Geisha Williams

Geisha Williams, B.S.I.E. '83

CEO Geisha Williams is a classic immigrant success story. Now, as head of California’s largest utility, she’s embracing a business rocked by powerful change. 

PG&E’s Bolt of Energy

When the time came and the Jimenez family was finally permitted to leave Cuba after 18 months of trying, the government gave them barely a matter of days to go. Even at age 5, Geisha understood there was little time for questions, and none for packing toys or books. They would leave their government-owned apartment with whatever they could carry, with just enough time for her dad to visit his parents and say goodbye. The family boarded a plane for Miami and then continued on to St. Paul, where their only American relative, an elderly aunt, lived at the time. The day they arrived in America was the first time any of them saw snow.

That was March 1967. Fifty years later, almost to the day, Geisha Jimenez made business history. Now 55 and known by her married name, Williams, she became the first Latina CEO of a Fortune 500 company—in this instance PG&E Corp. (PCG, +0.37%), the $17.7 billion (revenues) parent of the venerable Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Williams is taking over at a time of accelerating change in her industry. Indeed, nowhere are the barricades being stormed more aggressively than in PG&E’s home, California, whose mandate for change is more audacious than any other state’s: Its law requires that 50% of utilities’ power be generated by renewable sources by 2030. Under Williams, who ran the company’s electric unit before becoming CEO, PG&E charged past its most recent renewables target years ahead of schedule.

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Fortune 500  |  Valentina Zarya