Patti Poppe attended Purdue University for her undergraduate and masters degree in Industrial Engineering. Next week, Patti will be inducted as a Purdue Distinguished Engineering Alumni. Patti sits as the President and CEO of Consumer’s Energy in Michigan. At Purdue she served as President of the Society of Women Engineering (SWE) and was a part of the Delta Gamma sorority.

After getting both her undergraduate and master’s degree her education at Purdue, she worked at General Motors for fifteen years. Next, she transitioned to the energy industry in Michigan with DTE Energy.

From that company she expanded her horizon and eventually worked for Consumer’s Energy. Within six years, she climbed up the corporate ladder and made a name for herself as the President and CEO.

I remembered Patti’s presentation from two years ago because she always said the response that IEs should give people when they call us “Imaginary Engineers” is”Imagine me as your boss.”

After Patti summarized her path/resume, she detailed the important transitions that led to lessons in her life. These are the points that I learned the most from because it gives an inspiring and human perspective to her accomplishments.

“Be brave if you know your stuff…be prepared to seize the opportunity”

Patti talked about when she was a new employee at GM and she went to a meeting with her production manager. During this meeting her production manager advised the production line to optimize their process based on his experience and knowledge. However, even though Patti was new to the company and plant, she had just learned systems and queuing while getting her Master’s degree so she had a different take on how to tackle the bottlenecks in the process than her production manager. Patti raised her hand during the meeting and she claimed that she had a better solution. The production manager was taken back at first, but Patti made a wager with him. That day she could implement her process and at the end of the day he would check the stats on the production line. At a company like GM where they were manufacturing cars, every minute lost in the process was $10,000 lost, therefore Patti had a lot to prove. Fortunately, Patti was able to prove herself right to upper level management at the plant and this was her first step on her road to success.

“Find a company that has values that you have”

Skipping ahead a couple steps in her career, Patti told us more about her current company Consumer’s Energy, and emphasized the importance of finding a company with good values. Patti talked about a couple years ago when there was a polar vortex going on in Michigan. At 2am, a Consumer’s Energy valve giving energy to 70,000 customers went out and instead of just saying “tough luck,” one of the operators, Juan, braved out the inclement weather just because he cared about the families who were depending on the company. To Consumer’s Energy, customers are a priority, and the successful employees embody those values in their work.

“Use your gifts, but first discover it”


On that same note, Patti also brought up that not only should we go out and find a company that share our values, we also need to first discover what our values and gifts are.

Questions such as:

What do I do in my spare time?

What do I enjoy doing?

What do I care about?

Will help us determine our values/gifts that we can apply to our future careers.

Patti Poppe Power Plus Principle- Combine passion to change in energy in order to increase power and impact

Patti moved to tell us a principle she created about career/life. She defined power as a change in energy in the system, and she defined her power principle as to increase power/impact you must combine passion when you are changing energy.

Patti gave us a personal anecdote when she applied passion a change in energy in her life. At one point in her career, Patti was about to be relocated to Korea to get some experience in international business. At the time she had twins who were in second grade and they had been moving every 18 months due to her different job assignments. The day before her family’s move she visited DTE in Michigan, and she realized that it was better for her to take that offer instead of move her family to Korea. At DTE she was able to pursue her passions in having time for her family as well as learn politics because that has a greater impact on the energy industry. From that move, she transitioned into the energy industry and that’s where she eventually thrived at a rate much faster than she would have in the automotive industry because her passions were more aligned with the energy industry.

Finally, Patti closed her presentation with a tip for us, regarding our first internships/jobs and she reminded us to stay curious!

“When you show up at your first job, bring questions not answers”