I would drive from New Haven to Hartford each day to attend classes – and it has provided me with opportunities I never would have had… Earning an MBA degree demonstrates your own commitment to learning and investment in your own career," notes LaVecchia who graduated from the UConn Program in 1981 and resumed her career at SNET.
Notwithstanding the recession of the early 1980's, LaVecchia was able to advance within SNET – becoming Assistant Treasurer in charge of 401(k) plans, financial planning and analysis and soon thereafter, being appointed Vice President for Retail Marketing. Yet, through a series of "quirks and wonderful opportunities," she found herself transitioning from finance to human resources.
It began in the late 1980's – a challenging time for SNET as labor strikes over benefits threatened to halt service. With an agreement reached, the organization underwent internal changes at the executive management level – creating more opportunities in Human Resources that would bring the focus back on talent development. For LaVecchia, it was an opportunity to blend her analytical and strategic capabilities with people – and she was a shoo-in for the role of Senior Vice President of Organizational Development. Leveraging her ability to analyze issues, she realized that the jump from finance to human resources wasn't as vast as she originally believed.
And she was off. During deregulation of the telecom industry, LaVecchia led the restructuring of SNET into wholesale and retail operations and developed a multi-year strategic change management process focusing on leadership and organizational adaptability. She later left her 24-year career at SNET to accept an opportunity at People's Bank in 1998 – becoming Executive Vice President of Corporate Services directing the bank's strategic planning and overseeing its human resources functions. But, while the corporate environment was undergoing dramatic changes brought on by the dotcom era and a hyper-competitive global market, LaVecchia was undergoing a change management process herself – and took on quite possibly her most challenging (and gratifying) career move.
LaVecchia left People's Bank in 1999 to join Northeast Utilities – reeling after the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant crisis. Memorialized on the cover of TIME magazine – the media castigated Northeast Utilities, challenging them to upgrade their safety initiatives and punish those managers who chose retaliation against employees for reporting safety violations. By chronicling the plight of whistleblowers who went outside the company to tell their story because senior managers wouldn't listen, Northeast Utilities found itself in an ethical quandary.
"We learned the hard way; and many companies and leaders are still learning the hard way…"offers LaVecchia who now serves as Vice President of Human Resources and the organization's Chief Ethics Officer. "Ethics and leadership build the heart of the company – and human resources fills a necessary role in informing and educating employees. But it takes great leaders to ensure a pervasive culture of ethics – and great leaders are role models who always do the right thing.
Ethics is now a top priority for the company and our leaders course-correct when necessary, even if they need to eat humble pie. My mother always told me that 'if it's too good to be true, it is', so when you see something wrong, you've got to be proactive, courageous, speak up, and not just go along with the crowd. Could-a, should-a, would-a never helped anyone."
Motivated by the spirit of service, LaVecchia has been the chief promoter of doing the right thing – and promoting "doing the right thing" as a core corporate value. "We need to know that when we move, we're moving in the right direction; and it benefits everybody," offers LaVecchia who now evaluates opportunities on the basis of their economic, environmental and social impacts.
Of course, infusing a culture with innovation can be a bit "like turning the Queen Mary" admits LaVecchia. "These days are much more exciting as this industry is on the leading edge of change; but we've met the innovation challenge head-on. We found that we had to infuse new talent into the organization and hire those who have more strategic planning skills and know how to react quickly. We need people who have experienced the pace of change. There are tremendous opportunities advancing through the stimulus package to upgrade our network – to automate it so that it is self-diagnosing and self-healing."
LaVecchia also praised the expertise of UConn students. "UConn is our premier school. We recruit heavily at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In fact, over 400 NU employees are UConn graduates and this past summer, we hosted 120 interns."
UConn's graduate and undergraduate degrees boast a robust curriculum that incorporates experiential learning, so students now have the advantage of working in cross-curriculum-based teams. "To the extent you can work in teams, learn from each other and faculty, test assumptions and models, probe for better information, better understand the interdependent role of regulation and government, network, and build your team and communication skills - it will be very helpful to you in your careers," she noted.
In offering advice to students, LaVecchia added "Consider, more broadly, what you want to do – and as you go through your program, explore other fields… As one of my management professors told me, do not seek a career or positions because you want to be it – seek it because you want to do it. 'Being' is one thing, but finding your passion is ever more important. "
Jean M. LaVecchia is vice president - Human Resources and Ethics Officer for the Northeast Utilities system (NU). She is a member of the Senior Management Committee responsible for all aspects of human resources, including workforce planning and development, ethics and safety.
A native of Connecticut, LaVecchia joined NU in November of 1999. She has more than 25 years in the telecommunications and banking industries at People's Bank and Southern New England Telecom Corporation (SNET, now AT&T) where she has played integral management roles in strategic planning, human resources and organization development, communications, marketing and auditing.
LaVecchia is a member of the Board of Governors for Higher Education and a member of the board of advisors of the University of Connecticut's School of Business. LaVecchia graduated from Connecticut College summa cum laude in 1973 with a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics. She received her MBA degree in Finance from the University of Connecticut in 1980. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Societies.