NV Energy exec leads the way with community involvement

Getting the pulse on every aspect of her company and community is a top priority for Mary Simmons, vice president for business development and community strategy for NV Energy, and has been throughout her career.

“Mary is very much involved with all the employees, she knows everyone by name,” said Sarah Polito, senior corporate communications specialist, corporate communications for NV Energy. “She comes out of her office every day and talks to her team about what’s going on with NV Energy. I think that helps infuse a great deal of pride in the company.”

Simmons absorbed the management philosophy from colleagues over the years and has found it effective in her duties at NV Energy.

“If you sit in your office and read emails or talk on the phone all day, you don’t learn a lot about what’s going on,” Simmons said in an interview at NV Energy’s complex in South Reno. “I find it fascinating what you can learn when you walk down the hallway and talk to people.”

She extends those personal relationships to NV Energy’s customers and clients, willingly giving her expertise on any issue they may have. It is not uncommon for her to speak with someone one-on-one or even in front of a large group.

“People are very surprised when she answers her own phone,” Polito said.

Simmons explained that regardless of her role, she should be accessible to everyone, especially with customers and clients in the everchanging and complex world of utilities.

Simmons started her career at NV Energy in 1985 when it was then still called Sierra Pacific Power Company. She has seen the company go through the peaks and valleys of the utility industry, including rebranding to NV Energy in 2008.

Ironically, when Simmons arrived at the utility company, she never envisioned staying long.

Simmons graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in accounting. Like many of her classmates, she figured a career in accounting was a logical choice and earned her CPA certification. She went to work for the Northern Nevada accounting firm, Kafoury & Armstrong, but after a while contemplated a different career path.

She had a few acquaintances from Sierra Pacific who expressed to her that it was a great place to work.

“A position came up and they were looking for someone with a CPA background that would round out the department from a financial standpoint,” Simmons said. “At first I thought this sounds kind of boring and figured I’d stay there two years maximum and then find something else.”

But as she gratefully admits, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

“I can say this 32 years later, I haven’t yet had a boring day as I’ve moved through several different departments,” Simmons said. “The industry is constantly changing. While it’s challenging, it’s also rewarding because you keep learning new things.”

One example of that change is the recently concluded Legislative Session, as Nevadans debated whether to reintroduce solar power into the utility landscape. Simmons said even in the aftermath of the session, research is still under way to determine if solar power still has a future for Nevada utility companies.

She says ultimately the utility has to do what’s best for NV Energy’s customers and adds even though it virtually has control of the utility market in Northern Nevada, it still carries a great deal of responsibility.

During her tenure at the utility, Simmons has served in several other capacities, including vice president for external affairs, vice president of rates and regulatory affairs, controller, and director of water policy and planning.

She also serves as secretary for NV Energy’s charitable foundation, the charitable arm of the company that grants funds to local organizations dedicated to the arts, health and human services and education. One of the foundation’s many benefactors is the University of Nevada, Reno, from Wolf Pack athletics to various scholarship programs.

For instance, NV Energy has been a sponsor of the Governor’s Series, an annual academic and athletic competition between the University of Nevada, Reno and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Simmons also helps coordinate NV Energy’s community service endeavors. She lauded NV Energy’s employees whom she said collectively volunteered 37,000 hours to various kinds of community service.

In addition to her roles at NV Energy, she serves on the boards for other nonprofits, including the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), the Reno Philharmonic, the Great Basin National Park Foundation and the UNR Foundation, the fundraising arm of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Simmons says community involvement has been one of the most important roles she has had in her career.

"I've been blessed to be able to connect with the local business community such as The Chamber and the economic development organizations," Simmons said. "I've been able to see things not only from NV Energy's perspective, but also be involved with people in the community as well."

Simmons was awarded the university's President's Medal at the Spring 2017 Commencement Ceremonies. She indicated the award represents NV Energy's continued support of university programs, including the construction of the new engineering building on campus.

Simmons has found the coursework she took while attending the College of Business at the University of Nevada, Reno beneficial at many times in her career.

"There were so many times when I was taking classes at UNR and I would think, ‘When I am ever going to use any of this stuff?'" Simmons said. "But I ‘ve found having that accounting background has been very helpful in my various roles at NV Energy."

Simmons grew up in the northeastern Nevada mining town of Ely. Throughout her childhood, her parents and particularly her grandparents stressed education as a top priority to Simmons and her siblings.

Still, she had no idea what career path she wanted to follow until a family friend, a CPA in Las Vegas, playfully insisted she go into accounting. The idea intrigued her.

Simmons chose the University of Nevada, Reno partly because she had friends and her brother already at the university. She recalls it was a little intimidating coming from a small town to the vast college campus, but her time at the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business made it all worthwhile.

"It was a great experience and The College of Business was definitely the right choice for me," Simmons said.

Simmons said she gives the University of Nevada, Reno a plug now and then whenever she has the opportunity. She commended the College of Business Dean Greg Mosier and the staff for developing the school into one of the top business programs in the nation.

"I always ask kids, ‘where do you want to go to school?'" Simmons said. "I always tell them UNR is a great place to go to school, and especially now that we see more opportunities for jobs and careers in the region. There's also a lot of really great people and programs at The College of Business."