Leading by example – We Energies’ Shafer wins 2004 Athena Award

The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce has selected Joan Shafer, vice president of customer services for Milwaukee-based We Energies, as the winner of its 2004 Athena Award.
The award recognizes accomplished women in business. Since 2001, the Women Owners, Managers and Executives Networking (W.O.M.E.N.) committee of the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce has presented the award to women who have achieved a high level of success in their careers, have given back to their communities and have assisted other women in reaching their potential.
"I am humbled by this award," Shafer said. "I am very appreciative that the chamber felt I was in the same class as (former Wisconsin Lt. Gov.) Margaret Farrow and other past winners."
Kelly Harrison, events manager for the Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce, said the committee received numerous nominations for the annual award presented locally, nationally and internationally as part of a program within the Chicago-based Athena Foundation.
"The Athena Foundation dedicates itself to creating leadership for women and honors outstanding leaders who serve as role models and/or mentors in the community," Harrison said. "The Waukesha County Chamber of Commerce is pleased to be a part of this program."
In addition to her role as vice president of customer services for We Energies, Shafer is the president of the board of trustees for the Milwaukee Montessori School and a single mother with two adopted daughters from China.
"People can be ambitious to be, or ambitious to do. I have always been ambitious to do," Shafer said. "I enjoy a good challenge and have had interesting work that has allowed me to be creative and has led to opportunities for me to see just how much I could do."
Shafer oversees 800 employees between two customer contact centers that receive 2.5 million calls annually, and the measurement, billing and other departments of customer services. Her management philosophy is reflective of how she has held many management positions within the utility company since she was hired in 1978.
"I think it is important to create a workplace where people with the right skills, enthusiasm and commitment can be successful," Shafer said.
With this philosophy, Shafer has promoted and participated in diversity programs and held leadership coaching sessions for those who strive to move up in the company.
Vivian Kuss, a principal account manager for We Energies, nominated
Shafer for the Athena Award. About 75 percent of the employees at the
customer contact centers are women, and many have benefited greatly
under Shafer’s direction, Kuss said.
"This 24/7 operation is successful in part because of Joan’s strong leadership, which is manifested in the way she interacts with her team," Gale Klappa, chairman, president and chief executive officer of We Energies, said in the nomination. "She has instilled in them the importance of customer focus, sense of urgency and personal responsibility for results."
Shafer said her goals for the future of customer services in the company are straightforward and voiced to every employee. Shafer said she plans to have the best utility service customer satisfaction in the nation by 2006, to drive improvements while keeping internal costs down and to have a zero injury environment.
"Joan epitomizes what it means to be a leader," Kuss said. "She selflessly encourages others to find and develop their own sense of delivering excellence. She has an incredible sense of balance with her work life and personal life."
As president of the board of trustees for the Milwaukee Montessori School, where her daughters attend, Shafer is a known leader as well.
Monika Van Aken, head of the school, said Shafer supported her when she was inexperienced and the school was in both transition and crisis.
Shafer said her personal goals reflect the same amount of heart and ambition that she leads with at We Energies and Milwaukee Montessori.
"I want to raise two happy, well-adjusted daughters who are and stay good human beings," Shafer said. "And at work I want to continue in a role where I can be creative and contribute to the success of the organization."
Shafer will accept the award Sept. 14 at the W.O.M.E.N. committee’s fall luncheon.

August 6, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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