Stephanie Hertzog, CEO of energy and resources North America at Sodexo, has pondered whether the energy industry’s reputation is beginning to resemble Big Tobacco.

Her conclusion: absolutely not. As the world continues to rely on fossil fuels while transitioning to other power and fuel sources, the industry needs the “best and brightest” to solve the energy problems facing the world.

Hertzog spoke about the evolution of the energy industry over her two-decade career in an exclusive interview, with Nissa Darbonne, Hart Energy executive editor-at-large. Click here to view Hertzog’s complete 25 Influential Women in Energy profile.

Nissa Darbonne: You joined Sodexo in 2019 and immediately, nearly immediately, went into providing field services during a pandemic. Surely there must have been some new best practices that have derived from that.

Stephanie Hertzog: Yes. so I had a good six-month runway before COVID hit and a new role. Sodexo provides facility management services to offshore platforms, remote mining camps, chemical plants, refineries and office towers. And we were fortunate that our client base continued to operate through COVID, but obviously,it was a complex environment to navigate.

You know, we were first and for foremost had to keep our own employees safe as well as our clients' employees safe in an, in an, an environment, in a time where people were still in the beginning of COVID uncertain on how the virus was spreading. And so we had to develop a lot of new SOPs [standard operating procedures] on how to do everything from service because we, we feed our employees at these sites, so how we were going to serve food, how we were going clean rooms, how we would transport people if they were exposed to the virus.

And so we spent a lot of hours working up how to work in this new environment. Having said that, good or bad, a lot of that has actually gone back to how things were before COVID. We've kind of coming out the other side of it while we still have COVID on our facilities, it's not as rampant. And so a lot of things have returned to normal. I think the environment that has changed the most is actually our office environment where, you know, people traditionally have been coming in four to five days a week into the office, full days. Now we're finding remote hybrid work schedules, people in three days a week, two days a week at home the other days, and trying to figure out how to optimize the time when they're in the office so that they're spending that time collaborating with their, with their colleagues as opposed to doing [Microsoft] Teams calls, which you could do from home. So it's an exciting time in this space. It's very, you know, there's, I think there's still a lot that's being figured out and we'll see where things land, but it's  an exciting time in the office space.

ND: So while you joined Sodexo in 2019, you began your career in energy,  post bachelor's chemical engineering, about 20 years ago, a little more than 20 years ago. That is roughly when the shale revolution began. Now you're head of North America for Sodexo, obviously including Canada and Mexico as well. I'm curious of your perspective of this dynamic of the U.S. has returned to becoming a top-rank producer in the world of both oil and natural gas. We have Canada that helps supply us with oil and gas. We have Mexico that has become a net importer of our natural gas, so on and so forth. How do you see the North American dynamic fitting at the world table, if you will, in terms of energy these days versus what you felt it looked like 20 years ago?

SH: Yeah, it's really interesting. You know, when I was in the early days of the shale boom and when oil hit a $100 a barrel, there were some bad decisions being made. We made some bad investment decisions, you know, we were throwing money into the play and now we're, you know, we're back to that again, kind of where oil prices are. But I'm seeing a much greater sense of responsibility in the shale plays in regards to how investment is happening. It's, you know, our industry has changed dramatically over the 20 years that I've been in this space. And I think North America's position in that has changed as well. We are just so fortunate in this country to have affordable and accessible energy. And I think the world dynamic around energy is what is being most discussed at the moment when you have the influences of Russia and the Ukraine and the things that are happening there, and you have businesses closing because they can't get affordable gas.

You have people worried about how they're going to heat their homes in the winter. And so I just think we're really fortunate here to have that again, affordability and accessibility. And then when we think about the transition, the next transition that's facing us in regards to renewables and how that's going to impact our, our accessibility to energy, I think that could, that can solve a lot of our issues, but not quickly enough. And so how are we going to integrate that and how do we make that pace happen with the world dynamic?

ND: Well, you mentioned the transition. I did want to ask you about what you see happening in the next 10 years in terms of energy. And maybe I'll throw in too, what maybe do you hope will happen in the next 10 years in energy?

SH: We're going to need fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. And so I think that will all continue. I think we will continue to see investment in renewables but it's not going to happen fast enough. And so we're going to have to have both for some extended period of time. You know, I think carbon capture and the work around responsibility around fossil fuels is going to be a big area of focus. And so when you ask me what I hope happens, you know, I spend a fair amount of my time with young people in our industry and you know, we've got to continue to attract the best and brightest to the energy space. And I have, will be honest, I have had questions like, is the energy industry just going into the tobacco industry? And, and it's absolutely not. You know, we need the best and brightest to solve these problems because they're complex and we're going to have, I always tell people energy industry is not for the faint of heart. It's going to continue to have cycles, it's going to continue to have transitions. And so we need really smart people working on all aspects of that energy.

ND: And energy is necessary,

SH: Absolutely necessary.