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CEO brings spark to her job

ComEd President COO Anne Pramaggiore announces elements $1.1 bilielectric system infrastructure investment plan Robert W. GalvCenter campus IIT 10 W.

ComEd President and COO Anne Pramaggiore announces elements of a $1.1 bilion electric system infrastructure investment plan at the Robert W. Galvin Center on the campus of IIT, 10 W. 35th St. Wednesday, January 4, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 24, 2013 6:05AM

What does ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore represent as the face of a formerly stodgy electric utility that is lobbying aggressively to play by its own rules and readily challenges the Illinois Commerce Commission’s frequent cuts to its requested electric rate hikes?

The first woman ever to lead the utility giant comes with unique traits that show she sets her own course: She uses her “maiden” name rather than her husband’s, recalls her initial preference for a behind-the-scenes role making masks for plays in her college theater studies, and appreciates that her teen son loves to join her for ComEd social functions.

She doesn’t shy from her unique position. She is an outspoken cheerleader for a diverse, highly skilled work force and leadership team, and she urges young girls to take risks and go for broke.

“Absolutely it’s different being a woman in this role,” she said of her promotion to chief executive officer on Feb. 27. “I think it’s an advantage. We’re in a period of change in this industry and having someone different — not just because I’m female but because I didn’t come up the traditional path — is a symbol of the need to take charge of that change.”

She has written her own script. She sees ComEd’s role as the operator of an interactive, intelligent power grid that serves as a core component of an economic infrastructure for the 21st century. In her eyes, it’s not just a pipeline that delivers electricity to 3.8 million residential and business customers across northern Illinois, or 70 percent of the state’s population. Though critics contend the Illinois Legislature granted ComEd an unfair setup that gives ComEd guaranteed yearly rate increases for each of the next 10 years to upgrade the power grid, Pramaggiore counters that the measure makes it the only utility in the United States to be held to performance standards with financial penalties if it fails to achieve them. ComEd, with 5,700 employees, makes $6.1 billion in yearly revenues.

Pramaggiore described the grid’s future in a speech Nov. 12 to the City Club of Chicago: “A modern grid powers the great Information Age, the digital economy and our lives,” she said.

Frank J. Lizzadro, president and CEO of Meade Electric, described Pramaggiore as a good listener and consensus builder who “is interested in your ideas, is energetic and concerned for the safety of the public and her employees.”

Lizzadro praised Pramaggiore’s efforts to break down barriers to advancement at ComEd and in the electric industry, and noted that Pramaggiore invited his daughter, Allison Lizzadro, 25, to events and has become a role model to her.

“Anne doesn’t just surround herself with executives,” Frank Lizzadro said. “Allison has been to many events where Anne is being recognized or involved, such as the 4th Annual Energetic Women’s Conference and the Girl Scouts of America’s 100-year anniversary.”

Allison Lizzadro, Meade’s training and development manager, said she took to heart Pramaggiore’s advice at a CEO panel discussion to “remember to smile.”

“Anne is an excellent example of how women in business can be both smart and interpersonal,” Allison Lizzadro said.

Anne Evens, CEO of CNT Energy, a non-profit that helps families and business owners save energy and create jobs, said Pramagiorre is focused on “delivering value just as much as ensuring reliability” through the electric system.

“She is smart. She is a listener. She pays attention to data and information and tries to use it strategically,” Evens said. “Under Pramaggiore’s leadership, ComEd has made it easier for building owners to gain access to their data electronically rather than having to sift through years of electricity bills. That has been crucial in allowing the building managers to move ahead and use energy-saving technology.”

The same goes for the smart grid that will let customers see their energy use in real time and make smart decisions about how to save, Evens said.

Pramaggiore’s advice and push to deliver services reflect her background in projecting an image people don’t easily forget, as she did in the theater and with her retail superiors.

Pramaggiore earned her bachelor’s degree in communications and theater at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, aiming to work in the theater business backstage. She had worked in the theater, preferring making masks and doing costume and makeup design rather than taking the spotlight.

Her interest stemmed from the Italian side of her family, where her late father’s family were named after opera characters — Dad Al after Alfredo in La Traviata; Uncle Rudolpho, grandmother Camille and grandfather Faust, to name a few. She has taken her son and husband to see the ancestral home in the Piedmont region of Italy near Torino.

Her mother, the late Jeanne, grew up in an Irish enclave in upstate New York, and took on leadership roles after the family moved to Ohio, serving as a Girl Scout leader and as president of the school PTO and the Ohio Genealogical Society.

Anne Pramaggiore’s no-nonsense family, headed by her civil-engineer father and surrounded by neighbors who worked jobs pumping gas, selling used cars and flying private airplanes, told her she was on her own after she graduated college. So Pramaggiore took a job as a management trainee at an Elder-Beerman retail store in Dayton in 1980. She spent six years in retail, starting as a buyer eager to absorb business lessons on making budget and learning the value of reinvesting in one’s own priorities after you’ve turned a profit.

But she grew restless, thinking her world should be bigger.

Pramaggiore had always been interested in politics and public policy, and Judge John J. Sirica’s book on Watergate, “To Set the Record Straight,” sealed her decision to switch her career and go to law school.

She earned her law degree from DePaul University, and that’s how she came to ComEd. She was hired in 1998 as a staff attorney and soon started climbing the ranks as a point person for increased competition and less regulation in the utility industry.

She is willing to make her own bets now, too, and that means staying ahead of the constant changes shaking the utility industry.

She moved up the career ladder by tackling nitty-gritty issues such as customer operations, distribution and transmission rate making and state regulatory affairs and strategy. She started overseeing day-to-day operations after she was promoted in May 2009 to president and chief operating officer.

She is facing a new challenge seemingly every day at ComEd.

Though ComEd won its battle last fall for a $2.6 billion rate hike to upgrade its power system, the funding remains uncertain and questions continue whether the so-called “smart” grid will improve how customers use electricity.

ComEd also faces greater competition than ever before from rival power companies battling for residential and municipal contracts. The utility expects about 75 percent of its residential users to be served by other suppliers by mid-2013.

Back at home, Pramaggiore credits her husband, Mike Harrington, an asset manager at a Chicago fund company, with being “wonderful and flexible” because he’s not “on call” 24/7 as she is.

Her son, Jack, 15, accompanies her to community events and high-publicity functions, including President Obama’s inauguration. “My son has always been interested in what I do,” Pramaggiore said. “It connects us. And my priority is to go to his soccer games. He has played travel soccer for years, so we load up the Tahoe and go.”

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