Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Carrie Hightman is helping inspire the next generation at NiSource Inc., based on her experiences as a leader throughout her career.
She helped launch the Building the Next Generation: Women in Leadership program that includes three components: summits to bring together women in both senior and junior leadership positions, an affinity group to discuss common issues and a mentoring program.
“We started two years ago with a small idea that turned into a big sustainable, really effective program that I am very proud of. The purpose is to develop, retain and recruit women leaders to NiSource as data shows companies with a more diverse work force do better,” says Hightman, who also serves as a member of the company’s senior management team. “So we are attempting – and I think we are succeeding – through this program to train and support through mentoring and networking women leaders.
“We initiated the mentoring program last year carefully pairing up 16 mentors and mentees and we are seeing how it works. I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t become a model for a company-wide program for men and women.”
Hightman herself serves as a mentor to June Konold, controller of NiSource’s gas distribution segment.
“She’s there when I need advice or a different perspective on issues. She is a good listener and a very creative problem-solver. Her advice is very direct and honest, which is refreshing,” Konold says. “She is a very transparent leader and her guidance has been very beneficial to me in terms of decisions I have made. I value her insight.”
Konold says the program has helped create a path for her future.
“It is wonderful to know that you have leadership that cares about you and wants you to grow and develop. That goes a long way,” she says.
As a member of the executive team at NiSource, Hightman is involved in the discussions of the company’s business plan and strategies. Her specific areas of responsibility include all legal functions, ethics and compliance, as well as environmental health and safety. She is based out of NiSource’s headquarters in Merrillville.
“I have been in positions throughout my professional career that all related to the regulated utility industry,” Hightman says. “There are not a lot of companies that impact the day-to-day lives of so many people. Having reliable service delivered to their homes in this day and age with technology is needed to maintain their lifestyles and keep businesses running.”
Before joining NiSource, Hightman served as president of AT&T Illinois, formerly SBC, where she was responsible for all regulatory, legislative, governmental and external affairs activities, as well as community and industry relations throughout Illinois.
Before her position at AT&T, Hightman practiced telecommunications and energy law for more than 17 years. She was a partner in the Chicago law firm of Schiff Hardin, where she led its Energy, Telecommunications and Public Utilities practice group.
Hightman began her career in the public sector in 1983, serving as staff counsel at the Florida Public Service Commission and then as associate counsel at the Florida Office of Public Counsel, handling a variety of public utility cases on behalf of consumers.
She earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois and her juris doctor from Florida State University.
“I went to law school because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my finance degree. I talk to women a lot about careers and lots of times you think you can plan your career … but lots of things happen in life – especially in careers – serendipitously. Law school was serendipitous,” she says. “When I took my first job, I was smart enough to understand it was a very esoteric area that not many people will be in and it provided me with an interesting career and helped make me unique and successful and I really enjoyed it.”
She continues to find gratification in her career and dealing with issues at “the intersection of business, policy and law. That is a fun intersection.”
“I believe you have to be creative to solve problems, it’s not artsy, but strategic creativity that is fun.”
Hightman is marking where NiSource has been and is heading in the future.
“I am proud of the great executive team. We are young and new and we came together in the last three to five years. We have worked with issues in a transparent, positive, ethical, sustainable way that makes be proud to be a part of the team and the company,” she says. “The sky’s the limit in what we do in the community, the good things we offer to customers, the sustainable way we operate and the ethical way we do business.”