Energy expert Cordell Reed was born on 26 March 1938 in Chicago, Illinois. Reed earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1960. He went to work for the Illinois electric company Commonwealth Edison (ComEd). He worked his way up through the ranks and became an executive in 1975, acting as a public spokesman for nuclear power as well as a department manager. Reed was promoted to senior vice president, serving in three separate departments. In 1994, he became ComEd's ethics officer and the chief diversity officer in addition to maintaining responsibility for purchasing materials for the corporation's ten fossil fuel-fired energy-generating plants.
Cordell Reed has been an active member of various organizations, such as the National Academy of Engineering. In addition, Reed was awarded with numerous honors, among which the Black Engineer of the Year Awards (1988) and the Tommy Thomson Award from the American Nuclear Society (1993) are included.