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Joseph A. “Tony” Millette, who became executive director of UNC Energy Services on April 1, shares about his management style, why he likes working in higher ed, and his passion for ice hockey.

Tony MilletteWhile most people might not make a connection between ice rinks and the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, Joseph A. “Tony” Millette sees a strong thread. Millette, who became executive director of Energy Services on April 1, began a five-year apprenticeship in the International Union of Operating Engineers union soon after graduating high school, with the goal of becoming certified in refrigeration. A lifelong ice hockey player, Millette planned to use the certificate and related skills to work in the ice rink business.

While he achieved that goal, he also grew skilled in a variety of settings as the union offered him diverse opportunities. The union also supported his education, which resulted in Millette earning a bachelor’s in energy management at Bismarck Polytechnic Institution. He ultimately went on to earn a master’s in engineering and an MBA at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

“The fact that I’ve come up through the system lets me speak the language of my team and know the challenges they’re going through.”

He has found a home in higher education, where he enjoys the energy of being around young people, in an environment of learning. Millette came to Carolina from the Medical University of South Carolina where he served as director of Energy and Utilities. Before that, he worked as utilities plant operations and distribution director at UAB, where he led the development of a district energy plant.

“Working in a university, I feel like I’m giving back to the community as a whole and to the leaders of tomorrow,” he says. “That speaks to me because my work is for a better purpose.”

Millette and his team of six direct reports and about 145 employees are responsible for managing the campus’s electricity, chilled water, reclaimed water, stormwater and steam. Energy Services supplies about 30% of the electrical load for the University with the remainder supplied by Duke Energy, although Millette’s team monitors the outside source of electricity as it comes in and sends it out for transmission.

Committed to knowing everyone and building community on his team, Millette enjoys being in the field for one-on-one conversations with his employees. He says that while he enjoys all-hands meetings, having individual face time with team members is key.

“The fact that I’ve come up through the system lets me speak the language of my team and know the challenges they’re going through,” he says. “That helps a lot because I understand their work and can support them. I really value the people who are working for me because I know that they’re the ones actually getting the work done.”

Millette also wants to bring his diverse team members together so that employees in different parts of the division better know one another. He plans to launch more “lunch and learn” activities to bring the team together for cross-training and hopes to add more safety classes everyone can learn together.

“It’s important to me to take everyone’s opinion into account because everyone has a say at the table,” he says. “Everybody has their expertise and if you don’t utilize that within your team, you’re really missing out.”

“This is an amazing school where amazing things happen every day.”

The hospitality of his colleagues has been a highlight of Millette’s first few months on the job.

“Everybody has been not just welcoming but following up to say, ‘If you need any help, let us know,’” he says. “That’s comforting and shows that there is collaboration; people on the campus want everyone to succeed.”

Millette, his wife, and 10-year-old son were glad to move to North Carolina to be closer to family in the area. He is thrilled that there is an ice rink at the Orange County SportsPlex, where Millette plans to coach youth hockey, which he has done for nearly 40 years.

He was also drawn to UNC-Chapel Hill’s reputation and beautiful campus.

“UNC is recognized as a renowned university,” says Millette. “This is an amazing school where amazing things happen every day. “

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