Lisa Davis: reflections on her education and career

Lisa Davis is a member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, head of Global Energy, and CEO of its U.S. subsidiary.

Lisa Davis (B.S. ’85, ChemE) has risen to great heights during her career in the energy industry. After she received her chemical engineering degree, she went straight into her first position as an engineer for Exxon, managing oil and gas production projects for the Prudhoe Bay field.  From there she went on to a ten-year career at Texaco in Los Angeles, focused on operations in alternate fuels, oil refining, and marketing.  When she left Texaco, she was the Operations Manager for the Los Angeles refinery.

She moved to Shell International Petroleum in 1998 taking on increasing responsibility in operations, starting as Vice President of Operations and Maintenance at the Martinez Refinery and becoming Executive Vice President of Commercial Fuels for the Americas and ultimately Executive Vice President of Downstream Strategy, Portfolio and Alternate Energy for the company in their London headquarters.

In 2014, she joined Siemens AG as a member of its Executive Team (Managing Board) and as head of their global energy business including power generation, power services, oil and gas, and renewables and as CEO of its U.S. subsidiary.  Siemens, a global engineering and manufacturing powerhouse, is one of the world’s largest producers of energy-efficient technologies and heavy equipment and is a leading supplier of systems for power generation and transmission.  While at Siemens, Lisa also sits on the board of directors of several public companies including Penske Automotive Group, Kosmos Energy Limited, and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy. Davis grew up in the mountain states of Idaho and Montana. Her mother had degrees in medical technology and business and Lisa describes her as a high achiever. Her father was entrepreneurial and owned an aircraft maintenance business.  “My parents strongly encouraged me to go to college. I always liked math and chemistry which led me to engineering and a profession which my parents strongly supported. Their message was, “enjoy yourself, be successful and self-sufficient.”

“I decided to go to Berkeley because I wanted to go to a good college in engineering science. Also, I wanted to experience a different environment and place to live.  Berkeley of course had a super reputation and was definitely different.”

“I felt it was great to be a student at a university that was proud of both its students and its history.  It was exciting to be in that environment.  I lived over near Telegraph Avenue so I would walk through Sather Gate every day to cross-campus on my way to class. Also, I met my husband Brian Davis (B.S. ’85, Engr) in ChemE 140!  We were married in 1986.” 

There were around 25 students in Davis’ graduating class. A handful of them were women. She never felt, however, that she was a minority. Davis comments, “Cal didn’t focus on gender. Nobody really ever mentioned it. It was rather a focus on learning and learning from the best.  What I remember most from the experience was two of my professors: Professor Clayton Radke (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) was definitely my most challenging professor in a good way, and Professor Bill Somerton (Mechanical Engineering), who introduced me to petroleum engineering, and really cared about his students.”

According to Davis, the energy industry was seen more positively when she started. Although the energy sector is now beginning to shift to meet the challenge of climate change, there is still a long way to go. She states, “I think it is still a fantastic and very critical industry. The world needs more and more energy. For the foreseeable future, oil and gas will remain a very important part of the energy mix as renewables continue to grow in magnitude and more energy is needed to supply society’s growing needs. The industry is now focused on how to reduce the carbon intensity of its operations. Technologies are still being developed that will eventually help solve this complex equation.  And that’s where it gets back to Cal – learning how to highly complex problems.”

Lisa as an undergraduate student at Berkeley

Davis offers this advice about what is most important to take away from your time at Berkeley. “What I think Cal provides to its students is learning how to solve real-world problems and how to identify new opportunities; to make more of your environment.  Coming out of Cal, you can do anything you want because you take these great skills with you.”

 “It’s important to know what you really want. You will have to work hard, but there are no limits because you have all the basic skills you need. My biggest takeaway from working in the energy business has been to not let people deter me when they say ‘no’, or you ‘can’t do it because it has never been done before.’ You can always find a way to accomplish your goal.”