When someone is in charge of leading, developing, and implementing a multi-year supplier diversity strategy for a portfolio of energy infrastructure projects worth over $5 billion, there’s a large level of responsibility, expertise, and demand that comes with the position. Add to this being a pioneer in regards to ensuring market awareness and access to minority and women-led businesses and firms and providing all with the opportunity of developing mutually beneficial partnerships and projects in an ever-growing field, you are clearly looking at someone who is supplying a need and demand beyond the typical corporate lines and arenas.
In my interview this past Thursday (August 20th) with TransCanada’s Heather Holland, whose current titles include manager (of supplier diversity and local content/project development-keystone projects) as well as SPHR (senior professional in human resources), her corporate responsibilities and her connectivity with the community and emerging markets and demographics makes her a steady and significant presence.
As she notes in our interview, her Southside Chicago upbringing leads her to being a member of the “Fighting Illini” family as a student (and alum) of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The speech communications major admits that looking back, she has an idea of what she wants to pursue, but not having the full realization of what it all means.
“I simply picked out what I liked”, she recalls on her undergraduate days. “At the time, I simply focused on my area of interest”.
Upon her graduation, she is able to have a moment of clarity; from there, it becomes a focused pursuit of professional excellence.
“After considering law, I realized that I wanted to do something that is more hands-on in nature and performance based,; I am able to gain experience and exposure with the industrial relations program (via the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and through my program (and internships), get the exposure and opportunities I need”.
The exposure via her master’s (Human Resources and Labor Relations via the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and her certificate in Organizational Development from Queens University) results in having a program that provides sound exposure to the world of human resources. Her class and internship experience ranging from understanding the many aspects of labor, along with the relationship with management and unions, not only piques her interest, but puts her in a position to be in a realm where few women venture, specifically the labor side of human resources.
In going where others (male or female) sometimes dare not go, she is able to land her first position with American Field Foundries in a supervisory position.
She recalls, “One of the transferable skills (from her major of speech communications) of being able to manage conflict, as well as understand the influence of non-verbal communication”. Given some of the tough conversations that come with the territory given the scope of topical discussions that come within the field, her ability to problem-solve, address the difficulties that come, as well as simply being able to relate and deal with people are essential skills and talents that allow her to be highly successful. Being able to help coach people through multiple aspects of the professional process and put them in positions where they can be more professionally prosperous (i.e. akin to a player who gets traded from a team to a different setting where their skill sets align with a team’s philosophy and approach) prepare her for her current role with TransCanada.
As the manager of supplier diversity, in addition to managing the previously mentioned portfolio (that is oil and gas industry driven), another domain that falls under her responsibilities involves identifying opportunities for underrepresented demographics that can address needs related to vendors, suppliers, and other related areas. Through her connectivity with entities (which aligns with her community-driven focus via her membership in Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.) such as (but not limited to) the National Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), along with her participation with the Houston Minority Supplier Development Council’s (HMSDC) Supplier Diversity Advisory Committee (SDAC) and Capacity Building Committees, numerous opportunities from networking to larger collaborative partnerships are established to help provide an introduction to the kinds of positive and productive partnerships and opportunities present.
“Energy is a male-dominated field; it is a field that is going to grow, and we have to get (women and underrepresented groups) prepared to compete on opportunities including employment to contracting (and other related areas)”, Holland advises.
Given all of her duties, one wonders how she can keep things as seamless as possible. Perhaps it’s her intimate approach that allows her to be the professional and civic resource that she is.
“You have to figure out your strengths and help others figure out how to work to their strengths; you have to be accessible and be willing to answer the questions of how did you get here (where you are)”,
In looking at her educational, professional, and civic journey, she is able to clearly meet the demands of the day and more.