Ray Brooks, Arizona Public Service (APS) Strategic Partnership program manager, began working in the energy sector after spending 28 years in the Marine Corps. He’s now undertaking something deeper, by pursuing truth and acts of service. In this episode of Energy Superheroes, Ray talks to Energy.Media about his unconventional background and career path – and about the events that led him to rethink his own priorities.
In this episode, Ray discusses several of the paths that he and his family members and acquaintances have followed to achieve success and personal growth:
- Ray grew up in rural Tennessee, where his father served as a physician after growing up in Nicaragua and attending medical school in Mexico. Some of his formative experiences involved sitting quietly in the back of the classrooms where his mother, who was born into an impoverished family in rural Nicaragua, pursued her college education.
- After spending decades in the Marine Corps and several years in the energy industry, Ray started talking to people about the need to look inside the heart and pursue truth and meaning, even at work. One of his listeners responded humorously by calling him a unicorn. Ray bristled at first, insisting that he was a serious guy, but has since embraced the label, seeing it as an opening to encourage people to put their true selves forward.
- Ray sees the energy industry as a good option for veterans seeking job opportunities. He describes his own experience in renewable energy as an opportunity to grow and discover his own identity after leaving military service.
Peter Perri 0:02
From Energy.Media, this is Energy Superheroes with Peter Perri. All right, here we go with the Energy Superheroes podcast. This is episode three. And I’m excited to have Ray Brooks on today. Ray’s become a good friend of mine over the last couple of months since we’ve been talking about having him participate. And I’m excited to have Ray, because he’s going to talk about some personal stuff that so few of our guests really have the courage to go into. And we love to have that, that that type of conversation because we all know at the end of the day that we’re people first, and we’re in business second, and hopefully second, or third or fourth, when it comes to aligning priorities. So Ray’s got some really cool stuff to talk about today. And I’m going to open the question, the open the podcast with the with the simple question, just ask, Ray, could you tell us the story of how you came to realize the importance of doing inner growth as compared to just the job? I would love to hear that story?
Ray Brooks 1:16
Well, thanks a lot, Peter, it’s great to be here with you. And thanks to everybody for joining in. You know, this has been a journey to finding this current space. You know, a lot of times people refer to it as your space within or your inner being your inner self. Your True Self also is another term that’s been used. But you know, after about a 30 year, 35 year career in both the military and the energy sector. You know, I found that one morning, I woke up and I realized that all that I was doing in my life was trying to work every day, promoted, get another pay increase, get another bonus. And that is what my entire focus had been on. Little did I know at the time that my family life was suffering, my marriage was suffering. The way that I viewed myself in terms of my own purpose, had no direction whatsoever. And I took a hard look at myself. And I saw that well, I’d been reading all the latest and greatest and leadership and management publications on how to lead people and how to do all these things. But then I realized that Well, I didn’t really even know who I was as a person. And so I started exploring, you know, where my origins came from, where did all this come from. And it stems back to when I was a child and the impression that I had of both of my parents, thankfully, I was able to grow up with both of them, they were wonderful, had a great home and a great family. But my mother and father really provided the example for me at a very, very early age of what life really means and what life is really about. And it’s about sharing, and it’s about giving, and it’s about serving, and service to your fellow man. And it’s about helping others, all the job things and all the career things that we focus on and spend the great portion of our time doing and pursuing. They’re all going to end one day. And at the end of that day, the question becomes what will you have in your life that gives you meaning and gives you purpose?
Peter Perri 3:31
That’s great, right? And it’s, it’s interesting to me, as somebody from the energy industry, you’re, you’re, in my experience, you’re a little bit of a unicorn here in that. In the energy industry, in particular, we’re always so serious thinking about the job thinking about the details. And of course, that’s important, because I think we come from an industry where mistakes and risk are obviously huge. But that being said, You’ve you’re willing to step out on a limb and talk about the sort of what I would call heart issues, which in the end, exactly what you said, makes such a big difference on people’s lives. What what do you think, is the most important thing for us to know about you that’s sort of maybe caused you to come to that place that you are now and, you know, what can the rest of us do to sort of get there?
Ray Brooks 4:34
That’s a great, thank you. Thank you first of all, for for the unicorn. Shout out. So me that here. Recently, someone told me that I was also told me that I that you know, they saw me as this unicorn and at first you know, I kind of smarted about it because I was you know, I was offended. You know, hey, I’m a Marine. I’m a serious guy. I’m a professional. I’m not a I’m not out here in left field. Come in with you Come My deal with this stuff, right? But I learned though, to embrace that moniker. Because if if someone sees me in that light, you know, if you look at what a unicorn is, that’s exactly who and where I want to be, because it means that I’m expressing that true self. We go through life. Rarely, if ever, and you’ll hear me say this over and over again, expressing who we really are, who we are at work, and who we show up with, and how we talk and our mannerisms and all of those things. That’s not who we really are, those were carefully manufactured traits and characteristics that we have built over time, to enable us to, to operate and to be successful in an equally carefully manufactured world, basically. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I think at this point in my life at kind of the mid midpoint, what I’m seeing is that when you have a certain level of experience that you have amassed over time, I’ve been in the Marine Corps for 28 years, and, and I was in the energy industry for six plus years. Well, at some point, you reach a culminating point on how much more doctrine and how much more curriculum you are going to apply to your body of work. In the end, there’s nowhere else to go. But within if you want to continue the process of service. And while the unicorn may sound like it’s a left field thing, the one thing I learned in the energy industry is that safety is paramount. It’s the number one tenet of operations. And to me, being safe means coming to work fully prepared, understanding what it is that you have to do and what you need to do to run the business. But it also means knowing what your business is inside of you. And having a firm grasp on all of those ins and outs and machinations, whatever you want to call them. So that you can identify your own gaps, you can be responsive to feedback, you’re willing to give feedback, constructive feedback, obviously. And in doing so you have this overlay of the brain and the heart together. And when applied, that’s when you achieve what we are always seeking which is excellence and greatness, etc.
Peter Perri 7:23
It’s great. So it another sort of energy industry tenet is that we’re really good at defining success. And we’re really good at defining what are the outcomes that we want to achieve and sort of spreadsheet it out and project management? I think, me having come from the digital industry and then moving to energy about 10 years ago, initially, I was so surprised at the at the level of detail that’s applied to projects, it’s it was just a much greater level of rigor than what you see in digital. And I think because if you in digital, there’s always the idea that that you throw it out there and see what works and you can sort of pivot from there. But in energy, you can’t do that. So you have to pre plan and there’s a great level of detail and rigor applied to success metrics. But I think in the in the heart space, it’s very difficult to find those measures of success. So in in your mind, how do you define success when it comes to some of these heart topics that that you talk about?
Ray Brooks 8:34
Well, that’s a great, great question, Peter. You know, I would even say that the fact that we’re even having this discussion, that we’re bringing a discussion like this on these topics to the energy industry is a success in and of itself. Everyone knows that, that these things are going on. Everyone has the same feelings. No one is better or worse than anyone else. There are no goods there are no Bad’s, it’s only universal truth to take something from Father Richard Rohr, it’s only a universal truth that we all fall under. And everyone knows this, and we go to work every day. And we we may be comfortably miserable, as I’ve referred to a time, we may not like our job, we may not feel like doing it. And we may do this and go through these actions for 10 years, 20 years knowing that there’s something else that we want to do. The beauty of all of this is that it’s it’s individual, internal to to the person themselves. Everyone has the gift, everyone has that light, you have it, I have it everyone listening here or watching has it. And we all just have to tap into that space within ourselves to unleash the beauty that makes human beings who and what we are. So from a success standpoint, if I can reach or if we can reach one person who says you know what, enough is enough. I’m going to change my life because There’s somebody else out there who’s doing it. This isn’t the first time that this has happened, this won’t be the last. And so I’m going to take that what we’ve called the leap of faith. And I’m going to move into the space where I believe that my contribution to to humanity can be the greatest. And to me, that’s what the success. That’s what the success means.
Peter Perri 10:22
That’s, that’s great. So this question I love asking is, who’s the smartest person you ever met? Right? And typically, we’re getting answers around technical subjects, or let’s say, mentors that worked with people professionally. But I’ll say in your case, who’s the smartest person you ever met, and that could certainly apply to whatever type of intelligence you want to apply it to?
Ray Brooks 10:48
Well, there’s some people who I, who I follow Well, let me let me start over. The smartest person I’ve met has been without question my mother, my mother, and and both my father, but I’ll talk here about my mother. But my mother was orphaned at an early age in Nicaragua, where she’s from, came from virtually nothing, and was abused as a child, worked her way up the ranks through to nursing school, became a mother of four, a wonderful homemaker, a wonderful, independent thinking, thinker, woman example, for both me and my siblings, my three other siblings. And I remember when I was a child, my mom would take us to college with her to class with her all four kids, she, she walk us in, at Tennessee State University. And when I was probably five or six, I would sit in the back of the class in a college class while my mother was working to get her degree. My senior year in high school when I graduated, and I went to a great preparatory school in Nashville, Tennessee called Montgomery Bell Academy. And when I graduated from this awesome school, my senior year, I also attended my mother’s graduation from college, her senior year, in back in 1992. And my mom has gone through the gamut of, of religion, of school of thought of philosophy, and inevitably, continually comes back to the same conclusion that at the end of the day, we are all the same, we are all teachers and students of one another. And we all if we just live in the service of of ourselves and of each other, then everything’s gonna be okay.
Peter Perri 12:43
Wow, that’s a that’s a really cool story. Mom taking you to college with her that had to have left a huge impression on you. So would you say that, that that drove for you a love of learning and this desire to continuously explore
Ray Brooks 13:01
absolutely without question. On the flip side of this, my father came from similar humble beginnings, from the plains in the remotest areas of northeastern Nicaragua on the Mosquito Coast, where my, my family lived, there were my grandfather was a missionary. And my father did the same thing. He a very similar thing. He built a home for his parents before he left home at the age of 2425. He worked his way through medical school in Mexico. And he he bounced around, up and down between Canada, the United States and Mexico, just to get his residency he established himself in in Tennessee, and in 1973, when I was born, and then picked up the family and moved us to rural Tennessee, to live where he became a country Dr. there for 30 plus years. And now this is a time when you know, things are pretty hot in the South. Still, I’ll just be honest here, but it’s okay. But what that showed me at the time, in terms of the beauty of people, was that you had a family of color moving into basically an all white rural southern County in a rural southern state, essentially, those people and still to this day welcomed us with open arms, they embraced us as part of their community they embraced my father who had the courage to put himself in that position is that the first person of color that to be a medical doctor in that town or in that county, and it showed me that the people are good, people are good and people have good intentions. And they will, if you if your light is shining in the same vein, which ours obviously were and are, then they then we will all return that same gratitude to one another.
Peter Perri 14:57
That that’s an amazing story. So appropriate for today, right with all the the challenges that are going on. I think those stories aren’t told enough of people that had good experiences in being pioneers in terms of diversity, and I think that’s that that’s amazing and, and something that everyone needs to hear so that we can sort of keep it on the positive side, we have come a long way, as a nation. And I think we’ll continue to progress. As long as we stay positive. I think that’s, that’s really important. Could you talk a little about your, your view as far as staying positive? And how you stay positive? And what sort of an impact you think that has?
Ray Brooks 15:52
Yeah, I, you know, I did one of the tests, I don’t know, whatever, however long it was. But one of the outcomes of the, you know, the leadership tests that you do was that I was very optimistic, and I naturally have an optimistic personality. Now, I speak glowingly and lovingly of my, my youth and growing up and everything, but I had a pretty, relatively tough time growing up as a kid, I was bullied at an early age, I’m the youngest of four, I used to fight with my brothers and sister all the time, I’ve always felt that, that I’ve had to work and scrape and scroll for everything that that I’ve had in my life. And but I would, I would have to point back to my parents and say that in terms of positivity, observing them and seeing where they came from, and what they had to endure, and what they had to go through to, to not necessarily make money and buy a big house and, and do all that. But to just raise four kids who are all upstanding citizens, and who love each other, who love their communities who respect others. To be able to do that, to me is a is a huge success, especially given where my family came from, or where they come from, and what they had to go through just to to exist in a foreign society with all the different cultural norms. So at this point in my life, I have really have no other choice but to be positive. But to pick myself up when things happen and keep going. Four years or seven years ago, or so my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I just returned from Afghanistan, two tours in Afghanistan, I didn’t I left active duty, I didn’t have a job. And it was tough. And it was scary, because I had five mouths to feed. And we had multiple properties all over the country, that investment properties that we’d bought. And it was tough. And we had to pick ourselves up and we had to keep going no matter what. But getting discouraged and blaming anyone else or blaming the government or anything like that, but that wasn’t going to get me where I needed to get. And so if we look within, though, and look within ourselves, and just look at the examples that we have there all around us, and we’ll be able to find that key nugget of inspiration, if you will, that keeps us going and without question mine definitely begins with my parents.
Peter Perri 18:32
That’s, that’s great Ray, that, that leads me into, you know, sort of keeping going I think a lot of people have had a challenge over the last year with the pandemic, how has the pandemic sort of impacted you and maybe changed your views on some things?
Ray Brooks 18:47
Yeah, the, you know, COVID-19 is has been, it’s affected us all and obviously, and to me, I see it as an individual decision in terms of how you are and how we are responding to the pandemic, how we are looking at ourselves, and how we’re living our lives. And strangely enough, and and total condolences and love and compassion for those families who have lost loved ones or who have been impacted by this. I have some friends right now, very close friends who, who are both a father and son who were both diagnosed with COVID 19 tested positive just this past weekend. And for us, I would say in my family, strangely COVID has brought us closer together. And it’s amazing to think that something that can be so tragic, and this is this is how this this has just reinforced how I look at things in the world. That something so devastating and so tragic as a COVID-19 has also brought so many people and families together it has brought and caused an outpouring of compassion and love in the world today. And once we stop looking at, you know, who’s doing what, or who got what, or who’s getting what, and we just look at what we are doing and what we are giving, how are we helping our neighbors, our elderly neighbors who may need assistance, but are afraid to ask, how are we helping our brothers and sisters out on the streets who who don’t have a job and who don’t have what they need to just get by and get through this? What are we doing to help others who are going through a tougher time than we are. So in terms of our family, we talk now more with our children than we ever did before about what’s going on. We are we’re much more or closer to each other, both literally and figuratively, because we had to be in during lockdown. And we had open discussions with our kids about what COVID meant, what our family would stand for, what our values were, and are and how we were going to take this type of situation. And not necessarily use it as an advantage to us, but use it for good use it to to wake us wake ourselves up and bring forth the positivity that we have in our souls and in our spirits that stem back from, from my own origins, and that now we’re passing along to our kids, it’s still definitely a very serious time for for our society and for humanity even. And we’ve got to take these things seriously and look at them for what they are and realize that it’s not just about having a job and about continuing on with the status quo once the lockdowns are lifted, etc. This is a changing time for us that if we look outward at having looked inward, we can see that there’s a lot of good that we can do in the world right now to help others.
Peter Perri 21:58
Very cool. Yeah, that’s that’s a theme that I’ve heard echoed from several people about how it’s brought families closer together, just because, you know, we’re you can get in this mode of travel and constant Go, go go and always work into the next vacation, and so on and so forth. And now with us sort of pausing taking a breather, and coming together with our families just at home, it’s brought a lot of families closer, which which is, you know, if if there is any positive one of the positive things that’s come out of this. So I’d like to transition if we could and go since since we are energy media, let’s talk a little about the energy industry. What would you what are you seeing right now that you would call, let’s say the most important trend, as far as where things are headed in energy? And to whatever degree you want to talk about your current work? Would love to hear about?
Ray Brooks 22:57
Sure. Yeah, great question. I worked in renewable energy, here in Arizona for for about three years. It’s really where I started my, my civilian career coming out of the military. And I will say this, just, you know, off the top, the energy industry is an excellent resource and outlet for veterans who are transitioning from the service, and are looking for a career. And the utility industry, the electric utility industry welcomed me with open arms, gave me the space that I needed to grow and to learn and to really find myself, you know, in the military, when you spend so much time there, your identity becomes the military. And to be able to, to have the space to, to kind of find and explore who you are, after so long of having worn the uniform or in the cloth. It’s just been such a blessing to have worked in this industry. Where I saw the industry going then and where it is now are still pretty much consistent. About five years ago, the energy industry was looking at this transformation into smart energy and smart technologies. And we see that there’s been a maturation of those, what were once concepts into what is happening now today, you have the internet of things that’s really the backbone to support a lot of this technology that’s coming out. But by and large, customers are having more control over their energy, use their energy choices, the way that they implement and use their own personal energy strategies. You know, we call it the energy envelope. But the biggest trend that I’m seeing today is that with COVID and everything that’s happened with COVID we really have to look at what is the maximum efficiency that our energy consumption is at a current at a current state in time. And are we taking advance Of all the existing incentives and rebates and energy efficiency aspects or models that we can use to to squeeze that energy envelope as much as possible, so that we can have the strongest return on investing in energy technologies. We see shareholders and we see customers wanting to invest in businesses that are sustainable businesses. They want to buy products from businesses, who are openly practicing sustainability and are openly conscious of their own corporate citizenship and what they’re doing in those spaces. And that from you know, what I saw when I came in, in 2014, is coming all the way from when solar energy was a rooftop solar was a big deal back then, rooftop solar is doing its thing now. And so what’s the next thing? Well, I think it’s it’s customer technologies and the ability for customers and users to understand how to interface with the energy industry, whether it be electricity, or water or gas, there’s some customer smart energy technology that’s out there that if you just take the time to learn about it, then you’ll be able to have more control over your energy use itself.
Peter Perri 26:16
Very cool. So for our utility listeners out there. What are what are some things that utilities themselves should be thinking about internally, as far as over the next five or 10 years, that maybe they haven’t thought about for their resource planning?
Ray Brooks 26:35
Resource Planning? Nice. Yeah. First and foremost, all energy, utility companies are different. There’s no utility company, that’s the same. There’s no grid or distribution system, that’s the same. So the decisions and the choices that utilities are making must be unique to their, their service territory, their service area, and what’s going to be the best if they’re an investor owned utility, what’s going to be the best outcome for for your investors and your shareholders. Obviously, that’s at a high level, that’s not the technical level, and the nuts and bolts of energy delivery or energy generation by any means. But I would even say internally in the industry, by and large energy employees are Utility Employees. It’s an older workforce. And I think when I came in, I read somewhere that, you know, 20%, or 50%, of the workforce was going to be retired by the year 2030. From the energy industry. And so you have this younger generation of, of STEM students and, and kids that are coming up, and they’re the future of the industry. The challenge for the for an existing industry that’s been around for 100 plus years, essentially, is that if you don’t change with the times, then the times are going to change you. It’s a it’s a classic case of disruptive innovation. And when you have these, these young people come and I refer to them as young people, but it’s not by any means meant to, to discount the contributions that the people are making. But I say young, because I’m older. But you have young people coming up, who see things a different way, they see the world a different way. It’s not just about a paycheck, a bonus and an incentive or whatever. Yeah, that’s important. But by and large, young people now care more about the environment. They care about climate, they care about social responsibility, they care about social equity, they care about a lot of things that yesterday’s generation may not have prioritized. And it’s not a bad thing. It’s just what the focus is. So if utilities, don’t consciously and authentically, I would say, commit in this space to understanding and declaring what their truth is, if you will, what their position is, if you will, then we’re going to, we’re going to miss a lot of opportunity to attract brilliant young talent that can stay in the industry for another 3040 years. And it’s it’s definitely an issue because those same generations are going into technology companies, they’re going to companies that are a little more fluid in terms of how they deal with human capital, and how they deal with management. So the energy industry is definitely facing a change or a decision point at this time, you know, in society, as to how much structure are you going to keep on the process itself, versus how much you’re going to let people be unicorns and express their individualism?
Peter Perri 29:52
Sure, no, I think I think that’s great. And you bring up an interesting point. We have a challenge obvious with jobs, we have a challenge with, with college debt. And from my standpoint, I really view the energy industry as an opportunity to help meet that challenge. Because a lot of young people don’t realize the degree to which utilities and electric power impact the climate, and also can provide unique technical job opportunities that don’t necessarily require a traditional, let’s say, four year liberal arts type degree in order to participate. So I really see there as being some sort of opportunity that could be made available for technical degrees. And I think about some people that I’ve worked with, from Germany, who never went to a traditional four year college, but went right to a technical school that was designed to plug them directly into the energy industry. And I could really see that as being a big source of opportunity, both for the utilities to be able to get, as you say, some of the younger generation, and the graying of the workforce certainly is a challenge. Some of our clients, their, their average employee may be over retirement age, but they continue to work, because there just aren’t the young people to come in and fill those roles. So I do see that as a huge opportunity for our nation, to help us both address the climate challenge, and also address the issue of, of joblessness and student debt. So it’s, it’s interesting, you point that out. I think this has been a great conversation. I’d like to end it just by asking you, is there something I should have asked? Is there something that that we missed here that you could tell us that people need to know, in order to know Ray Brooks?
Ray Brooks 32:05
Well, I would say that all of this is for the service of everyone else. And I used to live my life thinking that, you know, I had to work a job, to get a paycheck had to get a promotion, I’ve said that before. And I and that was how that was my mission in life to provide for my family, right? I used to ask myself the questions, who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? Well, I would always come back to something like, Well, I’m a Marine, or I’m a father. No, I’m just a human being out here who’s making his own way, who also sees and who has seen something in myself, that I want to share with the world because it’s good. And there’s only the only thing that I seek from this is, is just goodness, and the hope that and the intention that someone else may hear what I say today, or tomorrow or whenever. And that may help them get a little bit further down the road. So that they can find out who they are, what they want, what their true purpose is, we already know that it’s in the service of others. And and if we can just do that, then everything will be okay. And we can we can end or we can dampen this the rhetoric and the visceral activities that are going on in our communities. We can get people off the streets, we can get them in school. There’s so many other areas out there where we can help others while still having a job. But we can do it in a way that gives people that gives ourselves and gives others meaning, and really brings forth a value in everybody.
Peter Perri 33:45
So awesome. Ray, I appreciate the time today. This has been great. And you definitely are an energy superhero because you’re impacting not only the energy industry, but also people’s lives and their hearts. So thank you for having the courage to talk about the heart issues, and we invite more people to come on and share their truth with our community. Thanks for the time thank
Ray Brooks 34:09
It’s been great to be with you.
Peter Perri 34:14
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