EECO Asks Why Podcast

185. Hero: Natalie Birdwell - VP of Strategic and Corporate Development @

January 26, 2022 Electrical Equipment Company Season 7
EECO Asks Why Podcast
185. Hero: Natalie Birdwell - VP of Strategic and Corporate Development @
Show Notes Transcript

From the great state of Texas to leading the way at Natalie Birdwell has an amazing journey that she unpacks in this insightful conversation.  She knew early on that her love of STEM would be prevalent in her journey and quickly started to make an impact when she entered industry. 

She offered sage advice to those in industry that are dealing with issues such as transferring knowledge and how the workforce transition is impacting everyone.  Her recognition in the disparity of female leaders in engineering compared to general business was eye opening and she sees that as a great opportunity to advocate and share STEM opportunities to create engagement early and often.

Natalie debunks the myth that industry is not innovative and shares personal insight and experiences she has that speaks to the ever evolving (and exciting) changes that are happening in industry every day!  She loves it when she can make better outcomes and as you will quickly see she does that in every engagement she has.  Her passion and energy is contagious and we even got to learn about her amazing family and some fun hobbies that she enjoys to relax.

Natalie Birdwell is a phenomenal leader in industry and hands down our hero!  Sit back and follow along with her and the outstanding journey she has forged through industry!

Guest: Natalie Birdwell - VP of Strategic and Corporate Development @

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey
Manufacturing Happy Hour with Chris Luecke
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Host: Chris Grainger
Executive Producer: Adam Sheets
Podcast Editor: Andi Thrower

00:00 Chris: Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have a hero conversation. I'm very excited to have back with us, miss Natalie Birdwell, who is the VP of corporate and strategic development So welcome Natalie. 

00:17 Natalie: Thanks, Chris. 

00:18 Chris: So excited to have you back out as a great conversation on energy intelligence. But Natalie, when I found out about you and what you were doing in, we had to connect. You're local. So I'm so excited to have this hero conversation just to hear a little bit more about you for our listeners to learn. And I love to get started just by a little bit about your journey. 

00:37 Natalie: Oh, gosh. Well thanks Chris. It's good to be here. Yeah, it's been quite a journey to get to Raleigh, North Carolina by way of a few different places. So I was actually born and raised in Texas in a suburb of Dallas. And then ended up going to the university of Missouri for my undergrad because we had my mom and her three sisters had actually gone there. So it was like a compromise out of state. And then when I came out, I was at this crossroads and had an engineering degree but had really liked kind of being in the sales internship that I had. And so, that's when I hopped in and took a job with Rockwell Automation, some of your listeners may know, Rockwell. 

01:22 Chris: Pretty sure they've heard of Rockwell 

01:28 Natalie: oh, well, that's a funny story. So my engineering degree is an industrial engineering degree. I started mechanical at one brief period of time. I was like a dual major in electrical and mechanical, which I think I was crazy. 

01:44 Chris: Did you like pain or something? I'm trying to understand you.

01:48 Natalie: So then I ended up going to industrial engineering. I had worked in an intern in a fab in at Texas instruments. And so were the whole monkey suit when I was like late teens, early twenties and handled these Silicon wafers that cost more than what I made for the entire summer. And so really no pressure. I ended up really liking the industrial world and industrial manufacturing and had kind of grown up around it with our family business. And so Rockwell was a great choice and a great training ground to have an introduction, to all things industrial. And so did the whole training program in Milwaukee and Alabama and Ohio and every place in between it felt like.

And then I went, to Houston and worked there for about six and a half years. It was really interesting work global energy market. Houston's very international got to see a lot of really cool projects. About 85% of what I did didn't end up in the US and so had a good mix of kind of, backyard manufacturers that were there locally. And then the global energy production as I would call it. So, and then ended up said, Hey I like this, but I wanted to know more about business. And so had always been interested in going to get my MBA and I made the break and went and did that. And that's how I came to North Carolina.

There was also, my husband was kind of involved in that relocation scenario too, on a personal level. But yeah, it turns out here in the Raleigh area. We have two top 20 business schools in our backyard with Duke and UNC and I took the lighter of the blue and it go tar heels. And so, was super excited to do that. And then when I came out took a very different turn and went into government. And so I worked for the state of North Carolina for a while and ended up doing operations for five statewide facilities. And then I was asked to be the executive director of the Coal Ash management commission, which if you have some regional listeners that dealt with duke energy and the coal Ash incident and the Dan river between Virginia and North Carolina.

And so, really interesting experience, we were at political football and everything we did could be on the news the next day or in the paper. And so, but it was fun bringing together my technical and engineering background too, about how to look at the problem holistically and what's best for the people and the taxpayers of North Carolina and in utility rates and safety with environmental safety and put together some solutions.

So, from there I hopped out and came back into the private sector and worked for a startup called ndustrial.IO. And we just closed our series A round of funding back in May. So we're exciting. 

05:00 Chris: What a path. Wow. You're all over the place. And I used to call them on a lot of those utilities, those duke and dominions and things like that. So I'm very familiar with what you were doing there. I am curious, I'll kind of go back to the beginning real quick. Did you always have a passion for S.T.E.M. And for those types of things? 

05:18 Natalie: I did, there were, I think back then there were a couple of probably key moments. One was that my dad was basically a self-taught engineer. He didn't complete college, but he had his own manufacturer's rep business. And so, he. Re-upped heat. Exchangers was one of the big things. And when I was three years old, which is crazy, that's how old my daughter is now. I apparently walked into his office and said, I'm ready to take a purchase order.

I think it's always been in my blood a little bit. Come by it honestly. He was really good with electrical things and around the house. And so I was his helper and he kind of, taught me about wiring things and, plumbing and all those fun, but very practical skills.

And then when I was in school, I had some really influential teachers actually, when I was in high school that said, Hey, you, you like math and science, you should pursue it and not be afraid of pursuing it. And they really encouraged me to do that. And so, I think the good advice that I got was when you go to college, start out as an engineer, and if you completely hate it, you can go do something else. But if you don't start off that way you'll probably never get into it. And I think that was a good piece of advice. My brother-in-law, who is also an engineer. He went to Georgia Tech and he said, Natalie, it's a way of thinking and it'll serve you very well, no matter what you do. And so I think those were some really key points that kind of shaped the direction that I took.

06:58 Chris: No doubt. I always tell people about engineering school and just tell it teaches you how to think that was the biggest thing. I don't remember. A lot of the calculations I'd have to pull the books out, but just that process of thinking is really drilled in. 

07:11 Natalie: Absolutely. And problem solving. I couldn't tell you any of the equations or how to solve them, but, how do you approach thinking about them, unpacking it problem solving, you checked everything that, you know and how to step back and start to evaluate, other factors. Yeah. I think it's just been, it's really powerful. 

07:33 Chris: Well, what a great journey, what great advice you've already given listeners out there. This is just this is turning into be a killer hero conversation. So I am curious with a company that called, you're in industry, you obviously have a passion for it. What are the challenges out there that you're seeing? Cause you're on the front lines. You're talking to so many manufacturers across the country. So just really curious for your insight. 

07:59 Natalie: Sure. Well, I, probably anybody that works in this space can say, oh, there's, there's things day to day that you deal with one of the trends that I would say I've definitely seen throughout my career.

This transition of the workforce and the transition of knowledge, right. And especially around operating industrial facilities is that you've had folks that have worked in these facilities for a really long time, have great subject matter expertise and are really well versed as they're starting to move out of the workforce kind of that next generation of folks that are moving into the workforce combined with this transformation, you hear industry 4.0 and digitization. And in all of those things are really important, then they sound wonderful. But being able to marry that with the reality of. The framework or the constraint that you may have operating the facility of where you have to be smart to make your investments and where you can put your time and how you train your people.

And I think all of those things are, shouldn't say collision point, but they're all in the same pot. And they're all really key for success and those things continue to evolve and to change. And so I think that can be a challenge. The other thing that I've kind of just seen as a challenge is I've been somewhat of an anomaly as a female in the field too, is I remember going into business school and they were doing the introductions and they were lamenting that there was only 30% females in our business school class. And I started laughing and they're like, what? This isn't funny. And I said, this is the most females I've been around in a meeting or in a room in 10 or 12 years. And my physics class in college, there were a hundred people and there were three females in the class. And that was pretty, pretty typical of the industry. And so I think there's a really exciting evolution going on with more folks in more diversity, getting interested in S.T.E.M. And being a part of industrial. And in manufacturing, but that's good. I don't think that's a challenge. I think that's an exciting opportunity. 

10:24 Chris: It is. It is. And as a three-time girl, dad you're preaching to the preacher, I'll tell you what my girls, they loved the women hero conversations in particular. When we first started the podcast, we did a series for women engineering and we're actually going to be doing some other things around that. And talking about some of these topics specific to women in industry. And we'll have to get you included in, in that panels as we're trying to put those together, because you're all over it.

I mean, the skills gap is one thing for sure. Workforce attrition that is real but we got to be doing something for the next generation and particularly of young girls to get them interested in S.T.E.M, get them interested in what's going on. Hats off to your dad for being intentional. Just about teaching you some basic stuff around engineering, because that sounds like was your spark to get you going.

11:14 Natalie: Absolutely. Absolutely. I was interested and then hats off to my mom too, because I can't remember. I was probably 12 and our, I'm going to date myself here, our VCR broke and they were gonna, get rid of it or throw it away. Cause we had to get a new one. And I said, before you do that, can I take it apart? So she let me do that on the living room floor and I'm sure I made a terrible mess. I can't even remember right now, but she said, yeah, sure. Go for it. Why not? Because I was curious what was inside and how it was made. 

11:53 Chris: You got to embrace that curiosity as a parent, you kind of got to get over that. Oh, it's going to make a mess and just let them learn. 

11:59 Natalie: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

12:01 Chris: I love it. So it sounds like your mom, your dad very influential in your life, obviously. Great mentors. What about all the mentors? I think that's something we miss too often now is we're not intentional enough about trying to seek out mentors that are going to really try to speak into our lives and help us grow personally and professionally. So any mentors that have impacted you that you would like to recognize right now?

12:24 Natalie: Sure. Well, I think he made a great point. I always think I can do better seeking out mentors. I think that's one goal that I could improve, but yeah, I think back across I've had different mentors personally, professionally across the different seasons of my life, I would say, and of my career. And the one thing that I would say that they all had in common that was really strong and valuable is to not just be able to take their experience and say, Natalie, well, I did it this way. Right. And so you could model it, but really take their experience and their knowledge and be able to help apply that and guide my situation, right? Because everyone is different. You can mentor 10 different people and that you have 10 different situations. And so being able to make that translation of that wisdom and that knowledge and how it can be applicable and helpful to me at the time that the mentee I think. That's kind of the secret sauce. That's the strong part. 

13:42 Chris: Yes, it is. And that's the piece that, from the one that's doing the mentoring to, you have to actually have some care and empathy and understand where that individual is at. They need to know like Natalie, where you are right then to be able to draw on those experiences, to give you that advice to move forward, because it can't just be, here's my mentor speech and sit down and listen to it. And if you follow this, no that's not it. Right. It's got to be that two way, but you know, purposely seeking it out is what I don't see enough people doing. And I'm trying to encourage people to do that more. Purposely seek the people out that you think could help you and learn from them and ask good questions, 

14:19 Natalie: Chris. I agree. I feel like it's just one, right? Because there can be personal mentors. Each mentor can kind of serve a piece of what you're trying to go through professionally or personally, and they might change. And so look at a team and each person may bring a different strength to your team. 

14:41 Chris: I'm with you. I love to mentor conversation. I'm going to, I'm going to keep us going down the road. I'm curious on your standpoint here and this, my daughters will listen to this. So you be careful with this answer. I will not be careful, be real with his answer, debunk something for them. If they want to pursue a career in S.T.E.M. And they're nine and 11, so there's still a lot of road ahead. We're not sure if that would be a path, but I mean, I definitely want them to be thinking about it, give them something that maybe a stereotype or myth that people think about women in engineering or women in stem in general that you, that's completely wrong. So could you set something right for them? 

15:22 Natalie: Well, I'll take it up just a level, not just women in stem, but I feel like the industry sometimes get labeled as maybe not innovative, not always as innovative or cutting edge. And I would totally disagree with that because I think there's been a lot of innovation. And in ways that. Maybe people don't recognize, right. A lot of innovation on a daily basis back to the how to solve problems. How does all of the acute things that are in front of you, but then also how to be innovative and incorporate all of these the scrape technology and where that's going into the industrial space from a stem standpoint that, you know, for me, what it was is I think there, there always felt like there was sort of this the stigma of, it's not, I guess today you would call it Instagram worthy. It's not this really cool alluring job. And I would say that's I don't think of it that way. I think it's really interesting and that you can be who you are as a person and there's a company. I'm so sorry, I'm forgetting the name, but they make steel toed shoes for women now that don't look like terrible clunky boots. And so you can embrace some of those things, but I think there's a lot of room for innovation and growth just from how women think, and being able to apply that to stem.

And there's so many different ways that you can use stem in, Analytics that engineering thinking and mindset can be used across every single industry today. Right. And I think that's really powerful. Like when we talk about. Marketing and a lot of times we talk about analytics and everything's becoming so digitized today that if you could be a great marketer when you can start to understand at a high level, some of these more technical things. So I think that any, personas that stem is not Instagram worthy are completely false.

17:46 Chris: That was one of the best answers I've ever heard of so far, this is walking down that topic. So Natalie, you did a great job. I have one more question about your career and then we'll, we're going to talk about life outside of All right. Last question about you and your work. When are you the happiest?

18:07 Natalie: Oh gosh. I am the happiest when I know that I've been able to better outcomes. And so when I talk about better outcomes, that is better outcomes for a customer, a client of ours that they've been able to realize greater optimization's been able to do things that they didn't really think was possible with low lift if you will, but have had, we've made it a lot easier for them to achieve those goals. I'm happiest when I see, our team grow and that we have both personal and professional growth within every member of our company. And being able to, see the company grow and also, that returns positively for our investors as well. And so I contribute all of those things. The bottom line that I would say is better outcomes that we continue to push and raise that bar for better outcomes for people and for companies. 

19:12 Chris: Love the people piece. I mean, the company pieces it's so important as well, but it sounds like you just have that heart for helping people too. So love loved it so far. So let's talk about you outside of work for a little bit maybe get us started some hobbies. What do you enjoy doing for fun? 

19:26 Natalie: Most of my hobbies today revolve around chasing a three-year-old. But I've enjoyed a lot of things. I love to learn. And so I take in information like crazy. Whether that's reading articles and kind of learning new things that a lot of times kind of come back to the industrial world. If you think about it, what industrial manufacturing does is that the center of making the world go round, distributing our food, making our clothes, distributing our clothes everything that you can imagine that you touch, you do your computers, your electronics, every day. And so I really like learning I used to play a lot of competitive sports. And so I used to play a lot of sand volleyball and softball and have really enjoyed that over the years in the past as well.

20:19 Chris: Very good. Very good. Well, don't give up on those there. You got to have that break sometimes, right? 

20:26 Natalie: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

20:27 Chris: Now you've mentioned your little three-year-old so we love hearing on EECO Asks Why about family. So w what can you share with us about yours? 

20:35 Natalie: Sure. So I have a three-year-old daughter and she keeps us on our toes for sure. And then my husband, we're all located here in Raleigh. And so he's far more interesting than I am. He is a fighter pilot for the air force. And so, he is a great person to take to dinner with new people

People always want to ask him questions. So, that's our immediate family and my mother helps take care of my daughter. So we're very close with her as well. And two sisters spread across the country. We try to see all of our grandparents and aunts and uncles and family that's spread across the world as much as we can, which has been a little challenging in the last two years.

 I grew up in Texas. I had some extended family in north central, Missouri that farm the family farm that my mom grew up on. And so we, yeah, we get to learn a lot about farming, which is fun and get to get away sometimes and then go out to that part of the country. It's beautiful. And then, yeah, my sister in Connecticut, one in Texas, and then my husband's family is from western Maryland. And so we're kind of all over.

21:57 Chris: They're all over. I love it. I love it. It sounds like you have a wonderful family and thank you for sharing with us. And one thing we love to do too now is just get some input from you on things that you enjoy, consuming, podcasts, YouTube channel, books. You said you're a big learner, so it can be personal stuff or professional, but are there any things that you find value in that you'd like to share with others? 

22:20 Natalie: Sure. So I am not a great book reader. I like books, but I consume, I like to consume articles cause I can do it faster. And so from kind of bed, people are in a growth and a management. There's some good ones from Inc and entrepreneur that pop up that are pretty quick to consume, in the evening. Some of the books that I do really like are I like Malcolm Gladwell and Outliers and Blink. I don't know if there's any other Malcolm Gladwell fans out there, but it definitely speaks to the data analytical side, but translates into the people aspect of it and interaction. So really enjoy those Conscious Capitalism has been a good book and then our mutual friend and colleague with Manufacturing Happy Hour, really enjoy his podcast as well. 

23:18 Chris: We'll just make sure we're right there on your downloads now. You got to subscribe.

23:23 Natalie: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

23:25 Chris: Very cool. Very cool. Well, thank you for sharing those. Now this is a, part of the interview that I had the most fun with. It's the lightning round. You have to have quick responses. We'll go for a little bit and just give our listeners a little more insight to who you really are. How about that? 

23:40 Natalie: Okay. We'll try it. 

23:42 Chris: So let's start off favorite food? 

23:44 Natalie: Tacos, enchiladas, anything with like chips and salsa. I'm in.

23:50 Chris: Love it. All right. How about adult beverage? 

23:52 Natalie: Really like Willamette valley wine out of Oregon. If you haven't been there, you should go. It's great. And a good margarita.

24:01 Chris: You had to say margarita, right? I mean, with the first answer being tacos 

24:05 Natalie: With the tacos. Yeah. 

24:07 Chris: How about your favorite app that's on your phone? 

24:18 Natalie: Oh my goodness. I don't know that I have a favorite app on my phone. What is used most? It's probably my text messaging app. That's how I stay in touch with our great support systems. So yeah. 

24:34 Chris: No doubt. No doubt. How about what's on your night stand? 

24:37 Natalie: Pictures of my family. A clock, a iPhone charger, and my apple watch charger. Some toddler books are on there. 

24:52 Chris: So your apple watch person. So you're chasing the three little circles everyday, too. Okay. Gotcha. 

24:57 Natalie: Yes. I'm not that great at succeeding. I need to do better at completing my ranks. Yeah. 

25:04 Chris: Those little rings out there. They're this, I don't even, don't get me started. All right, next question. What's a guilty pleasure. 

25:11 Natalie: A guilty pleasure. Well, I mean, margarita let's see, ice cream is a guilty pleasure and Ted Lasso. Ted Lasso is a guilty pleasure of mine to watch. Yes, I really liked Ted Lasso.

25:28 Chris: Favorite sports team? 

25:29 Natalie: Oh, well that's easy. So, Dallas Cowboys, Texas Rangers, Missouri Tigers. And the Tar Heels and my husband went to Virginia Tech. So we'll put the Hokies in there too. 

25:41 Chris: Hokies is in there too. Okay. Well that can get interesting with the Heels and the Hokies. Okay. 

25:46 Natalie: It can, but we've managed, it managed it. We've had to call a truce on the golf course one time. We are so competitive, but we got it. 

25:56 Chris: Very good. Very good. And last question, Natalie. Dogs or cats?

26:01 Natalie: Dogs. 

26:01 Chris: Whew. You've passed. You passed it there. That's good. Cause there's only one right answer. 

26:07 Natalie: So fun fact dogs. We at ndustrial. I think our people to dog ratio always hovers very close to one-to-one. We have a lot of dogs in the ndustrial family as pet owners. That seems to be a trend. So we don't have a dog. I had a dog growing up and with our schedules, it wasn't really fair to the dog to have the dog. So, there's a lobbying going on in our house. It's begun. So in the near future. And the next several years there may be a dog, but we utilize friend's dogs to go pet and stuff. 

26:49 Chris: That's right. Very good. Very good. Well, look, this has been wonderful, Natalie. Just to get to know you, thank you for sharing what you have. We always wrap up with the why and this just speaks to what your passions are, what drives you as a person? So if somebody wants to say, Hey, Natalie, what is your personal, why? What would that be? 

27:08 Natalie: Yeah I would go back to the personal, why is to drive better outcomes and, whether that's contributing towards getting more people interested in S.T.E.M., like you said, and, creating more diversity in the industry. I think all of those things can drive better outcomes. Driving better outcomes and opportunities for the next generation of our kids. And also, in professional life. So I that's the best way I can sum it up. 

27:37 Chris: You summed it up beautifully. And for our listeners out there, go to the show notes, check out ways to connect with Natalie. If you want to get more insight from her for ways to find, they'll all be in the show notes. And Natalie, thank you so much. It's been a true blessing to talk to you. Can't thank you enough for your time today. 

27:55 Natalie: Thank you, Chris. It was fantastic. Thanks for having me.

27:58 Chris: Hope you have a great day. All right, everybody. That was a great hero conversation with Natalie. I think the one thing I remember is that she's always striving for better outcomes. I think we can all take that away and work with that in our lives. Remember, send us those war stories. We really want those. You can connect with us on Facebook and Instagram to get those to us and always keep asking why .