AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER Maine) -- Ask Sara Burns what she is most proud of and she will tell you it's the fact that she's been married to her husband the last 33 years and she has two grown sons, who are working and living in big cities.
NEWS CENTER Maine spoke with Burns on one of her last days at the office at Central Maine Power. She retired from her post as Chief Executive Officer at the end of the year. She talked about her career, the lessons she learned along the way, and how her childhood likely shaped the leadership qualities she exhibits today.
Burns grew up in Villanova, Pennsylvania. As one of eleven siblings, she believes coming from a large family did have an impact on her ability to lead a large company.
I've always said you are kind of a survivor. You've got to stand up for yourself. So I think you do learn some skills that are necessary when you lead a company.
She explained one of her siblings, a student at Bowdoin College, influenced her decision to go to college in Maine.
She was in the first class of women at Bowdoin and I did visit her. I remember thinking, 'yeah this is a nice place but I'm not going to school with my sister.' So, Colby was the alternative.
1987 was Burns' first year working for Central Maine Power, to her surprise. Nine months after receiving a rejection letter in the mail claiming she wasn't qualified, she got a call back about the job.
1998 was another significant year for Burns. Not only was it the year of one of Maine's most historic ice storms, it was also her first year as President of the company.
I was new in the job. A lot of people in this company would have said at that point in time, 'why did she get the job? One of the biggest parts of the job is storm and she's never run a storm and then here comes the biggest storm in our history.'
At one point during the response efforts Burns, a 3-sport varsity athlete in high school, heard something any athlete despises to hear: doubt.
She described one night in the cafeteria, when one of the line workers stood up and said loudly, “we are never going to get this done.” She said she responded without thinking twice about it.
I looked at him and I said of course we're going to get this done.
She said half of her wanted to laugh, the other half wanted to cry. Either way, she said it was a lesson in leadership.
You have to stand up, you have to take ownership, you have to be the energy and optimism. You have to be the solution and you have to say, 'Hey guys we're on it. We're going to get it done.'
Burns became Chief Executive Officer in 2005. The following was her response when I asked her about her thoughts as a woman in this role:
There's a lot of people who would tell you I'm not the woman who is focused on women's issues and always talking about women's issues and pushing women's issues. I'm the woman focused on results, making sure this is a great company, it is, making sure we have great employees, we do, we have extraordinary employees, and I've tried to encourage growth of all of our employees.
Burns says throughout her career, she's always been focused on coaching and mentoring. She tries to push others and help them grow, every day, regardless of their gender.
After 30 years at Central Maine Power, she said it was time to retire.
I thought long and hard about this, had lots of discussions with my husband about this. It's just the right time for me.
As for her get-it-done attitude, she says that was a lesson she likely learned while growing up with ten other siblings.
You're kind of a survivor.
Even in retirement, Burns will continue to lead her community as an active member of several boards. She will begin serving on the Board of Directors for CMP's parent company, Avangrid, and will continue her position on the Board of Trustees for her alma matter, Colby College.