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March 30, 2022

Laredo Native Sara Martinez Tucker Makes History at AEP

All roads at AEP lead to Sara Martinez Tucker. She’s the new lead director of AEP’s Board of Directors, a role that links together other board members, AEP’s executive leadership team and outside stakeholders.

“We, as a board, are there for many purposes and the most important is that we make sure there’s an AEP going forward. We’re there to keep the long view in the board room,” Tucker said.

She was named lead director in February and is the first woman to hold the role in the more than 100-year history of AEP.

Tucker coordinates the board’s efforts to govern the company and assess its performance. Doing this requires balance. To make this happen, she works with AEP’s executive team to get the information directors need to assess the company’s performance. While doing this, she can’t become so intertwined within the company that she loses her objectivity and independence.

“I look at key drivers of our abilities to achieve our strategies. And our ability to achieve our goals starts with our people,” Tucker said. “Do people feel valued? Do we have the right behaviors in place to create a solid culture? Do we have the right leaders in place? And not just at the executive level but at every level of leadership in the organization.”

Learning from Laredo

AEP is fundamentally changing as Tucker steps in her new role. She’ll work to focus the board on evaluating the company as it executes its strategy. This means making sure AEP is delivering on its promises to employees, customers, investors and regulators. Tucker sees changes in customers’ expectations, in particular, having a big impact on AEP’s future.

“Our customers want to be more in control of the energy they use and what they pay,” Tucker said. “We have to make sure our customer experience is growing commensurate with how customers change over time.”

Tucker started learning at a young age how businesses work to meet customer expectations. When she was in elementary school, her family owned a grocery store in their hometown of Laredo, Texas.

After school, she and her brother would work at the store and complete a checklist of work left by their mother. She would complete her tasks early so she could read comic books until their mom came back. Her brother took a different route. He’d procrastinate and do all this tasks right before their mom was scheduled to come back.

This routine worked until one day her mother arrived at the store earlier than expected. She caught Tucker sitting on a freezer reading comic books while her brother tackled his list. While Tucker had completed all her work, her mom taught her a lesson about approaching work that she’s carried with her for more than 50 years.

“She said, ‘You think you’ve done well because you got the work that was expected of you done?’ She told me being a good worker means taking initiative. When there were no customers in the store and my work was done, I was to think about what I could do to make the store better. What could I do to bring more people in? Did certain products need to be moved to the front? Were there other products customers would want?,” Tucker said. “My mom didn’t have much education, but she taught me that important lesson at such a young age. It’s something I’ve taken with me throughout my professional life. I’ve approached each and every job I’ve had with the same thought – what can I do to make it better?”

A Career of Firsts

Tucker’s career has taken her many places. She was Under Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education during the George W. Bush administration and an executive for AT&T’s Global Business Communications Systems. During the many stops in her career, Tucker was often the only woman or person of color in the room.

“I sat in some meetings where I would hear men say, ‘Well, if my daughter marries well my daughter won’t have to work'," Tucker said. “It was exhausting. I was expected to speak for all women and all people of color. We don’t think the same, and we don’t all have the same opinions.”

While she had to experience these situations, she’s optimistic for the next generation of female leaders. She’s already seeing the changes at AEP.

“A little more than a year ago, I was in the AEP board room when we were making the decision to announce the COO and CFO. We picked our two best people for the jobs and they were both women,” she said. “One of my proudest days was when Lisa and Julie were announced. I hope that speaks volumes. They were the two best people for the jobs. That was a really proud moment for me”

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