LRN Perspectives

Energizing Ethics: Direct Energy’s Maria Fernandez on the Psychology of Building a Compliance Program 

February 16, 2021 LRN Corporation

“Oftentimes, when you come in as a compliance officer, the thought it you are the police, you’re the obstruction, you’re the one that’s going to tell me I can’t do this this way...Building those relationships, and understanding how to work the different individuals, is part of what makes one successful as a compliance officer.” 


Maria Fernandez



Maria Fernandez is vice president, head of ethics and compliance at Direct Energy. Maria supports Direct Energy’s lines of business to ensure they are operating in accordance with all relevant standards and regulations. Direct Energy is one of North America’s largest energy and energy-related service providers; it merged with NRG Energy in January 2021. 



Prior to her position at Direct Energy, Fernandez worked at IBM where she held various leadership positions. including being responsible for the design and implementation of IBM’s global compliance program, communication strategies and employee training modules. She was senior regional counsel of Latin America for IBM, where she managed all legal and compliance matters for the Latin America organization. 

Fernandez received her B.A. in psychology from Lehman College, and received her J.D. from Cornell Law. She is admitted to the bars of the states of New York and California, and the United States Supreme Court. She currently is vice chair of the membership committee of the President's Council of Cornell Women; and a member on the Houston Integrated School District district advisory committee. 



  • [1:30] What sparked Fernandez’s interest in ethics and compliance and how has her career path led to her to where she is today? 
  • [5:00] How does Fernandez’s background in psychology help her in her current role? 
  • [6:26] What are the impacts to the energy industry and ethics and compliance as the world transitions away from fossil fuels? 
  • [8:36] How is Covid-19 impacting Direct Energy's ethics and compliance department? 
  • [10:58] Does Fernandez believe the current conversation about social justice will result in long-term change? 
  • [14:28] As a woman in compliance, what advice does Fernandez give to women, and specifically women of color, who are thinking about entering the field? 

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