Charging Up: A chat with Utopia Hill, CEO of Reactivate
Utopia Hill: Aerospace engineer — and excellent listener
Utopia Hill is chief executive officer at Reactivate. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
My background is in aerospace engineering, and I have always had a passion for science and math. During college, I focused a lot on power and propulsion, and I worked at GE in their aircraft engines division. I received a call from Invenergy about an opportunity to work as a product engineer back in 2005. At that time, we were still at the very early stages of utility-scale wind, and my educational background was helpful in understanding the technology. My husband and I were also excited about the potential of relocating back to our hometown of Chicago. So I was hired for that role, and the rest is history. After I was with the company for all those years, in early 2022, Invenergy and Lafayette Square launched Reactivate, and I transitioned over to the team, overseeing our engineering procurement and construction activities. I was recently appointed to the CEO role.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To fail up. There are always going to be obstacles and challenges no matter what you do, and you need to learn how to take that experience, understand any lessons learned, improve, and just keep trying and never give up.
What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
I was a Black girl growing up in America with a passion for science and math. I wasn’t always welcome or accepted in certain environments, and that created a need to try to prove myself or keep trying to gain other people’s acceptance, which can be very exhausting. So what I learned over time is that the only thing that I can control is myself and to gain confidence in myself and in my capabilities. I also now realize that oftentimes those who may have some misjudgments about me, based on nothing but my ethnicity or gender — that’s that person’s issue. It’s not something that I can control. So I need to focus on what I can control, and that is me.
What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech?
I think marketing and communication really need to be elevated a lot in the sector. There’s a lot of interest in sustainability, clean energy and a just transition. I am a mom of three, and I hear my kids and their friends talk about their concerns about climate change quite a bit, but I don’t necessarily hear those kids talk about wanting to gravitate toward careers in this sector. So I think that by having a stronger strategy, from a marketing and communications standpoint, hopefully, we can transition that passion into people’s careers because we really need as much talent as we can get in this industry.
Another aspect of all of this is that some people think it’s only engineers and technology experts that are needed, but this sector needs people with [backgrounds in] finance, accounting, law, marketing, communications, installation, operation and maintenance. So there are a lot of needs that go beyond just people with STEM degrees, and we just need to help people understand the potential in this sector.
What is your superpower?
Active listening. And by that, I mean we’re often distracted; we have so many gadgets and things all around us, and I really try to be intentional in my conversations, put the phone down, make sure that I’m not checking emails when I’m in meetings. That helps me to build bonds and relationships with the individuals I’m encountering. It also helps me understand what others see as problems that we can work together to try to solve, so being an active listener helps with the actual execution of a plan.