As the daughter and granddaughter of engineers, Deborah “Deb” Caplan thought everyone became an engineer when they grew up. She just had to choose which kind. Transfixed watching reel-to-reel footage of space launches featuring the guidance systems her father worked on for NASA, Caplan was drawn to aerospace engineering as her college major.
At the University of Michigan, she was often one of only a handful of women in her classes, but her passion for the space and aviation industries propelled her, and after graduation she landed a job working on aircraft engines at General Electric (GE) Company. She joined NextEra Energy in 2005, leading the Supply Chain team, then served as Florida Power & Light (FPL) Chief Operating Officer and currently as NextEra Energy Executive Vice President of Human Resources and Corporate Services.
“My dream job had been to work at NASA out of college, but at GE I was very fortunate to work on aircraft engines, from design to delivery,” said Caplan. “I also got to experience leading large groups of people and leading major programs; it really changed the trajectory of my career.”
At GE, Caplan entered a rotational leadership program that introduced her to all aspects of the company. She learned about productivity, process improvements, delivering Six Sigma projects and engaging employees.
“Results are what got you recognized at GE,” said Caplan.
After two decades at GE, a company of 300,000 employees and 12 business units, Caplan looked to NextEra Energy for her next professional journey. She had seen how companies could be improved through leasing and loaning money in GE’s financial division; now she wanted to continue making a difference. Even though NextEra Energy had only 15,000 employees, Caplan saw an opportunity to join a company doing something that was meaningful and had great values and people.
“The company is relatively small, but it’s mighty,” said Caplan, referencing what’s now the most valuable energy company in the United States. “I love energy because everybody needs it all the time; it’s just like water.”
At NextEra Energy, Caplan has been able to honor her family’s commitment to giving back. Caplan remembers her parents and grandparents always being involved with church or community organizations.
“I have always known that you were supposed to be an active part of the community and make sure that you’re contributing,” said Caplan.
Through NextEra Energy’s education and STEM programs, Caplan has seen how giving back to communities helps children find an interest and a love for math and science. Over the past decade, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs have grown across the state, allowing NextEra Energy employees to host robotics challenges and STEM competitions that inspire and empower students to work toward futures in the energy industry. Through the Urban League of Palm Beach County, Fla., NextEra Energy started a pilot program at a local middle school.
“We were able to offer our young professional engineers as mentors with students and give teachers access to technology,” said Caplan, who serves as a board member of the Urban League. “It has been successful because of our employees and the teachers we work with; they can see how important it is for the next generation, and kids are having fun.”
This year, at the 50th anniversary of the Urban League of Palm Beach County, NextEra Energy donated $175,000 to the program.
Another company program that Caplan is proud to sponsor is NextEra Energy’s internship program. Former NextEra Energy Chairman and CEO Jim Robo, who was a mentor and remains a friend of Caplan, recognized the need to hire the next generation of employees. Although an internship program existed with about 100 interns, a more robust effort was needed. When current CEO John Ketchum came onboard, he also saw the value in increasing the internship program. This summer, the program welcomed its largest class of almost 300 interns.
“We don’t just offer experience,” said Caplan. “Every department is encouraged to participate, and the expectation is that at least 80% of eligible interns receive a job offer.”
The internship program has expanded to include people with work experience and pursuing an MBA. The program started with six participants and has grown to 34. Caplan said the company wanted to include those with varied experience and different critical thinking skills. The wildly successful effort shows how the company values new ideas and perspectives.
“I get great joy working with this diverse group of people who are always challenging us,” said Caplan. “They show us what’s happening in schools, in technology, and they point things out to us that maybe we haven’t thought about.”
Melissa Miller, executive director of talent acquisition, agrees that interns offer NextEra Energy fresh thinking and creative solutions.
“The NEXT intern program has been identifying great talent for the future of our company for almost 10 years and this year is no exception,” said Miller. “With Deb’s leadership and support, the program has grown significantly over the years.”
As the intern class completes the program at the end of the summer, Caplan has advice for them about joining NextEra Energy:
“Come because you want to make a difference, come because you don’t like the status quo, come because you're curious and you always want to learn, come because you're collaborative,” said Caplan. “Energy is always in transition so when you come to work at NextEra, there are so many opportunities to be part of an exciting energy transformation.”
In her free time, Caplan loves to play golf because it’s a sport you can do alone or with a group. She also loves reading biographies. Her favorite is the David McCullough bio about the Wright Brothers. Currently, she is streaming the documentary series “Quarterback” on Netflix which follows three NFL stars for an entire season.