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Being personally invested makes the difference

Striding down the halls of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Arlene White is a standout presence.

Her fashionable black suit carefully accessorized, and flashing a dazzling smile, White looks more like the Manhattan runway model she was as a teenager than a government manager.

Raised by parents who stressed the value of hard work, she rose through the ranks at PPPL, where she has worked for 35 years. She joined the lab as a temporary worker when her daughter—now a Smith College graduate, mother of two and investment banker-- was a toddler. White is now the lab’s senior buyer.

“Arlene is personally invested in her job, and has a unique ability to network,” says Rodney Templon, PPPL’s director of procurement. 

“That means I love talking to people,” White said.

She prides herself on being resourceful, sometimes drawing on a mental rolodex to find local vendors for obscure products. She says she saved the lab $70,000 recently by finding a type of molybdenum tiles from a company in Fairfield, N.J.  The scientists who needed them “had their bags packed to go to Europe to get them and were going to pay $150,000. I found them here,” she said.

White says she particularly identifies with the challenges of the disadvantaged businesses that she seeks out in awarding contracts.

Her father ran one in Lawrence Township, building a van and limousine service as a sideline to his job tending boilers in a Trenton plant. “When neighbors were down on their luck he gave them rides on credit,” she said.

She also sees herself as a nurturer, a grandmother who finds time to check on her two grandsons after 5:30 a.m. workouts at a local health club – all before she arrives at the lab to start her day.

That extra caring is helpful in mentoring the small businesses that the lab is trying to promote, she said. So is having a can-do attitude.

“My father always said a man who works can get what he likes,” she said. “If you give quality to what you do, you’re not at a disadvantage.”

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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