Mary Ann Pease

Oct 30, 2014 | Energy, Finance, Telecom & Tech

SHEHLA ANJUM

Iconic Alaskan Mary Ann Pease at home in Anchorage.
CHRIS AREND PHOTOGRAPHY

People who know Mary Ann Pease speak about her tenacity and focus while on some of Alaska’s important projects. She coped with high stress jobs calmly and finished tasks on time. But few know one of the ways she learned to cope with stress so well was by turning down dates from coworkers at Disneyland, where she played the role of Snow White for four summers while attending Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut.

Prince Charming

Also while attending college she met someone she didn’t want to turn down dates from. At a college dance she noticed David Pease, a tall, good-looking Yale football player wearing team colors. “He was just this big hulking, massive guy and I told my friend Muffy I was going to check him out,” she says. She walked over and, as she went by him, intentionally tripped over his feet. “He looked up, then he looked down, and then he said, ‘Hey, you wanna dance?’”

That led to a four-year courtship and a June wedding in 1985. The following year Pease and her Alaskan husband moved to Anchorage. They now have two sons, Teddy, twenty-four, and Thomas, eleven. Teddy works with his mother at Resources Energy Inc. (REI), a Japanese company working on a project to export LNG (liquified natural gas) from Alaska to Japan. Pease joined REI in 2012. She is a vice president and the Alaska general manager for the project.

Pease, fifty-four, born in Connecticut, now calls Alaska home. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the all-women Albertus Magnus College and an MBA in Finance from Bridgeport University. The only sister of three older brothers, she was raised in Milford, Connecticut. Her father owned a landscaping business and emigrated from Ireland. Her mother grew up in New York City.

She began competitive figure skating in elementary school and continued through high school. Daily practice made her so skilled at skating that after high school the Ice Capades and Ice Follies tried to hire her. “I chose college and continued to skate but not competitively, instead I taught figure skating to hockey players at a New Haven rink,” she says. She is, however, glad that she skated and said it taught her structure, perseverance, and competitiveness.

Mary Ann Pease.
© CHRIS AREND PHOTOGRAPHY

Gaining Experience

In the years since 1986 Pease has worked on large telecommunications and utility projects in the state. But she already had five years of experience working for United Technologies Corporation as a financial analyst and on handling various defense contracts, including missile systems.

At United Technologies Pease not only gained experience in financial analysis but also obtained her MBA from the University of Bridgeport, paid for by the corporation. She stayed at United Technologies for five years but moved to Alaska in 1986 when her husband graduated from Yale Law School.

Her skills and five-year experience at United Technologies helped when she looked for jobs in Alaska. “I was immediately hired by the Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility [AWWU] and began working on its financial management system,” she says. That job began her association of eleven years, and three positions, with the Municipality of Anchorage in two utilities—AWWU and Municipal Light & Power (ML&P)—and in the Mayor’s office.

In 1989, after three years at AWWU, she moved to the municipality’s Office of Management & Budget as a budget officer and fiscal planner, responsible for analyzing and making policy recommendations for various utility budgets. She travelled to Juneau to lobby for the municipality’s capital budget. One project she helped realize was a firing range for the Anchorage Police Department.

Moving to ML&P

She was still at the Office of Management & Budget when she caught the attention of Tom Starr, the head of ML&P, who noticed her lobbying skills and her presentations on projects. “Tom came to me and said, ‘I am going to steal you from the city, and you are coming over to ML&P. I want you as my finance director, and I want you to acquire a gas field.’”

It was the mid-1990s and Shell was leaving Alaska, selling its assets that included its one-third share of the Beluga field. The municipality’s decision to acquire Shell’s interest in that field was both controversial and innovative and required a thorough financial and geotechnical analysis.

The enthusiasm that the team at ML&P felt was not shared by the city’s administration, and others also voiced uncertainty. One of those was Joe Griffith, the present general manager of Matanuska Electric Association, who was then Chugach Electric Association’s chief financial officer. Griffith said Chugach was also interested in the Beluga field. But Chugach chose not to bid because, he says, “my consultants valued the asset much less than did ML&P, hence I could not bid as much as did they.” Griffith also felt troubled with the idea of “government competing with the private sector.”

But Pease believed in the project. Undaunted by the reluctance, she forged ahead on a complex financial and technical evaluation of the field and the structuring of the purchase. Mike Donnelly, a geotechnical and energy consultant, who now assists Pease with the REI project, worked with her on ML&P’s Beluga field purchase. He lauds Pease’s determination.

“It was a bold move in terms of financial commitment, but it came at a perfect time for the municipal owners to step in. Shell wanted to reinvest its money, and Beluga was a big gas field, with very good economy of scale. It was right-sized for a municipal load and had all kinds of potential gas storage advantages,” Donnelly says.

The mayor appointed a task force to examine the purchase and it recommended in its favor. Pease left ML&P before the sale was finalized, but was pleased with the outcome. “I loved the Beluga project. Because never before had a utility owned its working interest in a gas field, and it would help save money.”

In late 1995, ML&P acquired Beluga for $125 million. The field has now produced money and benefits and paid about $128 million in fees, dividends, and taxes to the city, according to Jim Posey, who retired as ML&P general manager in late 2013.

After leaving ML&P, Pease continued her work in energy. Aurora Power Resources, Inc., a Texas gas and marketing company, hired her to open up its Anchorage office. Pease helped Aurora negotiate gas supply contracts with electric utilities in the state and secured long- and short-term contracts with gas suppliers.

Energy Hiatus

She took a hiatus from energy, but continued in the utility sector when she joined Alaska Communications Systems, Inc. in 1999. She first worked in their finance and investor relations and later became the company’s vice president for corporate communications and handled external, community, and governmental regulations.

Her time there coincided with the deregulation of the telecommunications industry. “ACS (Alaska Communications) was going through an initial public offering and also acquiring some rural local exchange companies [LECs], such as the Fairbanks Municipal Utility System,” Pease says. She traveled often to Juneau and Washington, DC, to appear before the Federal Communications Commission.

Those who have seen Pease work in public settings, before government agencies, and in community meetings speak of her knowledge of her subjects. Lana Johnson, senior vice president at MSI Communications, knows Pease as a friend, client, and colleague. They have worked on several projects, including the gas pipeline project and Knik Arm Bridge, she says.

“Mary Ann is always full of positive energy, a quality engrained from her days as a figure skater. She is tenacious but reasoned and not afraid to take risks,” Johnson says.

Johnson also points to one more attribute: How well-turned out Pease is at any gathering. “Mary Ann is a fashion hound. When ACS was trying to buy MTA [Matanuska Telephone Association] it decided to send her on a road trip through MTA territory. Mary Ann prepared for her visit by shopping at Nordstrom. Her new wardrobe selections were—to put it delicately—more appropriate for Fifth Avenue than main street Cantwell in the rain. But Mary Ann pulled it off with aplomb, as she always does,” Johnson says.

Working with Government

Since leaving ACS in 2005 and before taking on management of REI’s global LNG project, Pease became part of Governor Frank Murkowski’s administration and also formed MAP Consulting, LLC, her own company. She served as the governor’s gas pipeline advisor and later became a consultant to the Alaska Natural Gas Development Authority (ANGDA). During that time she also worked with the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority.

Kevin Hemenway, the chief financial officer for the Knik Arm Crossing Project, has known Pease since 1999. Pease helped the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority conduct hundreds of events with community, tribal, and environmental groups, he says.

“She is poised and at ease presenting complex issues to a large audience,” Hemenway says. He singled out one complicated project to highlight the point: “Mary Ann helped us negotiate an agreement under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which required coordination with national, state, and local government and the Eklutna and Knik Tribes.”

Pease also helped coordinate the “public-private partnership,” or P-3, financing for the Knik Arm bridge. Although that is no longer in the plan, she remains optimistic that the bridge will be built someday. “It is an infrastructure project that is needed, but it has to make sense. I was a fan of P-3 financing, but I would be glad to see the project proceed with conventional state and federal financing,” she says.

At ANGDA, which no longer exists, Pease directed the overall communications strategy for the public and the Legislature for a proposed in-state gas pipeline project.

Earthquake Spurs LNG Market

In 2011, months before ANGDA’s demise, Japan suffered a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in March 2011 that led to a failure of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Japan began looking for alternative sources of energy, and a task force examined options for import of an alternate and reliable source of energy.

Shun-ichi Shimizu, REI president, became involved in that effort. Shimizu, a former Nippon Steel executive, knew Alaska’s gas potential. Nippon Steel supplied the pipes for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline and Shimizu spent time here during its construction. The task force considered coal and gas supply from other regions such as Africa, Middle East, or Oceania, but those were deemed too risky or expensive.

“Alaska’s vast reserves made it attractive and we also have a strategic alliance with the United States,” Shimizu says. REI looked for a point person in Alaska and contacted the US Department of Energy, which recommended ANGDA. Shimizu and other REI officials had a meeting with ANGDA, which Pease also attended. ANGDA dissolved shortly after, but REI decided to hire Pease as its point person in Alaska.

What Pease brings to REI, Shimizu says, is an understanding of natural gas marketing, valuable contacts with Alaskan politicians and business leaders, and experience with the issues. “She is a good bridge for us between Alaska and Japan. We rely on her suggestions for the project.”

REI proposes a small LNG plant using Cook Inlet gas, and Pease is optimistic production can begin in 2018 or 2019, with initial shipments of 1 million tons.

“The market [Japan] has never been here at the doorstop of Alaska. This is the biggest project of my life, global in scale. Everything I have worked on my entire life is driven by this desire to have a challenge and an opportunity. I’m the type of person who wouldn’t have so much invested in a project if I didn’t believe in it,” Pease says.

Lori Glazier, a childhood friend, now an attorney in Connecticut, knows how Pease likes a challenge and says that “when she makes up her mind about something, she goes all the way.”

Glazier remembers how, in the sixth grade, the two friends collaborated on a science project. “Mary Ann wanted a ribbon badly. Our project was about communicable diseases such as measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Mary Ann was not afraid about the scope or presenting it to the judges.” The project got an honorable mention and a ribbon.

Mary Ann Pease with the family dog, husband David, and younger son Thomas in the garden.
© CHRIS AREND PHOTOGRAPHY

Community and Family Values

The demands of her work are many, but Pease has always found time to give to the community. She has served on many boards, including a stint as the board chair for the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. She is also active in the Alaska State Chamber, Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, Commonwealth North, and Athena.

For the last twenty years she has been involved with AK Child & Family (formerly Alaska Children’s Services), which operates residential treatment centers for children with severe mental issues, many from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Dennis McCarville, who heads AK Child & Family, is glad to have Pease at his side as the organization’s treasurer and chair of the finance committee. “Mary Ann is always there when we need her bright, good ideas. Her strong business sense helps us keep our costs down,” he says.

Pease always makes time for her children, however. “She is often rushing in for our board meetings or our fundraisers and often rushing out for her son’s hockey games,” McCarville says.

In the years since moving to Alaska, Pease has become known as “a quintessential planner, analyst, leader, project manager, and political pundit as well as a great mother and entertainer,” says MEA’s Joe Griffith. He believes that “she should be governor.”

Her younger son, Thomas, plays for the Pirates of Abbott-O-Rabbit Baseball League. Pease says, “On Wednesday nights in spring and summer I am often working at the snack shack on the baseball fields; that is, if I am not on the phone with Japan.”

Pease also takes regular vacations with her family in December and during spring break. Earlier this year the family went on a cruise from Vancouver to Seward. “I work hard,” Pease says, “but I also look forward to time with my sons and husband, who are, of course, the most important part of my life.”

WRITER SHEHLA ANJUM IS BASED IN ANCHORAGE.

This first appeared in the November 2014 print edition of Alaska Business Monthly magazine.

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