Kevin B. Brookins
SVP of Strategy and Administration, ComEd
MY GREATEST STRENGTH
My greatest strength is my versatility. I believe this has afforded me the opportunity to perform in diverse roles throughout my career. I am a broad, long-term thinker who also understands the details of today. I have a combination of technical and business backgrounds—my college education includes a BS in electrical engineering and an MBA and my work experience has been similarly diverse. I have led teams in engineering, construction and maintenance, and operations, as well as merger integration, customer service, strategy, communications, and marketing. I am also able to relate to people of many different backgrounds.
Many people have been role models for me in different ways, including my parents and members of my extended family who motivated me to get a good education, use sound and principled judgment, and treat people well.
In terms of civic leaders, Thurgood Marshall has been inspirational for me. Most refer to him as the first black associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. But most important, Thurgood Marshall was the principal architect of the legal strategy and the leader of the team that ended segregation in the United States, well before he wore a robe. In fact, he argued more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court than anyone else in history and won 29 of 32 cases. My definition of a good leader is someone who can get people to accomplish something extraordinary and Justice Marshall certainly meets that definition. I vividly remember watching his response to a question at the news conference that announced his retirement on how he wanted to be remembered. He said that he wanted to be remembered this way: “That he did what he could with what he had.” This is such a simple and succinct statement, particularly from and for such a giant of a leader. But, I can’t think of a better tribute. And I reflect on that statement quite often.
HOW I MOTIVATE OTHERS
People are motivated by positive outcomes, a sense of accomplishment. They enjoy being part of a winning team. I learned this lesson through sports. If team members understand the game they are playing, and the goal they must reach to win, they will be motivated to accomplish that goal. It’s human nature. I try to ensure that my team has this understanding, that we keep them informed of our progress, and that we accomplish the goal.
OUR GREATEST CHALLENGE
We are losing a disproportionate number of African-American men from the American mainstream. A disproportionate number of them are not graduating from high school and are not developing an employable skill through college, trade schools or the military. Further, they are developing drug habits or criminal records. This impacts their ability to secure and maintain employment. Without a meaningful job, they become demoralized and may choose illegal ways to survive and become disconnected from a meaningful family life.
I mentor people at work and outside of work. I also serve on several boards that support the advancement of African Americans, including the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), a national association of energy professionals founded and dedicated to ensure the input of African Americans and other minorities in the discussion and development of energy policies, regulations, R&D technologies, and environmental issues; and Chicago United, which promotes multiracial leadership in business to advance parity in economic opportunity. I also co-chair the Black Creativity Advisory Committee at the Chicago Museum of Science & Industry, where we encourage African-American school children to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and math—the STEM fields; and the Executive Advisory Committee for Governors State University, where a high percentage of the students are African American. Additionally, I support Tomorrow’s Men, a mentoring organization for African-American teenage boys, where my wife is the executive director, as well as other organizations like Rainbow PUSH, UNCF, and the church I attend.
I have found two keys to success that transcend race and color: 1. Success is the product of preparation and opportunity. Never stop learning and developing yourself. And make the most of every opportunity and every task that is assigned to you, no matter how big or small it may be. You never know who is watching and how they may be helpful to you in the future. 2. The importance of a good network and mentors. You cannot achieve success by yourself.
Don’t be afraid to try something different along the way in your career. I spent the first eight years of my career doing well as an analyst in the corporate planning area. But I was encouraged by my first couple of supervisors, who thought well of me and were very supportive, to take a position away from the corporate offices and closer to the front line of the business to gain a better foundational understanding of it. This proved to be very wise counsel for me. Not only did this provide me with a great foundation, but it also expanded my network and allowed me to demonstrate that I could be successful in operations, which is a very different environment. It also positioned me for my first leadership role as a first-line supervisor and, subsequently, a department manager. Later, I also benefitted from the experience of co-leading a merger integration team, which resulted in my first director position followed by my first executive position.