When thinking of strong advocates of safe driving, one’s mind does not immediately think of the CEO of a power company. Yet, that is exactly what Mary Powell is. As president and CEO of Vermont’s Green Mountain Power (GMP), Mary has earned many honors for her forward-thinking business model. She was named Powergen’s 2014 Woman of the Year and ranked among Fast Company’s most creative people in business in 2016, just to name a few. But what really sets Mary apart is her genuine enthusiasm for safety awareness and her determination to keep all of her employees out of harm’s way.
Mary’s company, Green Mountain Power (a Certified B Corporation), helps Vermont’s citizens use less energy more effectively, a practice that not only saves both power and money, but is good for the environment, too. Because GMP employees continuously deal with hazardous equipment, Mary has implemented several protocols that help keep them safe in the short term, while changing their mindsets in the long term. These include talks about safety from outside presenters and a daily routine of small tasks they do to remember that safety is their primary concern.
“They send me a weekly commitment to be safer than the week before, no matter how safe that week was,” Mary said. Before every meeting, employees in attendance must also repeat the mantra “I am GMP safety!” (this is meant to remind them that safety is in their hands). Mary explained that she is “trying to create a behavioral change. Creating a cultural change is hard—behavioral change is even harder. You only change behavior by doing several little actions each day.”
A few years ago, Mary met End Distracted Driving’s Joel Feldman. They were both giving short “TED-style” presentations about their lives. Joel’s presentation was about distracted driving—specifically about how his daughter’s death in a car crash caused by a distracted driver has shaped his life’s work of teaching others about the dangers of driving distracted.
“I was so moved by his presentation,” Mary said. “It completely shifted [my] thinking of how I drive, my relationship with my phone while driving and my relationship with my daughter,” who at the time was just learning how to drive herself. “I realized I had not been the best role model [for my daughter],” Mary explained. “I wish we could press the rewind switch and fix it, but we can’t. What we can do is move forward and learn from our actions.”
Mary asked Joel to give his distracted driving presentation to 65 people on her management team. After seeing how his talk affected the small group, Mary knew she needed to share the presentation with more people. “The real testament to his speech is making people want to change,” Mary said. “I saw in that room how much he influenced people…it was profound.”
Since then, Joel has given his distracted driving presentation several more times to the employees of GMP. He recently finished three talks across Vermont in Rutland, Montpelier and Colchester. “There are safety hazards for every single person every single day, no matter what we do,” Mary said. “That’s what keeps [me] up at night…I never want to face a tragedy among the people I work with.” As a company that drives more than 3.3 million miles annually, GMP’s employees leave Joel’s talks equipped with knowledge to protect themselves and others they share the road with. According to Mary, “What’s amazing about Joel is that he creates behavioral change. He moves people with his presentation.”