Bring a good work ethic and strong “resiliency muscles” to any job. That’s the advice Laura Landreaux, president and CEO of Entergy Arkansas, offered in an on-stage interview Wednesday at the Little Rock Regional Chamber’s Women’s Business Luncheon.
She was questioned about her life and career by Christina Munoz, co-owner of Munoz Pugh and former KATV-TV, Channel 7, anchor.
“As females, in particular, I think that it’s additionally important that we nurture that ability to get back up on our feet and move forward,” Landreaux said.
The Little Rock native began her career as a lawyer, then transitioned to finance and now leads a major utility company. Great mentors, both men and women, encouraged her to follow this unconventional path to success, she said.
Landreaux earned her law degree from the University of Arkansas and joined a private firm after graduation, Quarles & Brady LLP in Phoenix, where she did legal work for utility clients.
Then she was hired as an attorney for water and electric utility Salt River Project, also in Phoenix. Landreaux was starting a family when she decided to join that company; Salt River Project offered better hours and the reduced stress of working for just one client.
Four years later, tragedy brought her home. Her husband died when their children were 2 and 14 months old, and she needed the family support system she had in Little Rock. That’s how Landreaux wound up at Entergy Arkansas in 2007, as senior counsel.
She was named vice president of regulatory affairs in 2014, then finance director in 2017, and finally president and CEO last year. She is the first woman in the utility’s history to serve in that role.
But this path was not planned, especially not from a young age, she noted.
“I don’t think you’d find any female kid that aspires to be the president of a utility company … So this was not a dream job for me growing up, or even a career path I thought I would choose at the time, but I will tell you that it is absolutely my dream job today,” she said. “There is nothing more gratifying than working for a company that is so integral to day-to-day lives.”
Asked about the challenge of being a leader in a male-dominated field, Landreaux said she did her best to learn everything she could about her industry.
“Part of the struggle is having the credibility to take part in those conversations and to offer substantive input on the issues that we’re facing in this industry” without the benefit of having an education or work experience that correlates with the job, she said.
“It’s a character flaw, or an asset, depending on how you look at it, but my reaction to something like that is that I read everything,” she said. “I don’t like to not know what I’m talking about, so I do a lot of self education … I will learn what I can so that I can earn a seat at that table from a substantive standpoint.”
Munoz asked Landreaux about failures she’s had and what she learned from them. The answer was two-fold.
First, she said, “I have career failures every day. There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t drive home from work thinking that I could’ve done something better or different. And I ruminate on that, so to speak. But failures are such a part of the learning process.”
For example, Landreaux said, she was once on a team that wouldn’t compromise on an issue and, even though they were right about that issue and the decision didn’t have direct financial consequences, it affected other decisions that did have direct financial consequences.
What she learned is “the notion of losing the battle to win the war” and the importance of compromise, Landreaux said. Now, in everything she does, she tries to find common ground.
Landreaux left her audience with an uplifting perspective. She said, as a society, we’ve done a good job of inspiring the next generation of women to join the workforce. They’re earning more degrees, and they’re pursuing STEM career fields that have traditionally been male-dominated.
But, Landreaux cautioned, the next challenge is for businesses to welcome that diverse workforce and meet their expectations.