Keiko Takeuchi Harvey's new job represents a career breakthrough of sorts: She no longer has to keep a hard hat in her car.
Through her career as a telephone company engineer, she says, there were many days and nights when she found herself slogging through the New Jersey mud at the site of a cable break, offering advice, coffee and words of encouragement to repair crews.
As the newly appointed vice president of Bell Atlantic Corp.'s Network Planning and Engineering department, she won't be expected to do that anymore. But she said she will keep her hard hat in her office.
She just might need it there. Ms. Harvey faces the challenge of overseeing the consolidation of her department, scattered throughout Bell Atlantic's six-state region, in downtown Baltimore at a time when its role is crucial to the success of Bell Atlantic's long-term strategies.
Ms. Harvey's recent promotion gives her supervision over some 1,200 employees who will design and construct the company's network as it evolves into a pathway for video as well as voice and data.
About 700 of those workers will be located in downtown Baltimore, which was reeling from high-profile defections in January when Bell Atlantic announced its decision to locate one of its most desirable lines of business at its Pratt Street headquarters. The decision was hailed as a coup by Maryland public officials -- because of the quality of the jobs as much as the numbers.
"These are very technical and professional employees, and from that point of view they're fairly well paid," Ms. Harvey said.
Their job is to build and maintain the backbone network, the telephonic equivalent of the heart and major blood vessels, through the District of Columbia and the six states in the Bell Atlantic system.
The "capillaries" -- those parts of the network that carry calls from a local office to the home or business -- are the responsibility of another department.
The appointment made Ms. Harvey, 46, one of the company's most important executives in Maryland, with responsibility for about 12 times as large a work force as the president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland.
Her job came after a 23-year career in a variety of roles with New Jersey Bell, a Bell Atlantic subsidiary since 1984 and previously a unit of American Telephone & Telegraph Co.
Al Koeppe, president of Bell Atlantic-New Jersey, said the soft-spoken, self-deprecating Ms. Harvey is actually a former varsity basketball player with a strong competitive streak.
"To be a woman in operations and to move so quickly through the system at such a young age, it is testimony to a skill set that not only requires a strong analytical base, but also strong leadership skills," Mr. Koeppe said.
But Ms. Harvey's appointment is hardly the culmination of a lifelong goal.
Ms. Harvey says she still has the program from her kindergarten graduation in her native Japan -- the one in which she said that when she grew up she wanted to be a mother and housewife.
With a 16-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, she did achieve her goal of motherhood. But housewife? That one has eluded her.
The Bell Atlantic executive said she was a junior in high school when her father, who worked for a Japanese trading company, was transferred to New York in 1966. She finished high school in the United States and went on to Rutgers University, where she met the American man she would eventually marry.
When her family returned to Japan, she stayed.
After graduating from Rutgers with an engineering degree, Ms. Harvey went looking for a job near New York so she could help put her husband through law school. She said she ended up taking a job with New Jersey Bell, figuring that after three years she would stay home and raise children.
But somewhere along the line her job became a career as she became intrigued with the challenges of updating the massive network.
"The exciting part is the new technology and how we can make the new technology work for customers, how we can roll out new products for customers," Ms. Harvey explained.
Like many ambitious Bell Atlantic executives, Ms. Harvey took occasional detours from her core specialty to gain experience in other facets of the company's business.
She spent a year and a half working in the finance side of the business and a similar stretch in the large business sales organization.
Ms. Harvey has been on the job in Baltimore since May 1, overseeing a consolidation process that will get started in earnest this August and continue into early next year.
At times, Ms. Harvey still seems surprised that the little girl of four decades ago ended up where she did.
"You look back and say I never, ever thought at this stage in my life I'd be doing this," she said.