board member, SemGroup Corporation
I think a lot of Tuck graduates find that their strengths rise to the top when they manage change or confront a crisis.
Sarah Barpoulis wants to get one thing out of the way. “I’m not inventing the next solar panel,” the independent director says. That’s not to say she hasn’t been a pioneer throughout her career. In her first job after Tuck she participated in deregulating the wholesale energy markets, eventually building the energy commodities trading floor at PG&E Corporation’s non-utility subsidiary, then led it through the California and Enron crises. The experience gave her an appreciation for risk management and transparent corporate governance, which are more important than ever in today’s rapidly changing energy industry.
“Where I have been successful is looking at things from a risk-management perspective and thinking through a range of scenarios,” she says. “That means not looking for one solution but rather a suite of possible solutions.”
Barpoulis and her husband, Tuck classmate John Barpoulis, T’91 have three children. When their youngest was diagnosed with autism, she chose to stay home and work as an asset-management and risk consultant, which soon led to a seat on the board of Reliant Energy. She was 41; many of her peers were in their 70s.
“I think it was a little intimidating to be both young and female but I think being opinionated was probably the more difficult thing,” says Barpoulis, who now sits on the boards of publicly traded energy companies SemGroup Corporation and South Jersey Industries, as well as Educare, DC, an early childhood education nonprofit.
“From a board perspective I believe diversity is important, and not just in gender and race. Generational diversity is important too and having fresh thoughts on a board—if you have a board member with the right decorum—can really be powerful.”
Barpoulis credits Tuck for a style that lends itself to constructive debate, consensus building, and empowering others, which she sees as the key attributes of successful board members. “Joining a board at a young age tested all of those skills,” she says. “I think a lot of Tuck graduates find that their strengths rise to the top when they manage change or confront a crisis.” She likes what she sees at the Revers Center, where students are learning not just to navigate the fast-changing energy industry, but also how to be wise leaders.
“If I look back over my career and someone asked me what I consider my greatest success, I would say it was positioning others for success,” she says. “Even in the boardroom you’re not there to run the company. You’re there to create shareholder value by positioning the management team for long-term success.”
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