Celebrating Black History Month: Hazel O'Leary

Feb 19, 2020 9:00 AM ET

Every February, the United States commemorates African Americans who have overcome adversity throughout history and gone on to inspire others. Black History Month is about togetherness, and the people who have shown us that our differences and diversity are what ultimately make us a stronger and more compassionate country. This sentiment is close to us at NRG as we continue to celebrate inclusion and diversity as one of our Power Values. Our employees’ individual differences help fuel innovation and understanding so we can best serve each other and our customers.

In celebration of Black History Month, we are highlighting African Americans who have made significant impacts on the energy industry. Throughout February, we will feature three inspiring individuals, so be sure to check back often and share this blog with your friends and family.

Hazel O'Leary

We are proud to feature Hazel O'Leary — the first African American Secretary of Energy — as our second Black History Month highlight. With a background as a prosecutor and a consultant, O’Leary was appointed to a number of positions by President Jimmy Carter, including assistant administrator of the Federal Energy Administration and administrator for the Economic Regulatory Administration at the newly established Department of Energy.

O’Leary then served as executive vice president of public utilities provider, Northern States Power Company. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her as Secretary of Energy — a monumental accomplishment as she became the first female and the first African American to serve in the position. During her tenure, she focused heavily on reducing the United States’ investment in nuclear weapons while increasing investment in renewable energy sources. She advocated forward-thinking and understanding how government decisions today would influence future generations. With this mentality, O’Leary made partnerships with nonprofit organizations and manufacturers to help commercialize environmentally friendly and energy-efficient products.

After four years as Secretary of Energy, O’Leary undertook many high-level positions and became president of her undergraduate alma mater, Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, TN. Today, Hazel O'Leary is officially retired, but not before a storied career that significantly influenced our country’s approach to energy development.