In a span of ten days this spring, Ellen (Sheehan) Smith '80 traveled to London, Madrid, Florence, Cairo, Dubai, and Bombay.
But this was no world tour vacation — it was work. Smith, vice president for GE Power Systems Energy Services Sales, travels frequently for her job, and it is not unusual for her to visit several of the world's cities in the span of a few days or weeks.
Smith came to Union intending to become a pharmacist, but was intrigued by engineering and graduated a mechanical engineering major. She then entered General Electric's Technical Marketing Program, a three-year program that allowed her to sample a variety of assignments. “GE offered me a lot of choices and a lot of flexibility,” she says. “At that point I really didn't know what I wanted to do.”
Working at GE during the day, Smith took evening courses at Union, earned her master's degree in engineering, and became an electrical engineer in GE's Power Plant Systems. Four years later she was appointed the head engineer for a $110-million gas turbine power station in Cairo, Egypt, serving as a liaison between design engineering and sales.
She continued to move into management roles, moving up through the ranks of GE management. “I always was able to pick hard jobs that made a difference in the business,” she says. “I like to be in the middle of something important to the business.”
Within GE Power Systems, Smith has held management positions in maintenance and operations, parts and product services, and global services engineering. In 1996, she was named to head Power System's Six Sigma Quality Initiative, and in 1998 she was named to her current position, where she works with customers around the world.
“I really do a lot of problem solving, which my engineering background has prepared me for,” she says.
Smith must deal with Power Systems' enormous size while keeping the entire division moving forward, a feat that takes a great deal of leadership. “I think management and leadership skills are learned through life,” she says. “I had a lot of opportunities for leadership through my early years in high school and college, so I had a lot of practice. You have to work at being a leader to be good at it.”
Recently, she has begun mentoring young women early in their careers at General Electric. “I think that this is important to do,” she says. “I hope that I can teach these women some of the lessons that I have learned so that they don't make some of the mistakes that I did.”
Smith says that what she likes best about her job is the people that she works with — both her colleagues at GE and her customers. Yet it is still clear that she loves the travel her job allows — a love affair that began on her term abroad at Union on socialized medicine. “That was the best summer of my life,” she says. It was a summer that she had the chance to relive, albeit briefly, this spring when wandering through the streets of London and spotting the dormitory she stayed in while a student. “It's just the same,” she says.Read More