Seizing the Moment to Offer Real Value to the Syracuse Community
Syracuse is a wonderful community. There are issues, of course, but we are working hard at every level to find solutions that help create a seat at the table for all.
Melanie Littlejohn ’97 MBA was six months pregnant when her boss at National Grid suggested she pursue an MBA at Syracuse University. She liked the idea but assumed she’d have to put it off until after the birth of her son. Instead, her boss told her to “seize the moment.” So, just a few weeks later, Littlejohn found herself a member of one of the first cohorts of the Whitman School of Management’s MBA program.
She credits her MBA experience for giving her leadership skills and insight into the overall business ecosystem. “It was an extremely aggressive program with 35 other amazing people,” she explains, noting that classes were held Fridays through Sundays over a two-year period, while she still held a full-time job and was raising a family. “I’ve always been thankful that my boss pushed me, because it allowed me to see what I was capable of doing.”
She also found that what she could do was make an impact in her adopted hometown of Syracuse, where she has raised her two boys with husband, David, built a 25-plus year career with Syracuse-based National Grid and become a community leader helping to address some of the area’s greatest needs regarding poverty, social equity and sustainability.
“What we do here matters,” she says of her position as vice president for customer and community engagement at National Grid, which delivers gas and electricity to more than 20 million people across New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“Mine is a front-facing role,” Littlejohn adds. “It’s about communicating with our customers and communities during times of great stress or crisis—such as a storm or a power outage—but it’s also how we connect with our neighbors on what I call ‘blue sky days.’”
Moving to clean energy is a critical focus at National Grid. “We are committed to ensuring that we deliver safe and reliable energy and that no customer is left behind in this transition. We understand that commercial to residential customers count on us to responsibly help power their businesses and their homes. The men and women I have the fortune to work alongside take their work to heart,” she explains.
To that end, Littlejohn is an intricate part of National Grid’s new corporate social responsibility initiative, Project C, which focuses on connecting communities to clean and sustainable energy, supporting neighborhood revitalization, compassionately addressing challenges of environmental justice and social equity and creating the workforce that will help build New York’s clean energy delivery system. “This effort is at the heart of what we do. And to do it well, we need to show up and be present in the same neighborhoods where we work, live and play,” she says.
She credits this commitment to community to her parents, who quietly instilled service and leadership in their children, including Littlejohn’s brother and 24 foster siblings. “They were my first and strongest role models,” she says of her mother and father. “They didn’t talk about service; they just demonstrated it. That’s the beauty of what they gave us. You don’t have to tell people what you’re doing; just show it.”
Following that legacy, Littlejohn is also actively involved in promoting other aspects of service in the Syracuse community as board chair for CenterState CEO, an independent economic development strategist, business leadership organization and chamber of commerce dedicated to fostering success and prosperity in Central New York.
“You couldn’t have scripted the story of what we were about to encounter when I took on this position in 2019—issues of social injustice, the pandemic, the politicization of everything, elections, insurrections and the pandemic recovery,” she explains. “Being chair during these defining moments has been both difficult and extraordinary, and sometimes these moments occurred on the same day. Some of the impactful experiences involved watching business leaders become vulnerable, and young leaders find their voice. Then, to see the unlikely collaboration to heal and change a community has been transformational. These have been powerful and exhausting years.”
Littlejohn’s sense of service also extends to her alma mater. She enjoys visiting the Whitman School and the Syracuse University campus, where she has served as an Our Time Has Come student mentor and a guest speaker; she is also involved in projects like City Limits, which encourages community-wide discussions on reversing poverty and other social issues through the campus radio station, WAER-FM.
There is no doubt that Littlejohn has “seized the moment” more times than she can count, but she clearly takes it all in stride. “Syracuse is a wonderful community. There are issues, of course, but we are working hard at every level to find solutions that help create a seat at the table for all,” she says. “My experiences as a professional, a volunteer and a Whitman graduate have all been a wonderful foundation to this work, and I intend to remain committed to leave the world a little bit better than I found it.”
By Caroline Reff