In the fall 2006 issue of HMC’s magazine, in response to the prompt “Leadership is …” Maria Klawe responded “Enabling others to succeed.” Here, we feature an alumna who shares how Klawe influenced her life and career.
When the northeast was hit by severe cold weather this past February, Kathy French ’97 was helping manage the environmental, health and safety conditions of numerous power plants. Late last year in 2022, she was part of the team working on the acquisition of 42 run-of-river hydroelectric facilities. As an executive for LS Power, an independent developer, operator and investor focused on the North American power and energy infrastructure sector, it’s not likely she’ll be slowing down any time soon.
French started at LS Power as a project engineer 22 years ago. Today, she is vice president of environmental, health and safety and serves on the Investment Team at the firm. French and her team are responsible for examining and developing solutions for environmental and health impacts related to approximately 17,000 megawatts operating across nearly 100 power-generating battery and RNG plants that span the country. As part of the Investment Team, her expertise is integral to acquisitions like the December 2022 purchase of hydro projects spanning 11 states that the company says is integral to achieving U.S. carbon reduction goals. LS Power’s Energy Transition Platforms also include EVgo, one of the nation’s largest public, fast-charging networks for electric vehicles, and REV Renewables, a leader in renewables and energy storage.
“My career trajectory was definitely a result of the broad education I received at Mudd,” says French. “My field and my company role have required me to intelligently review and address a wide variety of subjects, really drawing on my HMC Core Curriculum training. Biology 52 class, for example, provided a great foundation to facilitate my understanding research on fish migration and avian behaviors to help me make informed decisions of how to manage wildlife issues in my work.”
After HMC, French earned an M.S. in environmental engineering from Drexel University and joined the Missouri Society of Professional Engineers, for which she served as president. In 2017, she received the Engineer of the Year Award from the organization’s St. Louis chapter. As a member of the firm’s ESG Committee, she’s a key proponent of LS Power’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as well as its environmental, social and governance initiatives.
As one of a growing number of women in her field, French has encountered a variety of challenges on her path to leadership, including avoiding the note taker role (assigned because she was the only woman in the room), no non-male bathrooms on project sites, and holding firm to and presenting her position when senior men suggested her input was irrelevant. These are some of the things she recently joined classmate Liz Orwin ’95 to discuss as part of the College’s Mudd Talks series [bit.ly/ Muddtalks323]. French says role models have helped guide her career, and among them is Maria Klawe, whom French got to know while serving as a board member (she’s now VP) of HMC’s Alumni Association.
“Maria has been one of the few women who has reached such a high leadership position that I have had the chance to talk to and get to know as a real person,” says French, who has served on AABOG since 2015 and has been an active participant in the life of the College. “There is something compelling about watching a woman in leadership directly and in very real circumstances.”
One of French’s strongest memories is when Klawe shared how she was able to look beyond accusations, hurtful language and demands, set all those aside and come up with the best solution given all the facts. “As Maria put it, it was her job to ‘be the adult in the room.’ In situations where interactions have started to spiral negatively, I think about that discussion and try to find a way to put my ego aside and be the adult in the room,” says French.
“One of the most impactful things for me has been watching Maria have the courage to be true to herself rather than conform to the stereotypical image of a college president,” says French. “Watching another woman get to be herself in a leadership position makes it easier for me to stay true to myself as I have gone up the leadership ladder.”