Faces of National Fuel: HR Manager Annika S. on Challenge, Balance & Letting Things Go

When Annika S. first joined National Fuel’s Leadership Development Program 12 years ago, she had recently left a career as an industrial engineer to finish her MBA. In the time since, Annika climbed the ranks from National Fuel call center manager to manager of human resources, a corporate job that has her in charge of post-retirement benefits for the entire company as well as a large administrative team—responsibilities she balances with her many family commitments. Read on for Annika’s take on professional advancement, the joys of career stability, and staying sane in the face of competing priorities.

On getting her foot in the door through the Leadership Development Program:

It’s a leadership development initiative that has participants rotate through four different departments during the first two years of employment. I got to work in marketing, HR, our call center, and our rates and regulatory affairs department. It allowed me to learn about the business and meet executives and see the direction of the company. And yes, it’s competitive. The people who apply are generally very driven.

How the experience set her up for success:

One part of the program is that they pair you with an executive mentor. Mine was our recently retired chief information officer. For 12 years, she helped me figure out the next step to make in my career—where I would succeed and what would be a good fit for me. When opportunities to change positions internally presented themselves, she challenged me to ask myself if the timing was right. We got to really learn from each other.

Why she made the move from the call center to HR:

I need to be able to use my analytical skills. I need numbers. I love dealing with people, but I can’t only deal with people. This role gives me a blend of the two. It gives me numbers and the opportunity to work with employees and retirees to help them with their problems. That really appealed to me.

What she loved about both of her roles:

My managers at National Fuel have been awesome—easy to work with, tons of vision, very strong leadership, and a real passion for people. Just strong, innovative, get-it-done sort of bosses. They are committed to supporting their staff and making sure they get recognized for their work. I always wanted to work for people like that. I think it gives you, as an employee, a lot of opportunity, not just to learn from them but to demonstrate your value.

Her management style:

A lot of how I manage people is based on how they managed me. I manage our administrative team in HR, and I’m proud of them. They are professional. They are really committed and hardworking, and they are happy to work here. ​ One of the reasons for that, I think, is because my door’s always open. I’m always trying to provide the flexibility they need. I believe wholeheartedly that if there’s a problem, like if your child is sick, and you’re worried about that, then your mind won’t be here. So, I always want to give people the flexibility they need to do their work well. I’ve learned to trust my staff because that’s how my bosses treated me.

On keeping things interesting:

I have my normal thing that I’m doing every day. I’m calculating pensions. I’m meeting with retirees. I’m meeting with our employees. But there’s also a new challenge every day. Times are changing, and we’re being more innovative, and those sorts of special projects are very exciting to me.

On the perks of a National Fuel benefits package:

I have a husband and three young children, and we’re all on the health insurance here and paying much less than the market average. And when I take my kids to the doctor, the copay is very affordable. I appreciate that. This year, we had a change in our vision plan, and I just got my daughter glasses, and I paid nothing. So, I loved that. I’m also very glad that we have a generous 401k. If I contribute 6%, the company matches 6%, and there is an additional company contribution of 3 to 4%. These are the things that are real to me. They’re real for my family. They support our financial wellbeing.

Her hesitations about National Fuel:

I’m not going to lie; had a friend not encouraged me to apply to National Fuel, it would not have crossed my mind. I had my eye on flashier companies, not utilities. And even with her recommendation, I definitely had a lot of reservations. For one, my family lives in New York City, so I was deciding to live in Buffalo and not near them.

The thing that sold her:

What changed my mind was the interview process and learning more about the company. I thought, oh my goodness, this place has been in existence for a long time, and they’ve had so much stability. There I was, working as an engineer for an automotive company that, at the time, was kind of going through a lot of turmoil. And I remember learning that the average length of service at National Fuel had been 34 years. People spend their whole lives here. That stability was appealing to me. That you don’t have to worry about downsizing. You can really do your best work here and build a career here if you want to.

A vision for her future:

I definitely see myself with more responsibility, being an even greater asset to our organization. I hope that I will get the chance to increase my knowledge, increase my contributions, so that I can ​ eventually get to our senior management roles. That’s my hope for the next five to 10 years.

On not being okay with not checking everything off her to-do list:

I think the balance is hard. Just today, I said to one of the young moms on my team that it seems like kids always get sick between November and March, and you just have to decide what’s most important during those times. Sometimes, I just have to decide what I have to let go. I think that’s been the most helpful to me.

How National Fuel helps her find that balance:

I never have to miss one of my kid’s performances. I’m grateful that my son’s school is only 15 minutes away from my office. I’m grateful that I have the ability to go and participate in an activity in his classroom and then come back to work. At home, when my kids are doing schoolwork, I’m at the table doing my work with them. So, my goal as a manager is always that my team is getting the work done and providing the best service, but that doesn’t mean we have to shortchange our kids and our families. That’s why I’ve been here 12 years. I get a chance to raise my children and be in their lives and have that flexibility but still grow professionally. That’s a blessing to me.

What she does with time to herself:

I prefer being outdoors. I’m generally in an office all day. So, I like getting out and moving. I like my body pump exercise class in the morning and maybe a yoga class. I like feeling strong. You know?