Women in Power
Name: Jodi Bullinger
Title: Vice president of engineering and operations
Started at CCEC: 1994
It’s rare to meet someone who knew exactly where they wanted to go in life, planned every step to get there, and followed through to the letter. Jodi Bullinger is the exception. She has been the vice president of engineering and operations since 2016 and has been with Cass County Electric Cooperative (CCEC) for 28 years.
Bullinger obtained her degree in electrical engineering from the University of North Dakota, with an emphasis in power delivery systems. Her interest was sparked by a college advisor who worked in power and encouraged her to take a few classes in the field. Far from coming from a history in the industry, Bullinger was the first person in her family to attend college.
After graduating, she heard of an opening for an engineering technician with CCEC near where she wanted to live; although not hired for this position, she was called back for an open position as a dispatcher. She started her journey in the organization from there.
In 1996, the dispatcher role became more technical, and the title changed to power control technician within the operations department. This gave her a strong background in operations that aided her transition to the engineering department in 2001. When she made this change, Bullinger was intended to work under the manager of engineering, assisting with load flow studies, construction work planning, and contingency studies, among other duties. However, this expected supervisor left the company before she even began her position.
Several crucial things happened at this time. Bullinger found out she was pregnant with her first child, and the next construction work plan (CWP) needed to be completed before the expected due date. Not seeing this as a barrier, she forged ahead and proceeded with the CWP and presented a $10.5 million two-year work plan to the board of directors. One week later, she gave birth to her son.
During her time in the engineering department, she learned critical lessons in determination, loyalty to the company, exceeding people’s expectations, and patience.
“Things don’t happen overnight, and implementation can take years for the rewards to be realized,” she said.
From manager of engineering, Bullinger was promoted to her current position as vice president of engineering and operations in August 2016. In this role, she directs the divisions’ departments, including safety, fleet, operations, engineering, technical services, and system records, while assuring the safe and reliable performance of
CCEC’s electric utility plant. Her position now is primarily in the office, analyzing data and managing communications and departments.
One challenging aspect of her job is the managerial aspect of overseeing such a large department. As vice president of engineering, Bullinger has more than 60 employees reporting directly to her. She emphasized she strives to empathize with their issues while also balancing the co-op’s needs, which can sometimes be a challenge. As an engineer, she admits she is accustomed to being more cerebral and less emotional and tries not to let things bother her, “but it’s hard not to take things personally.”
Bullinger is quick to add that working with the people at CCEC is also the best part of her job. She says she has a great team that bands together in times of emergency or crisis. They are very supportive of each other and share in the good feelings after an accomplishment.
At the time of her graduation, only 10% of employees in the power generation and distribution field were women.
“In a male-dominated field, you have to prove yourself a little more. Once you do that, you cement yourself as reliable and knowledgeable. Women face more challenges in this kind of workplace than men realize,” she explained.
One example of a challenge she overcame was in 2003 when she went to take the professional exam to become a registered professional engineer in North Dakota. On the day Bullinger sat for the test, she was still on maternity leave and nursing, and brought her months-old daughter to Bismarck with her. She has been a registered professional engineer in North Dakota since December 2003.
She has also taken her husband, who works in finance, to conferences for the power industry. Vendors often start their speeches by talking to him, and then she responds, and they quickly realize who they should be speaking to.
“Women in this field have built their reputations on their work ethic and know-how,” Bullinger added.
Sometimes when she answers a work phone and the caller hears a woman’s voice, they assume they need to talk to someone else, not realizing they have reached a vice president of the company with commanding credentials and experience. She lets them know she is knowledgeable and able to help them with whatever they need. Once, after such a call, a member came to the office in person to apologize for assuming they needed to speak to a man.
Bullinger has been instrumental in many updates over her time with the company. Some of the major changes during her tenure with CCEC have included:
- Having supervisory control and data acquisition at all substations and within the distribution network at the cooperative, allowing remote monitoring and operation of devices in the field from the office. This has improved reliability for members.
- Automated metering infrastructure upgrade for all members, allowing for an accurate meter reading along with voltage monitoring and outage monitoring.
- CCEC interconnection process, connecting CCEC’s system with a renewable energy source.
- Implementation of an aggressive maintenance plan to replace older failing underground cables. At its peak, there were 200 outages a year caused by failing cable; today, the average is around 60 outages per year.
Bullinger is also proud of CCEC’s strong reputation for helping its members.
“Our main core value is to provide reliable service to our members, and in my department, we really strive to meet that,” she said. “In my 28-year career, this has been a great place to work. They treat employees well, are involved in the community, and empower their employees to help members. We expect a lot of the people we work with, and they deliver.”
Outside of work, Bullinger’s life has revolved around her kids for many years. They are both now collegeaged and back to classes this past fall. These days in her free time, she enjoys quilting – including making baby quilts for CCEC employees – crossstitching, and spending time at their lake cabin.