Michele Harradence on Embracing Challenge

Michelle Harradence GRIT Award Winner profile on Experience Energy

Energy role models

Michele Harradence, Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer for Enbridge’s Gas Transmission and Midstream business unit, said it was her maternal grandfather, Adrien J. Cormier, who helped pave the way for her career. Her grandfather, who was of Acadian descent and from the East Coast of Canada, was a lawyer and eventually Chief Justice of the trial division in New Brunswick, during a time when many Acadians lived a more modest life.

The past influences our future

Michele’s grandfather was considered the “smart one” in the family and was sent off to school at age 12. This was an exceptional feat, Michele explains, in that the Acadians, although allowed to return after the Grand Deportation (which “resulted in many of our relatives settling as the ‘Cajuns’ of Louisiana”), lived very much in poverty.

To better life for future Acadians, in the early 1960s, working with other leaders in New Brunswick, her grandfather decided the only way to lift the Acadians out of poverty was to ensure they had access to post-secondary education in the French language. Together, these leaders created the Universite de Moncton. The law school – the only French speaking common-law law school in the world – bears his name.

After first earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Queen’s University in Ontario, Michele would follow her grandfather’s path and earn an LLB, Law from the University of New Brunswick.

Finding the strength within

Michele’s greatest career challenge has come from within. “Taking that leap of faith to make such significant moves in my career, including leaving a strong career path at a major integrated oil and gas company to try out something very different with a midstream company was very challenging.”

Michele has held roles in various organizations such as law, engineering, and also projects and operations. 

“I continuously challenge myself to stay confident, to look around me and recognize that in fact, I have strengths that I bring to the table, and to have faith that I can demonstrate them through my actions and results."

Like many women, Michele admits that she can be her harshest critic. “I am fortunate to have many people in my life providing me with support, and at the end of the day, I have had to ensure I build that strength internally as well.”

Heeding the voice within

Michele’s confidence is important not only for her own well-being, but also for that of the people in her organization. She remembers in one of her first leadership roles, she had concerns early on regarding the [new to her] organization’s safety culture.

“Rather than listen to that concern, I deferred to people who were more experienced than me and in the end, we had a poor year in terms of our safety performance. I have not forgiven myself for not trusting my instincts.”

It was a difficult, but valuable lesson. “Things changed rapidly after that, both in terms of our safety expectations and in terms of me learning to ‘trust my gut,’ especially when it comes to the safety of our people.”

Leaving the world a better place

That care and concerns extends to the people she encounters outside of the workplace, as well, with a particular focus on the United Way. “I ran the Shell Canada campaign in Calgary in 2011 and have been a Leader in Canada and [now] a de Tocqueville member in Houston.”

Thinking back to her grandfather, Michele says,

“He truly embodied the value of leaving the world better than you find it and that is something I strive for in everything I do.”

Michele Harradence is a past GRIT Award winner and Senior Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, Gas Transmission & Midstream with Enbridge

Michelle Harradence GRIT Award Winner profile on Experience Energy

Coming soon... GRIT 2020

GRIT 2020 nominations will open in March with more details released at Energy 2.0. Get ready to recognize the difference makers in energy!

Nominations for the 2020 GRIT Awards presented by Experience Energy open in March.

Maitri Erwin on discovering her talents

Maitri Erwin GRIT Award Winner from Experience Energy

Introducing Maitri Erwin

GRIT Awards℠ winner Maitri Erwin is a talented geosciences and technology teams leader who has worked for some of the biggest names in the energy business. As a graduate student, she carried out summer assignments at BP America and Mobil Technology. After earning her second master’s degree, she began working for Shell Exploration & Production, contributing her skills as a geophysicist to several upstream projects in the Gulf of Mexico. She is now Manager of Global Exploration New Ventures Latin America at CNOOC International where she worked her way up from exploration geophysicist to technical team leader to her current position as the technical and administrative leader of a team that was formed to pave the company’s way into Latin America and the Caribbean.

But Maitri’s perspective isn’t limited to her experience with major corporations. She also spent two years as director of technology for Technigraphics, an independent geospatial engineering company.

Meanwhile, she’s also an active member of professional associations. She serves on the board of the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Foundation, was first vice president of the Geophysical Society of Houston, and is a founding member and former chair of Women’s Network division of the Society of Exploration Geologists (SEG). Additionally, she gives generously of her time to the University of Wisconsin, where she earned two graduate degrees, acting as a senior advisor to the Department of Geosciences’ Board of Visitors.

Maitri is a leader – not just because of her credentials and qualifications, but also because of her ability to make the most of her own innate qualities. She describes herself as “an unabashed extrovert” and says one of her chief joys is fostering the talent of young co-workers.

“I love people and helping them realize and bring out their best possible selves. Be it at work or in my committed involvement with the Society of Exploration Geophysicists Women’s Network and Geophysical Society of Houston, it is so rewarding to watch a young professional discover their abilities, take the baton that was passed to them, and run with it. There is no greater feeling than knowing you contributed to someone else’s success.

Maitri’s emphasis on empathy, enthusiasm, and empowerment serve her well in her current position where she leads the technical team tasked with evaluating exploration opportunities in Latin America, while also serving as the representative of CNOOC’s Global Exploration group in Houston. When she first took the position, she said, she had to build her new unit from the ground up while also securing the trust of every member.

“At the time, the infrastructure for such a team did not exist, and I was faced with creating from scratch technical and administrative work plans, and budgets. A complicating factor was being a younger woman of color in a new managerial role, which brought with it the added work of having to establish my ability and authority at almost every turn. Professional persistence, genuine care for my team and the support and trust from my own leaders was how I overcame it — and still do on a regular basis.”

She also said that taking a wrong turn on the career track had helped her realize the full extent of her skills – not just as a scientist, but as a manager. “Six years into my career, I briefly stepped away from the world of oil and gas to live closer to my family and to try my hand at research and business development for a small geospatial engineering company,” she explained.

“While I soon discovered that the job was not a fit for my skills and personality, the variety of business opportunities that I managed revealed that I am not just a scientist, but one with commercial and managerial aptitude. Returning to the oil and gas industry soon after, I was essentially reinvented, with a renewed sense of purpose and fresh career goals and aspirations.

We look forward to hearing more about Maitri as she moves ahead with her career. She’s not just pushing CNOOC International forward, but also nurturing the next generation of GRIT Award winners!

Grit award winner Maitri Erwin on Experience Energy

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Kara Byrne on chalking up wins and discovering true passions

Kara Byrne GRIT Award winner profile on Experience Energy

Introducing Kara Byrne

Kara Byrne is Americas Commercial Leader for Control Valves at Baker Hughes, a GE Company (BHGE), one of the biggest oilfield service companies in the world and she’s got GRIT.

Kara has spent more than a decade living and working in Houston, but she hails from Wisconsin. She earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and she developed her talent for fundraising in her home state where she began volunteering for United Way, Junior Achievement, and Habitat for Humanity.

Since her move to Houston, she has remained very busy – and not just at BHGE, serving for the last 13 years as a commercial manager, setting up teams to bid for major equipment contracts. She’s also an active member of the Houston chapter of the Women’s Energy Network (WEN) and began serving as the chapter’s President in 2018.

Unmatched tenacity

Kara’s track record at BHGE is replete with evidence of her grit and determination. She told us that her achievements owed much to her skills in team-building.

“I have been a very successful project manager of indirect reports, securing strategic projects for the past 12 years with a very high win rate in a very tough market,” she said. “Customers, colleagues, and BHGE leadership can depend on me to tackle a difficult project with tenacity and put together a team to win a project and deliver results – inclusive of securing many firsts for the company, such as many mega LNG contracts and other projects in a very risk-averse market.”

She also stressed, though, that her successes could not be measured in major contract awards alone. “My toughest challenge has been getting out of my comfort zone, moving past the self-imposed barriers of being an extremely successful individual contributor for my company and becoming an inspirational people leader,” she said. But she found a powerful reason to confront that challenge after suffering a personal setback: the destruction of her home in Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

Changing focus

Kara says that rebuilding her home after Harvey helped her realize that she was ready to change her focus. “I found it difficult to stay motivated by individual project successes. That, coupled with the personal setback – I realized I was stuck in my professional growth. I had to look deep within myself to understand what my passion was and was shocked when it wasn’t the winning of highly visible projects, nor the individual recognition,” she said.

Instead, she realized that she wanted to cultivate more human connections. “My passion is truly helping and motivating others to live up to their full potential,” she said. Kara found a way to translate that insight into action through her involvement in WEN, especially after she became the president of the organization’s Houston chapter in 2018.

“The 2018 board was very new, so [we] had an uphill challenge of learning our brand, our vision, our mission, and our sponsors’ needs. However, in the first half of 2018, I was able to bring the board quickly together as a team, and we were able to sell out of all the first five months of WEN Houston events, engage three times as many partners, and re-invigorate the executive events to have all time attendance records,” she said. “Seeing the growth of each individual on the WEN Houston board brought me immense pride in their achievements and provided each board member with such confidence that I knew I had to continue to help others to achieve similar success.”

Kara starts a new chapter

These achievements helped Kara start a new chapter in her career at BHGE. “After three years of knowing I had to make a change and give up some of the prestige and high visibility of my current role, I was able not only to identify my passion but also push through a very difficult personal setback with being displaced from our house while rebuilding from Harvey,” she stated.

“I am now in the process of transitioning from an individual contributor to a people leader role within BHGE and will put my tenacity into helping others achieve the level of personal and career success [that] others have helped me to realize.”

That’s a true display of GRIT that Kara Byrne will no doubt carry into every chapter of her energy story.  

Kara Byrne GRIT Award winner on Experience Energy

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Rebecca Hofmann: Be A Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself 

Rebecca Hofmann GRIT Award winner profile on Experience Energy

Equinor is an international energy company with a proud history. Formerly Statoil, it develops oil, gas, wind, and solar energy in more than 30 countries worldwide. The company is dedicated to safety, equality, and sustainability building a global business based on its values and the energy needs of the future.

Rebecca Hofmann’s 18 years of experience in the oil and gas industry (including the last eight with Equinor) coupled with her willingness to focus on making positive change within the industry, have culminated in her current role as Founder & Chairman of the OOC Oil & Gas Blockchain Consortium.

The energy industry has faced its own challenges in the last few years and this has necessitated a workforce that is willing to embrace transformational change, something Rebecca says most people resist. To effectively bring about change, she says,

“It needs to come from the very top of an organization and be adopted culturally. 

She encountered that resistance when she began exploring the emerging technology, Blockchainwhich can be used to establish a common digital ledger, and what it could do for the oil and gas industry and, specifically, Equinor. While she is captivated by the potential Blockchain holds, it has been a challenge to be at the forefront of this emerging technology when the people around her may not always have appreciated her vision. 

“There was a lot of opposition and it made me doubt myself sometimes, Rebecca admits, but the words of her mentor, retired engineer Mark Schaaf, kept coming to her.  

“If I went to him with a challenge, I always got the same answers, ‘So what?’ or ‘Does it really matter?’ It was very frustrating at first, but I finally understood the point. Change and challenges are a part of everyday life, so [we have to] stop focusing on the change and the challenges [themselves], and focus on what [we] can do instead. Even though he is enjoying retirement overlooking a lake in Tennessee, his words are forever in my head when change and challenges come my way. 

By continuously learning and constantly communicating the potential and possibilities of how this emerging technology could add value not just to the company, but to the industry as a whole, Rebecca ultimately found gratification in people’s reactions when “they finally got it and became advocates. 

Taking an idea, starting an industry-led forum, and watching it grow over the year to an average of 100 people representing 80 companies – this culminated into her starting a separate consortium of 10 energy operators all working together to develop value-added digital solutions for the energy industry – this has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her career. 

When Rebecca says, There is a lot of excitement when you are part of something bigger than yourself on an industry [and] world level,” she could just as easily be referring to her work as Director of the Advisory Board of Pathways for Little Feet, whicgives interest-free loans to help families with the adoption process, as she is to bringing the value of emerging technology to Equinor. 

Rebecca Hoffman GRIT Award winner profile on Experience Energy

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This is Life: Living Beyond Blindness

Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the 2019 Experience Energy GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

Who is Mike Royal?

He holds six (totally blind) world records, among others, in water skiing.

He won a bronze medal in the downhill at the 1996 Chevy Truck Disabled Alpine Ski Championships.

He ran in the 1993 Boston marathon, where he finished third in the visually impaired category, and in the 1998 NYC marathon.

Don’t call him the Super Blind Guy. He’s just a regular guy (albeit a gifted athletic one) who happens to be blind.

Losing his sight

Blindness is part of who I am, not all of who I am,” says Mike Royal, Director, IT Audit at Occidental, who was born with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder, although he was the first in his family to have it. Despite experiencing a noticeable loss of vision by the age of five, he obtained his driver’s license at 16. With his trademark dry humor, he says he eventually gave it up “for the betterment of pedestrians everywhere.”

At 18, he was declared legally blind, although the diagnosis was something he struggled to come to terms with. In college, while earning a Bachelor of Science in Accounting & Management Information Systems from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and later an MBA, he was still hiding his blindness and compensating for it.

Coming out of the “blind closet”

Because of the nature of retinitis pigmentosa, which is characterized by loss of peripheral vision, Mike still had nearly 20/20 central-sight and says, “What I could see, I saw well; it was the things I couldn’t see that got me!” Finally, he says with self-deprecating humor, he came out of the “blind closet,” so to speak. In May 1993, he got his first seeing-eye dog and says it was the best thing he ever did for himself. Unlike the folding cane he had used for years, he couldn’t hide a 65-lb. Lab in his backpack!

Leveraging technology

Mike, who has been employed in the oil and gas industry for 25 years, doesn’t read braille. Instead, he uses Job Access With Speech (JAWS) technology, which speed-reads what’s on the computer screen, an iPhone with built-in Voice Over accessibility, as well as Smart Glasses combined with a virtual assistant at Aira. His advice to those with disabilities holds true for all employees as we move into a more digital world – “Make sure you leverage technology to your greatest advantage.

However, Mike says, despite technological advances, the unemployment rate among the blind community stands at 70%, just as it has since the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted in 1990. Mike has never had a blind colleague and certainly knows what it’s like to be in the minority. “I’m usually the only one in the room with a dog,” he says without irony.

Taking action on inclusion

Last year, Mike attended HERWorld2018 with nine of his female colleagues and noticed only about 10% of attendees were men. He left thinking, “Are you kidding?” and resolved to be a better advocate for women and those with different abilities in the industry. In mid-2018, he became a member of Anadarko’s Diversity & Inclusion Steering Committee (DISC) in order to have a bigger platform. He says he has spent the last year or so trying to smooth out “the rough edges.”


“I’m trying to listen better and consider how my actions affect others.”


Challenging himself

Royal’s attendance at HERWorld2018 motivated him to “challenge myself” and sign on as a judge for the GRIT Awards, which he says “is not something I would have done in the past.” In all that he does, Mike is guided by the words of his stepfather, who used to run 70 – 80 miles with him to train for marathons, and whom he considers his mentor.


“He told me, ‘This is life. This is not how you need to do it because you’re blind.’”


Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the
Experience Energy™ 2019 GRIT Awards℠  and the Best Energy Workplaces℠.
Reserve your table or become a sponsor today and learn more about Mike at www.mikeroyal.com.


Mike Royal is a judge and speaker for the 2019 GRIT Awards and Best Energy Workplaces

The GRIT Gets Going

GRIT award winner Cherie Fuller

We’ve all found ourselves in Cherie Fuller’s shoes. Passionate about our job and company, and envisioning a better way to achieve greater business impact. Do we take a risk, do our homework, plot a new course, get going, and pitch it to leadership? Or, do we think up a great plan, but only play out the presentation in our head? Or, even worse, do we just say “oh well?”

The Source of Cherie’s GRIT – A “Let’s GO” Approach

“When others say ‘oh well’, Cherie says ‘let’s go’.”  Cherie Fuller’s let’s go approach is what led to her nomination for Experience Energy’s GRIT Awards.  At a fundamental level, that’s what makes her different and gives her grit, according to her EDF Trading North America nominator.

A 20-year veteran of the wholesale and retail energy industry, Cherie’s growth trajectory from being an assistant at Dynegy to a Vice President at EDF Energy Services is directly tied to her ability to take a step back during a time of stress or conflict and take a strategic view of her role, the organization, and the world around her.  That, in a nutshell, is what makes Cherie Fuller gritty.

Cherie is a connector and communicator.

Asked what the most rewarding part of her career has been, Cherie says “hands down” it’s the people she’s worked with and the relationships she has made.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with incredibly smart, dynamic, team-focused problem solvers and it’s been fantastic. I strive to embody the best “bits” of those peers who have shaped me along the way. 

It is Cherie’s ability to get her point across, build trust and forge relationships that helped earn her a GRIT Award nomination.

She excels at connection.  From connecting the dots to solve a problem, connecting with peers to build a working relationship, or connecting with people as a friend or advocate, Cherie excels,” said her nominator.

Bloom where you are planted.

A fixture in numerous efforts to help attract, promote, and celebrate women to and within the energy sector, Cherie often finds strength in a comment from a friend and mentor who recently passed away.

“I was struggling to figure out where and how I could make a difference while maintaining work/life balance and she said ‘Cherie – bloom where you are planted.’”

We can so often be distracted by focusing too much on what we aren’t doing and where we aren’t helping that it’s easy to forget we can flourish right where we are.

As she shares her passion for helping women in the energy industry, Cherie says, “I’m blooming.”

Where to next?

Cherie serves on the Gulf Coast Power emPOWERing Women’s Committee, managing networking events for women industry executives and Texas A&M economics students, and helping with fundraising events that benefit the emPOWERing Women scholarship fund.

Most recently, Cherie is seeking to formalize an EDF North American Women’s Network to facilitate the professional development of talented women within the organization with coaching, mentoring and networking opportunities as well as hosting workshops, lunch and learns, and other collaborative events. This year she hosted a panel of executive women during an International Women’s Day event held at EDF.

Cherie – we applaud you and your accomplishments.  Your GRIT is truly an inspiration.

GRIT award winner Cherie Fuller

The  Experience Energy™ GRIT Awards℠  and the Best Energy Workplaces℠  are given to the best of the best in our industry. Don’t miss your opportunity to be a part of the 2019 awards! Become a sponsor or reserve your table today

Steel-toe Boots and Transparency

Baker Hughes, a GE Company, (BHGE) has more than 64,000 employees worldwide. Alaina Sajatovic Nelson is one of them. She is a staff technical product manager and a recent recipient of a GRIT Award.

“When I first stepped into this job, I wasn’t sure I was ready. I soon discovered steel-toe boots are very useful when you need to jump in feet-first.”

Alaina Sajatovic Nelson, BHGE

Alaina Sajatovic Nelson , BHGE

Alaina says most digital products have a technical and a functional owner. That means, she usually has to wear both hats.  “I was challenged to make both technical decisions and decisions about what features the applications should have, and how they should work.”

She didn’t think she had the experience to make these decisions. So, she was always nervous she would make wrong choices.

Overcoming challenges

In Alaina’s case, she bought a pair of steel-toe boots and jumped into the manufacturing world feet first. She partnered with experts, visited factories, shadowed and interviewed operators.

“Growing my manufacturing expertise and confidence led to better relationships with my users and the development of a digital tool that really meets their needs.”

BHGE is the world’s first and only full stream provider of integrated oilfield products, services and digital solutions.  It helps customers around the globe safely maximize productivity across the oil and gas value chain and the lifetime of their assets, while minimizing environmental impacts.

Early in the development of the application, Alaina struggled with communicating with the stakeholders. For instance, she shared the date for a major release, but development took longer than planned. When her team missed the date, the stakeholders were frustrated. She says it was a major hit to the application’s credibility.

Learning transparency

In software engineering, it is quite common for things to take longer than planned. After Alaina’s communication glitch, her motto became “100% transparency” with all future releases.

“I used the biweekly steering committee to walk stakeholders through the work that had been completed, what was left to do, and any risks that I saw.”

Glitches lead to rewards

Alaina loves hearing about how the application she manages truly changes the way users work. Her tool helps operators handle safety concerns quicker and get them escalated to leadership faster. Plus, she appreciates the genuine feedback she now receives from operators.

“I believe they’ve come to see me as one of their own rather than an IT person from headquarters.”