Marie Mouchet - Teaching the IT Way
Marie Mouchet has no trouble explaining difficult concepts involving her work at Southern Company. After all, she once taught trigonometry to high school students, so she knows all the angles.
After working several years as a teacher in the DeKalb County School System and at a junior college, Mouchet switched gears and joined the business sector. She rose through the ranks to become Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Southern Company Generation and Chief Information Officer for Southern Nuclear and Southern Power.
Mouchet says people often compliment her on her ability to make analytics and technology user-friendly. Being math-oriented in her thought process, a strategy session after a Georgia Public Service Commission meeting was like solving “complex word problems.”
“It goes back to being able to break down very complex topics into manageable terms,” Mouchet says. “If you’re teaching in a classroom, you have to watch the response and see if people are following you. I watch the body language. I’ll watch the recognition, or I can tell if their eyes are glazed over and they don’t want to listen anymore.”
She has plenty to talk about these days while leading the development and implementation of IT strategy and operations across the generation business, which includes fossil, hydro and nuclear generating plants. Mouchet’s team also provides IT support for fuel services for the plants, new plant acquisitions – which is an interesting twist for IT -- new nuclear plant developments, a real-time trading floor and the engineering and construction organization.
The first new nuclear units in the United States in three decades are being built at the Vogtle Electric Generating Plant near Augusta, Ga. There are two units there already, Vogtle 1 and 2. Vogtle Units 3 and 4 will go into service in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
As Vogtle 3 and 4 are being built to provide clean, efficient and cost-effective energy, Mouchet’s team must make sure all of the IT and telecomm needs are met. “They have to have computers, communications, telephones, cell phones and radios and they have to interface with the contractors that are on site,” she says. “We’re now having to really think differently about how do you integrate the technology on a construction site and how do you ensure security on a nuclear site?”
Mouchet has come full circle since one of her first jobs under the Southern Company umbrella, when she developed exhibits for a Vogtle Unit 1 and 2 rate case for Georgia Power.
A Math Whiz
Although she always had the background to work in the IT field, it took her a while to get there. Mouchet earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in mathematics education from Georgia State University, but no one told her she was taking as many math classes as any engineer. “At the time women weren’t necessarily coaxed or guided into engineering, so a lot of us were teachers or nurses,” she says, adding, “I loved teaching and I still do.”
She taught at Dunwoody High School – also coaching state championship-winning swim teams -- and as an adjunct faculty at DeKalb Junior College. But as a single parent at that time, it made better financial sense to go corporate, so Mouchet joined Southern Company in 1981 as an assistant analyst.
Mouchet figured the opportunities for advancement were better in business and she gradually moved up in the analyst family. She worked on a big systems effort, in which she was the translator between the people who were going to use the new computer system – a mainframe system that has since been retired -- and those developing it. That was her first experience with IT.
“My job was to develop all the tests for the system,” Mouchet says. “And there were about 125 applications that had to be tested.”
The process involved learning the art of ratemaking and how to file rate cases. “Come to find out that’s one of the most fundamental business process in our company because we’re a regulated utility,” she says.
That knowledge served Mouchet well in subsequent jobs.
She went into rate design, supporting the rates and regulatory affairs groups for the operating companies. Although Mouchet worked with others, she was an individual contributor and “had to deliver results and was held accountable for my analysis.”
At that time, instead of having personal computers on their desks, employees had to go to a special room to work on a computer. Because work papers still had to be initialed and dated, “they could always trace back if you had made a mistake,” Mouchet says. “The math came in handy.”
Intelligence Work and Customer Satisfaction
From that opportunity, Mouchet went into management. She was the first manager of regulatory research, and then became manager of market intelligence at Southern Company Services.
“Some people may call it competitive intelligence,” she says. “It was to keep up with what other utilities were doing.”
Her team also supported marketing and economic development and performed customer research.
In 1990, the team proposed that Southern Company measure customer satisfaction. To this day the company ranks in the top three or four in the electric utility industry.
Later that year when Mouchet returned from maternity leave, she became the assistant to the vice president of public relations for Southern Company. She worked on the annual report -- which focused on shareholders and analysts -- and was instrumental in the United Way campaign.
“It was one of the first times I was able to represent the company externally,” Mouchet says. “I thoroughly enjoyed that.”
She also got to use her problem-solving skills helping Southern Company and Georgia Power figure out how to complement each other in community service while being in the same city.
Her next job took her to Georgia Power as a senior regulatory affairs representative, where she was a member of a three-person team and lobbied at the Georgia Public Service Commission.
Mouchet then moved to Georgia Power’s first experience with electric transportation. The company negotiated to make transportation at the 1996 Olympic Village totally electric to keep down emissions.
From there, she became manager of commercial marketing for Georgia Power. At that time Southern Company was looking at the future of retail competition and consolidated all of the national account marketing functions. Mouchet became the first Manager of the Southern Company consolidated national accounts organization.
Like the electric transportation, this had never been done before, but that didn’t stop Mouchet.
A Change Agent
“I’m not afraid to tackle things that have never been done,” she says. “I do like new and different. People call me a change agent sometimes.”
Mouchet acknowledges that she can’t facilitate change strictly by herself, but with her attitude, endurance and perseverance, she can bring others along.
“Yes, we made some mistakes and we had some stumbling blocks,” she says, “but the third or fourth year, you know how well you’re doing when your customers respond to you in a positive way.”
Her team was recognized by Edison Electric Institute as one of the Top 3 national account programs in the country, and Southern Company has sustained that level all but one year since then.
“It’s pretty exciting when you get that recognition and it becomes a team recognition,” Mouchet says, “and you know that you had a lot to do with selecting the right people and helping guide the development of the strategy, helping create that vision and implementing something that everybody can be proud of and is lasting.”
Generating a New Role
In 2000, she joined Generation, the core business of the company. This role gave her a chance to learn about a new area: financial and contract services. Southern Company was forming a new company -- now Southern Power -- and that was a conduit for Mouchet to become reacquainted with IT.
“In order to develop this side of the business, we were signing contracts with 3rd parties for wholesale power and then we had to bill our wholesale customers,” Mouchet says.
Because the wholesale business was growing quickly, they needed to collect a lot of data and guarantee its accuracy. “We were also doing the financials for the new company and that was very much system-oriented,” she says.
Mouchet’s team was one of the biggest customers of IT from a wholesale perspective and had dedicated IT people to help them.
When the CIO for Generation who supported that part of the business retired, Mouchet took over the job. Her role eventually expanded from just fossil and hydro to include nuclear. She now oversees a team of about 170 people, plus contractors.
In perhaps a unique IT twist, Mouchet’s team plays a major role for plant acquisitions, integrating the newly acquired plants with all of the systems and communications to become part of Southern Company’s generating fleet.
Southern Company’s generation business has 77 electric generating plants across the 120,000-square mile footprint in the Southeast, plus some plants outside that area.
Southern Power is a growing competitive generation business with approximately 6,700 megawatts of generating capacity in commercial operation serving the wholesale market. Southern Nuclear operates three nuclear plants, two in Georgia and one in Alabama.
In 2004, Mouchet was one of 14 women worldwide chosen by the International Women’s Forum to participate in the Leadership Foundation Program, an internationally acclaimed training and executive development program.
In 2007, Mouchet was named Woman of the Year in Technology by the Atlanta-based Women in Technology organization. She was also named 2007 Woman of Excellence by Business to Business Magazine.
She was also selected as one of Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders for 2009.
Mouchet commutes between bases in Atlanta, where her family lives, and Birmingham, where she has her main office.
The constant activity and rapidly changing technology are a great fit for what she likes, Mouchet says, but she hasn’t forgotten her roots.
043061“I still have a passion for teaching, and I do a lot of that even in the corporate world in terms of developing people,” she says. “Teaching is something that I think you can still do, no matter what job you have. Who knows? One day I may go back to the classroom after I retire and say, ‘Here’s what you can do with this stuff.’”
Secrets to Success
- Be a person of integrity. Your character will have a direct impact on how far you go.
- Deliver Results. As an individual contributor, you have to deliver quality results, be positive, practice teamwork and not be afraid to ask questions.
- Once you get into management, the challenge is you still are held accountable for your results, but through others. Surround yourself with very talented people. I love developing people; that goes back to my teaching. I love coaching and I love identifying good talent. That’s putting the right people in the right jobs where they’re happy and where they make the most contribution.
- Build relationships and network. We’re a very relationship-oriented company and it has served me well that a lot of the relationships I built when I was coming up are with some of the same leaders that you see in executive positions today. They know they can count on me and depend on me to help them be successful.
- Be a continuous learner. Everywhere I’ve been, I didn’t know that area, but I had skills that I had to take advantage of and learn how to use them and apply them.
- Do what you enjoy, enjoy what you do, and have fun along the way.
Mouchet Mouchet is Vice President and Chief Information Officer for Southern Company Generation and Chief Information Officer for Southern Nuclear and Southern Power. Atlanta Trend expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Mouchet Mouchet for sharing her thoughts with us.
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