Versatile background contributes to successful career for MBA graduate
As a high school and college student working for her family’s roofing company in Tucson, Ariz., Shellie Molina was entrusted to manage the businesses office, where she was exposed to business operations.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in finance from the University of Arizona, she worked as a buyer for a small electronics outsourcing company. Partnering with her family and working at the start-up business launched her career, preparing her for her current position as vice president of supply chain, customer services, sales and operations at First Solar, an Arizona-based solar panel manufacturer.
“Those first two jobs in a small environment served as the basis for my current career,” recalled Molina, who received a Master of Business Administration degree from Baker University in 2000 while working in Olathe for Honeywell Aerospace. “I have been fortunate to have people looking out for me, guiding me through my career, assigning me to do tasks and helping me to succeed.”
At First Solar in Tempe, Ariz., Molina works with 5,000 associates and oversees 450 employees worldwide. Established in 1999, First Solar, now a $3 billion company, has experienced immense growth in the past five years, emerging as a major provider of fully integrated solar solutions, creating value-driven renewable energy projects. The company has established a portfolio of customers that include some of the world’s most sophisticated energy buyers.
“We’ve had a complete change of strategy, recently consolidating our team,” Molina said of her first year at First Solar after working 15 years with Honeywell first in the Kansas City area and then in her home state of Arizona. “We have had an extremely profitable year and we are re-evaluating our place in the market, looking at demand and supply and signaling to our senior leadership our plans for the future months. My current position allows me to have insight to a lot of our operations procedures.”
Competing against oil, gas and other renewable energy companies, First Solar has built power plants in the United States and locations across the world, including Malaysia and Germany.
“We go into regions in the world that have no power at all,” Molina said. “It is pretty amazing that we have the ability to bring power to regions that are not connected to a grid.”
With a unique background in customer support, operations, change management, organizational design, global leadership and logistics, Molina has the skills to thrive in her current position at First Solar.
“The last 20-plus years of my job experiences have culminated into this one job,” she said. “I am able to draw upon the many experiences with a better understanding how things are connected.”
While at Honeywell, Molina developed a reputation for managing transformation. For five years she oversaw global teams, managing different cultures in different time zones. She is a firm believer in the books Creating a Lean Culture and Getting the Right Things Done, often referencing the leadership guides.
“You have to establish an operating system to connect all of your team members and all have the same missions, goals and objectives,” she explained. “You won’t know where you are going without a plan.”
She prefers to meet four times a year with her teams to discuss what they should execute in the next three months.
“There has to be a rhythm or a drumbeat to what you want to accomplish,” she said. “You need to organize teams to understand what to expect and discuss certain things as well as prepare for things that might escalate.”
Power of Mentoring
If not for surrounding herself with mentors, Molina believes her career would not have developed to its current level.
“I had a mentor tell me once that you need to have a leadership sponsor,” she said. “If you have sponsorship at the senior level, you will continue to grow your career. You don’t move into a senior-level position all by yourself.”
Molina enjoys sharing ideas to improve a company.
“If you are more concerned about where your organization is going, your own personal success will follow,” she said. “If you are chasing a title, you probably won’t be fulfilled in your job.”
In her previous job at Honeywell, she was fortunate to be guided by incredible mentors. She wished more workers would take that advantage.
“Many people don’t take advantage of what a mentor can truly offer,” she said. “It is nice to talk about the big picture and good to have a mentor inside and outside the organization. For a recent presentation to the board of directors, I called a previous mentor for advice. He told me to remember you are talking to shareholders. They have different interests and ideas. If I had not been given that advice, I might not have leveled the presentation the way I did.”
Influence of an MBA
Molina met her husband, Daniel Graf, while they worked together at Honeywell, previously AlliedSignal. She was intrigued by the idea of pursuing a master’s degree after her husband began coursework on a Bachelor of Science in Management.
“It spurred me to get my MBA while I was in Kansas,” said Molina, who returned to Arizona in 2001. “Half of my MBA class were Allied associates and half them reported to me. I loved the relationships in the classroom and the program’s flexibility.”
As a high-ranking administrator with First Solar, Molina depends on the skills she acquired while taking master’s classes at Baker’s Overland Park campus.
“I use my finance and MBA knowledge on a weekly basis,” she said. “It is vastly important seeing through the eyes of a CFO. I draw upon a lot of my finance and MBA knowledge more than I ever have.”