By: Brian Barthelmes
“My parents have inspired me all my life and have always encouraged me to be myself. I also credit my teachers and the many mentors who’ve helped me along the way.”
Tonya Berry, Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of transformation and engineering, reflected on these influences as she was named to Women, Inc’s list of 2022 Most Influential Women Executives in Corporate America.
She credits her parents and teachers among her influences as key to her success. They recognized and helped channel her professional potential.
A born problem-solver
From an early age, Berry was naturally curious about problem solving in math and science.
“I was always part of lively family dinner table conversations about solving problems and thinking about possibilities,” said Berry. “Looking back, that’s when my engineering instincts were formed. I wanted to listen, learn and understand – and ask as many questions as I could!”
Growing up, Berry sought opportunities to volunteer to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities. Many of Berry’s interests – the Girl Scouts, extracurricular activities and even playing with friends – centered on science and math.
Berry fondly recalls being selected for the Special Program for Academic and Creative Enrichment (SPACE) program in the fourth grade. She was immersed in science and gained appreciation for STEM’s true impact.
“In space, energy and beyond, the world will always need creative people to solve the problems of today and tomorrow,” said Berry. “STEM’s influence is only as strong as the people committed to pursuing the field and using their gifts to change the world.”
A journey shaped by knowledge, instinct and process
Berry made STEM her professional destiny. She holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in business administration from Wayne State University.
Berry’s professional experience extends to the utility industry and beyond. She’s worked in the automotive, staffing, engineering and insurance sectors. In all settings, Berry recognizes the value of process and process improvement.
“From building cars to making computers, delivering energy and more, processes and the people who run them drive better business results,” said Berry.
A people-first approach to transforming Michigan’s energy landscape
After serving in quality and operations performance leadership roles, Berry is now Consumers Energy’s senior vice president of transformation and engineering. She’s energized by the transformation.
“I’m thrilled to lead a team committed to changing the world – or at least our corner of it – at Consumers Energy,” said Berry. We’re on the frontlines of developing and deploying a clean and lean energy future in Michigan.”
Elements of that future include building and operating wind and solar farms to generate clean energy to energy waste reduction and preparing the electric grid to support Michigan’s electric vehicle transformation.
Reinventing energy delivery is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. For Berry, delivering on that promise means leaning into problem-solving, process and other engineering bedrocks – and putting her team first.
“Engineering skills are important, but they’re only one piece of the puzzle,” said Berry. “This job is about leading with the heart as much as the head. It’s about empowering and bringing people together to deliver exceptional outcomes for the company and our customers.”
Berry drew leadership lessons from Richard Sheridan’s book, Chief Joy Officer: How Great Leaders Elevate Human Energy and Eliminate Fear. A favorite excerpt is this:
“It’s possible to create an organization free from fear, where people bring their whole selves to work and apply the full range of their potential, energy and talent. The bad news is that the path to joy is anything but comfortable. It involves letting go most of what you have learned and experienced at work. It means changing what YOU believe about the people who work for YOU and with YOU.”
Berry strives to live Sheridan’s fear-free, joyful philosophy as Consumers Energy’s honorary “Chief Fun Officer.” She’s known for using informality and gentle humor to help people accomplish more and feel at ease in service to the company and its customers.
“My heart is with leading and developing the people I lead,” said Berry. “If people are happy, the team can accomplish anything.”
Berry pays it forward to help her community and encourage the next generation of STEM pros.
She was born and raised in metro Detroit and calls the area her home. Her husband, Hakim, is the city of Detroit’s chief operating officer.
She also is passionate about STEM education, activities and career advice for aspiring pros. She serves on the boards of the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) and the Detroit Zoo. She’s equally invested in helping women, girls and other underrepresented groups develop and excel in STEM, at work and in life.
“Balance is different for everyone, and I’m a product of what works for me,” said Berry. “Throughout my career, and as a wife and mother, it’s about choosing where to make sacrifices and being okay with it. In each phase of life, those choices evolve, and that’s okay, too.”
The road to Michigan’s clean energy transformation extends to 2040. Between now and then, Berry plans to lean into her team, her skills and her people-first philosophy to bring a coal-free, carbon-free future to life.
“Vast teams of engineers, scientists, information technology pros and others are dedicated to defining, building and delivering a clean energy future for Michigan,” said Berry. “To me, there’s nothing more powerful than that.”