Ellen Nowak said she has followed an interesting path to her current position as the chairperson of the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin.
After a four-year stint practicing business litigation at Mallery & Zimmerman, she served as chief of staff to former Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas before going on to work with the Wisconsin Assembly and School Choice Wisconsin. She was appointed to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in 2011 and was named its chairperson in 2015.
No matter what she does, she gets results.
As the legal counsel, and subsequently chief of staff, to the speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly from 2002 to 2006, Nowak worked on legislation that affected every resident in Wisconsin. As the deputy director of School Choice Wisconsin, she helped lift the cap on the number of students who could attend choice schools, a policy change with implications for thousands of families in Milwaukee.
“I like work that has a direct impact on things we did, whether it’s passing laws or working with other agencies to implement legislation, you see the results,” she said.
John Wirth, a shareholder at Mallery & Zimmerman, said Nowak is the highest-ranking female lawyer in Wisconsin government with the exception of Supreme Court justices, and one of the highest-ranking women of any profession. Her success, he said, has come in positions that have been predominantly held by men.
In addition to her work with the PSC, she serves on several committees of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, including its executive committee; the Committee on Energy Resources and the Environment; and the Task Force on Environmental Regulation and Generation. She also serves on the Advisory Council to the Board of Directors for the Electric Power Research Institute.
Nowak said she takes great satisfaction in her work.
“There were fights and there were struggles along the way. You see that there are a lot of passionate viewpoints, and to see that through to the end when you know you’re making a difference, it’s a great thing,” she said.
Wirth called Nowak a true trailblazer, but said she has made a difference quietly. Her tendency, he said, is to lead by setting an example, rather than telling other people what to do.
“You can be a more vocal leader, or you can lead by your actions,” she said. “And I see myself as the latter. I hope people just learn from my actions, and what I do and how I conduct myself.”