PG&E’s new CEO is the first woman to leap from top of one Fortune 500 company to another

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Marissa Mayer is back, a governor flips on a mask mandate, and a female CEO puts up a Fortune 500 first. Go get your Thursday! – A Fortune 500 first. Regular readers will know that we’re in a habit of announcing new female Fortune 500s with […]

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Marissa Mayer is back, a governor flips on a mask mandate, and a female CEO puts up a Fortune 500 first. Go get your Thursday!

– A Fortune 500 first. Regular readers will know that we’re in a habit of announcing new female Fortune 500s with a bit of fanfare—after all there are only 37 of them! But today’s new addition is a particularly unusual case.

Patti Poppe has been named CEO of PG&E, which, when we published the Fortune 500 earlier this year, was No. 189 on the ranking. However, Poppe’s new job won’t increase the number of women running Fortune 500 companies, since she’s coming to the gig directly from CMS Energy, No. 443.

Given the rarity of female leaders among these massive companies, going directly from one to another was, until this moment, unheard of. The last woman to come close was Meg Whitman, though in her case there was a significant gap between leaving eBay in 2008 and joining HP in 2011. (As you may recall, she ran for governor of California in between.) Our resident Fortune 500 guru, Scott DeCarlo, couldn’t come up with any other examples—but if any of you can, please let us know!

Interestingly, Poppe’s also narrowly missing a female CEO-to-female CEO handoff; Geisha Williams stepped down as chief of the energy giant in early 2019. We last saw that kind of transition back in 2009, when Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy passed the baton to Ursula Burns.

Of course, this isn’t quite a feel-good tale of corporate triumph. Williams left PG&E in the wake of admissions that the company’s equipment started more than a dozen wildfires that collectively killed more than 100 people. Facing more than $30 billion in potential liabilities, the company sought bankruptcy protection last January and just emerged from Chapter 11—after pleading guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter—this summer. Poppe takes the helm at a time when the company has a lot of work to do to get back on track—and a massive challenge in terms of winning back public trust.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, at CMS, Poppe led efforts to move away from coal plants and double down on solar and wind farms and other clean tech. Here’s hoping she is able to bring that same kind of forward-thinking and innovation to PG&E’s 16 million customers.

Kristen Bellstrom
kristen.bellstrom@fortune.com
@kayelbee

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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