If power industry executive Barbara Nick ’83 ever pens a memoir about her atypical career arc, the chapter on her college experience will be central to the story.
Nick is president and CEO of Dairyland Power Cooperative, La Crosse, which provides wholesale electricity to more than 40 member cooperatives and municipalities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois.
Nationwide, she’s one of only a few female chief executives in her industry. Her start in the tech-heavy field, 35 years ago, also sets her apart. It came in communications.
Nick says UW-Green Bay shares the credit, and it’s partly why she and her husband established the Jay and Barbara Nick Family Endowed Scholarship in 2013 to offer financial assistance to new freshmen.
Nick, then Barb Bielmeier, was a part-time, returning transfer student when her young family relocated to Green Bay in 1980. Raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., she had taken classes at Arizona State and UW-Madison. She was impressed that the quality of her UWGB education equaled the big schools and the campus was accommodating to non-traditionals.
She tutored in the writing lab, was a linguistics researcher for Prof. Donald Larmouth, and offered English-as-a-Second-Language assistance to international students.
In 1981, a job board posting caught her eye. Wisconsin Public Service Corp. was hiring a technical writer. Having studied with the exacting Larmouth, she knew she was qualified.
“The thing was, I had a liberal arts background. I was eight months pregnant when I had to decide whether to go ‘permanent’… and I was not from the Midwest, not male, not an engineer, and not an accountant,” she recalls, laughing. “But I stayed 33 years.”
Nick “fell in love” with the energy industry, and her work brought her to various divisions across the company. She remembers one afternoon at a lathe with a precision machinist at Kewaunee Nuclear Power and being in awe of the “absolute pride of workmanship.”
Nick finished her bachelor’s in Communication. She later completed Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.
At WPS, she rose through the ranks to become senior VP of energy delivery and customer service. She was president of the Upper Peninsula Power Co. subsidiary, and by 2014, when she concluded her career at Integrys, she was president of its Minnesota Energy Resources and Michigan Gas Utilities corporations.