Anne Shen Smith is the 2020 recipient of the U-M Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) Alumni Merit Award. This singular recognition is awarded each year to a U-M IOE alum who personifies the College of Engineering’s tradition of excellence.
Anne Shen Smith retired in 2014 as the chairman and CEO of Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy. SoCalGas is the nation’s largest natural gas distribution utility, delivering energy services to over 23 million consumers.
How do you feel about being recognized with this award?
I was rather surprised when notified that I would be receiving this award. Why me? What did I accomplish to warrant this recognition? I hold the University and the College of Engineering in such high regard that I felt there must be hundreds if not thousands of other alumni more deserving. Needless to say, I am deeply honored and grateful to receive this award.
Smith started her career with SoCalGas in 1977 and held leadership positions in marketing, public affairs, strategic planning, environmental policy, regulatory affairs, customer care, support services, and operations.
How has your degree from IOE been applied or helped shape your professional career?
My education from IOE gave me a well-grounded and well-rounded foundation upon which I built my career. I held nearly 15 different positions over a 35+ years career and cannot recall a job assignment where something I learned as an IOE student did not come into play.
In the earlier stages of my career, I worked as an Operations Research Analyst, a Market Research Analyst, and a Forecasting Analyst – all using the analytical, modeling, and statistical training I received. As I progressed in my career and became a supervisor, I recalled principles of effective management learned while sitting in West Engineering classrooms. Running a call center of over 800 agents and overseeing facilities management and warehouse operations for a very large company tapped my knowledge of stochastic processes, inventory control, ergonomic design, data analytics.
Ultimately as the CEO of a company of nearly 8000 employees, I relied on others to do the work. However, having a broad command of the operational details allowed me to lead the team from a place of knowledge and confidence.
Smith immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in 1964. She received her bachelor’s degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan and has a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley.
What comes to mind when you think about IOE at the University of Michigan?
I cannot say enough about the IOE program at the University, including the top-notch faculty. The academic curriculum was very rigorous and challenging, to be sure, but the focus was not merely on intellectually mastering the theories but rather on the practical applications of the principles in real-life situations. I didn’t just learn new things – I learned how to learn. I still recall Professor Walt Hancock’s wise counsel: “It’s not what you know that counts, it’s how fast you can learn what you don’t know…”
I learned how to dissect and solve problems. I learned how to think systematically – seeing patterns and inter-connections and working towards achieving objective functions while managing constraints. This mindset not only helped me solve technical problems, but also lead people, understand political dynamics, build common ground, and work towards solutions.
My IOE training has so permeated my every-day life that my family fondly accuses me of always trying to “optimize” my life and that of others.
You can read more about Smith’s achievements and access a list of past U-M IOE alumni merit award recipients here.