Sally Jewell is the president and chief executive officer of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI). REI is the nation’s largest consumer cooperative, providing gear and clothing for active outdoor adventures through 105 stores in 27 states and its website (www.rei.com). REI has been selected by FORTUNE as one of the “100 Best Places to Work” every year since the list was introduced in 1998.
She graduated from the University of Washington in 1978 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Following her engineering co-op job with the General Electric Company, Ms. Jewell joined Mobil Oil Corporation as a field production engineer. Her energy and engineering background were attractive to Rainier Bank, which brought her back to the Northwest in 1981. She then spent 19 years in banking in various executive positions. She was named president and chief executive officer of West One Bank Washington in March 1993, and became the president of Washington Mutual Bank’s commercial banking group in 1996, before leaving to join REI in 2000 as the co-op’s chief operating officer. Prior to her employment in REI she was a member of its board of directors for four years. She was named CEO in 2005.
She is a member of the board of Regents at the University of Washington, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, REI, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Initiative for Global Development (IGD). IGD is a group comprised of local civic and business leaders from across the country which is urging the US government to support trade, aid effectiveness and economic development to combat global poverty. Her previous board involvement has been with the Seattle Alliance for Education, the Corporate Council for the Arts, the YWCA, and Washington State Governor’s Competitiveness Council.
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This Conversation took place in Sally Jewell’s office in Kent, Wash., on October 14, 2008. Denise Daniels, professor of management at Seattle Pacific University, joined Al Erisman in the Conversation.
Ethix: REI operates as a co-op. What difference does this make in how you run the company day-to-day compared with a traditional for-profit business?
Sally Jewell: There is a very, very significant difference. In a co-op, you have the ability to think long term. In a public company, there is incredible pressure from the market to have short-term results. While there are some good things that happen in a capitalistic environment, but the total privilege of being part of a co-op is that we don’t have to deal with Wall Street pressure.
Another difference is that our owners are members and customers, and so we are completely aligned. If a typical public company is a four-legged stool of customers, employees, stockholders, and community, REI is really a three-legged stool of members, who are owners, employees, and community. Not having the shareholder piece is enormously helpful for me personally, for our CFO, and for our general councel. With the public model, 25-30 percent of our time would specifically be dealing with shareholders. As a co-op we can concentrate on delivering great experience for REI’s members and therefore be satisfying our owners. So that’s a huge difference.
The Long-Term View
In both cases you are asking the question: What do we need to do to be successful over the long term? At REI we have an aspiration to thrive as a co-op, serving outdoor enthusiasts 100 years from now. We have the freedom to think long term, but a challenge is that we have no access to outside capital other than debt. Right now, with the market jumping all over the place and banks shutting down their lending, we would be in trouble if we were highly leveraged. Fortunately, we have a strong cash position and remain debt free. That’s because we have to run our co-op smarter than if another organization could go to the market and raise money.
This forces us to think about the long term differently. To be serving outdoor enthusiasts for 100 years from now and beyond, you have to have outdoor enthusiasts, and you have to have the outdoors as well. We must help engage the next generations of people who care about the outdoors and nature.
In our region, we have a 100-mile corridor along the interstate, which is called “the Greenway,” for example. Many of the lands that are forests would have been developed with houses today if not for the Greenway Initiative some years back. Every intersection could have had gas stations and fast food establishments. A few people would have their little bit of paradise, with houses on two- to five-acre lots. As this region urbanizes, providing areas for people to experience nature close-in to cities is increasingly important. Acquiring these lands for the public and supporting development in a more clustered way helps people maintain a connection to nature while supporting local economic development and a growing population. So, something like the Greenway is in REI’s long-term interest for many reasons. It is “wilderness on the Metro bus line,” and people can have access to things that could build a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors. The area gives us clean water, clean air, and a great quality of life. It provides opportunities for children to connect with nature, especially inner-city kids who might otherwise be very much out of reach. There are examples like this all over the country.
We believe it is in the long-term interests of REI to preserve natural spaces, engaging people in playing outdoors and taking care of the environment. This is where we put our financial contributions and where we do our volunteer work. It is probably easier to connect this to our mission than it might be in a bank supporting the opera, for example.
Do you get push back from your co-op. members when you make these investments, as a publicly traded company might get push back from shareholders if the company is giving too much?
The short answer is no. We are committed to pay the dividend to our members. We would likely get push back if we scaled back our dividend. In fact we have gone the opposite way, and we have ramped up the dividend substantially in 2008 over prior years. So, as long as we pay the dividend, we have been free to operate and invest in our business as we like. There isn’t a check and balance for the employee leg of the stool or the community leg of the stool, so the board must pay careful attention to our financial performance and strategic plans. We have much more freedom than a publicly traded company, and that includes freedom to take risks. There is maybe a little more weight on executives and on the board without this Wall Street pressure, since the owners are not really watching our financial statement as long as the dividends are being paid.
The total privilege of being part of a co-op is that we don’t have to deal with Wall Street pressure.
We had our first loss ever in 2000, which is the year I joined REI as an employee. We were $140 million in debt at our peak. We looked at where were we spending money and where were we were making money and got out of the things that were losing money. We sold all subsidiaries and closed a store in Japan, which we had just opened. The timing was bad, and in hindsight, we had opened the store in Japan for the wrong reasons. When the dot-com bubble burst, and we didn’t have to compete with all of these startups, our lives got a bit easier. Prior to the burst of the dot-com bubble, we had been getting pressure from our advisors to spin off our “online” business as a separate entity, but now we could integrate our online capability with our stores to ensure a seamless multi-channel experience.
So it is not that you don’t pay attention to financials, but you do so for different reasons?
We pay a lot of attention to financials. But we make sure we do this for the right reasons, not in response to outside pressure.
Then we started upgrading all of our retail stores and focusing on what grew our overall performance. Our online business has seen dramatic changes. We have gone from no liquidity and being maxed out on our bank lines, to where we now have almost an equivalent amount of cash at our high point every year. When we perform well, as we have in the last few years, we put money back in our members’ pockets, which, by the way, for the most part comes back into the store in the form of sales. So, it is a virtuous cycle.
You have described how the business model of a co-op makes a difference to you and the senior executives and the board. How does it affect the average person in the organization?
When I think about our work and the difference we make in giving back to the community, I think that it’s a huge shot in the arm for our colleagues to be part of that. An employee in our Portland store came to me after an “open forum” discussion I participated in at the store. He said, “Sally, our jobs can be very mundane. You have got to put socks on a peg, or empty the dressing room. What causes us to work at REI is all these important things we do.”
We must help build the next generation of people who care about the outdoors.
So, in this case he was saying, don’t downplay the stuff you do in the community or what we do in Washington, D.C., when we try and influence things such as support for national parks or “children and nature” or education curriculum. That’s one of the things that makes employees come to work everyday. The kind of work we do in the community is important to our employees, and is the reason we have the employees we have. It is enormously important.
You have been on the FORTUNE “100 Best Places to Work” list since 1998. What are some of the things that work for you, that make REI a better place to work?
We have a very open, down-to-earth environment here. We have just finished an annual employees’ survey where we had 84 percent participate. That’s huge for a company of 10,000 employees, many of whom might work 10 or 15 hours a week, odd schedules and all of that. We are very happy with that. We are most proud of our engagement score. What demonstrates our engagement is comments on the surveys like “I’ll gladly refer a friend to work for REI”; “I have fun coming to work everyday”; “I trust my leaders.”
I think that people believe in the core purpose of REI: “We inspire, educate, and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.” We work to inspire people to do what they aspire to do. We are trying to help people enjoy the outdoors and enjoy the nature for life. We all feel that it is good for us as human beings to have that connection with the natural world. So, there is a greater sense of purpose that drives a lot of engagement.
It’s also a really fun place to work with a very diverse group of employees, particularly in our retail stores. Lots of retirees, kids coming in from high school, school teachers, and most stores have at least one lawyer on our retail team because he simply loves the outdoors. We just opened a store in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we have six retired Ph.D.s from Los Alamos National Labs working. We have a pathologist, who has had enough of medicine. We have a surgeon who works for us in Houston. We are also very committed to reaching into communities of color to connect folks to REI and to the outdoors. These communities are significantly under-represented on our public lands.
This internal environment spills over to the customers. I just talked to a woman in the gym a couple of days ago and she said, “Sally, I just had the best experience ever in your Redmond (Washington) store with a friend of mine, who wanted to buy a bike for a triathlon.”She went on and on about how a sales person had spent an hour with this prospective tri-athlete talking about bikes and then at the end of it said, “You should think about this before making a purchase. There are few more models available in Seattle. By all means try test driving those before making a decision. Here are the attributes you should think about.” Her friend, who had not really done anything with REI before, is a customer for life.
Don’t you pressure sales clerks to close the deal?
No. There is no commission at REI. There is all the support in the world for helping people to get what they need. We also recognize they may want that expensive tent they don’t actually need, so we don’t talk them out if they really, really want it!
Who are your competitors and how do you regard them?
First I define competitors as things that keep people indoors, or keep people from enjoying lifelong outdoor activities. So, competitors include the couch, computers, television, certainly video games. To a certain extent, it is also organized youth sports. How many of us grew up camping, participating in Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, playing in the woods, building a tree fort, or digging a swimming pool in the backyard? What are kids doing today? In many cases, they are in organized youth sports activities, which are great to a point. But if you ask a child they won’t say they are playing, it feels more like work. Unfortunately, 99 percent of children who play team sports as children do not play them as adults. They transfer from player to spectator.
But when you talk about activities like tennis, golf, hiking, cycling, hunting, fishing, and skiing, these are lifelong activities.
I was on the board of the Retail Industry Leaders Association with the CEO of Best Buy. One day we were going to a board dinner on a bus and he said, “Gosh, Sally, who are your competitors?” I looked him in the eye and I said, “You are – Best Buy is our competitor. We are competing for people’s leisure time and you are winning right now. I want us to be more competitive because I want more people to enjoy active outdoor recreation as opposed to spending so much time indoors.”We get along very well, but that is how we view competition.
We offer all of our employees health care regardless of how many hours they work.
Other outdoor retailers are our allies as far as I am concerned. We are about 15 percent of the outdoor marketplace, and that means 85 percent are made up of smaller chains or mom and pop stores all over the country. If those business went away, REI would not able to be the specialty retailer offering the variety of products that we have because we need the entire industry to succeed. So if you go to our stores and don’t find what you want, the person at the cash register will be able to give you directions to another outdoor retailer that is likely to have it. We encourage our stores to refer customers to other stores when we don’t have what they need.
How does your business philosophy work its way out in how you deal with your suppliers?
In many cases we are the biggest customer our suppliers have. This is particularly true of the smaller ones, but it is true even with larger brands such as North Face and Patagonia. Because of our long-term commitment to the outdoors, we really have to work in lock step with our vendors. If we see a trend going another way, our buyers will sit down with the vendors and give them as much information as they can about trends in the industry. For example, we saw the trend toward LED bulbs for headlamps as opposed to incandescent bulbs. The president of Petzl North America told me that they would be nowhere near where they were that year if it weren’t for our merchandising product manager and his suggestion on LEDs. There are lots and lots of stories like that.
If you talk to people in companies like the North Face or Patagonia, well-known brand names, they will tell you that there was a time when they weren’t doing so well. At that time, REI might have prepaid orders and taken extra product from them. We want to see diversity of products, we want to see innovation and sometimes companies hit bumps along the road. As this economic climate continues to shake itself out, we are trying to figure out how much of a bank we are willing to be. As banks begin to tighten up or some small retailers struggle, our vendors are going to feel that. If they are not getting paid by some who might go out of business, we need to be thinking about our ability to help.
This seems a lot more collaborative than the cost driven approach Wal-Mart takes.
I would tell you I am actually a fan of Wal-Mart. I think that they do a lot more than they get credit for.
What do you like about them?
Well, I think they are changing. I have seen them react positively.
I define competitors as things that keep people indoors, or keep people from enjoying lifelong outdoor activities.
I have talked with different executives of Wal-Mart about three things. One was sourcing practices and how they would change the world if they implemented the kind of sourcing practices and order requirements that a company like REI and others have.
That’s actually why I asked the question because that is an area that does concern me.
I think with good reason, but I think they are migrating in a good direction.
Second is health care. We offer all of our employees health care regardless of how many hours they work. Our part-time health care plan is nowhere near as rich as our full-time health care plan, but it’s still a plan, which provides negotiated rates and an array of benefits that a full-time plan would have. It’s just got a cap. I said to an executive of Wal-Mart, “If you did that you could change the face of health care in the United States. You would set the bar for what everybody needed to do with part-time workers to get them insured. We would get many people out of the emergency rooms and bring down the whole cost of health care.
The third thing I talked to them about was around climate change and sustainability. They were moving forward on a number of these initiatives, I am not going to suggest that I had any influence whatsoever other than perhaps reinforcing their direction. They actually have to be very careful. If they were going to use solar power in a big way, there is not enough capacity in solar panels in the world. They could wipe out the supply for all the rest of us in trying to do the right thing, so they have to stage their activities.
Tell us how you plan for the future at REI.
We have had a couple of retreats with our board and leadership team where the rules of engagements were no discussion of anything happening sooner than 25 years in the future. From these discussions we identified five main areas that we pay a lot of attention to.
- Demographic shifts in the population particularly race, but also age
- Technology and its influence
- Global climate change
In each of these areas we determined that in 50 years they will be a big factor. Then we asked what we should be doing 10 years from now, five years from now, and in the next budget year to address these trends.
Let’s talk about climate change. I want REI to be a planet-neutral company. You can’t be a company that is relying on a clean environment and be part of the problem, polluting the environment. How do you reconcile the ethics of that? We want to define our role as an organization that has influence not only with our members, but with others in actually moving the meter in a positive direction. So, we have a focused plan on getting our carbon footprint to zero. We have had graduate students from Bainbridge Graduate Institute map out our greenhouse gas footprint in every single market that we have a presence in. Not only do they know our electricity consumption in particular, but they also know the sources of the power for that market and the greenhouse gases associated with the generation of that power.
We are also concerned about paper and forest products. We produce 60 million catalogs and retail fliers every year. If you stack those one on top of another, it extends many miles into the air. How do we reconcile hiking in the forest and cutting down trees? Another big area of focus for us is green buildings. How do we construct the buildings that use less resources and are more environmentally friendly to begin with?
Next is waste reduction and recycling. Now 75 to 80 percent of our waste stream measured by weight is recycled. The biggest part of this is cardboard, but it also includes food waste. We have gone away from any bottled water, and we remember to reuse our cups. I am wearing an organic cotton T-shirt. We are making backpacks out of recycled plastic bottles, but this is complicated … are we helping or hurting the environment by the actual flow and transportation processing of those plastics into a backpack? We are asking all those questions. We have gone as completely transparent as possible. For the past two years, we have put all of this on our website and in the annual stewardship report. We identify our goals going forward, what we did in the last year, what we did better, what we did worse, and what we are doing about it.
The kind of work we do in the community is important to our employees, and is the reason we have the employees we have.
Do you think “green” provides you competitive advantage?
We don’t do it for competitive advantage. We feel very strongly that sustainability is a team sport. We do want to create a market for green products. We have a lot of influence and the ability to create demand for fabrics that are produced in a more environmentally friendly way through the products we buy for our stores. Leather is one of the biggest culprits for chromium and other heavy metals pollution in the Ganges River in India. There are processes to tan leather that are not so environmentally damaging. So, we can create demand by working with our vendors.
One of my colleagues, Kevin Myette, is chairing a group called the Eco Working Group under the banner of Outdoor Industry Association, our industry’s trade association. Kevin and his colleagues from 80 different businesses are working on an eco-index for determining the environmental impact of that sweater or that pair of shoes. We need a common set of standards like the Underwriters Laboratories standards for electronic safety. When you have 80 players including big ones like The North Face, Columbia Sportswear, Levi’s, and Gap, then you begin to create a movement. That’s why sustainability is a team sport. The consumer can start asking for and looking for this, instead of the green washing nonsense that is confusing to everybody.
Do you lobby the government for environmental causes?
I would not use the term lobbying because we are not really lobbyists, but we do educate. I am trying to do these things in a very thoughtful nonpartisan way, but I want others to understand our business perspective. We are not paying for the cost to the environment, of the carbon that we use, and we should be paying for that. I know tax is a dirty word, but if we were paying a carbon tax that accounted for our impact on greenhouse gases, that would in fact change our consumption, just as higher oil prices have changed our consumption and made it more economic for other sources to come into play. Regulation plays an important role in driving behavior.
You mentioned technology as one of the key factors when you look 25 years out. How does it affect the way you think about your business?
There are the obvious business impacts of technology such as using technology to enhance efficiency, to automate processes, to speed up the time between when a product gets made and when it gets in your hands, and all of those sorts of business processes. I am going to ignore those, because all good businesses are going to continue to do that.
In the prior generation or two, technology has tied us to the indoors. Television is a good example. But now there is the opportunity to do something different with the new generation of technology and that excites me. If you take gaming knowledge of what really turns people on, and you combine it with new technology (satellites, GPS, mobile communications, cell technology, portability, battery life, optical recognition), I think we can use the technology to create a game that gets people outdoors and connected with nature. The gaming industry is at risk for being the “bad guy” here, so I think they have some incentive to help change the picture. I have had some discussions with Nintendo about this.
There is no commission at REI. There is all the support in the world for helping people to get what they need.
Geocaching (treasure hunts that make use of GPS) represents a small first step toward what we are thinking about – using GPS to do outdoor searches. Players could compete in the outdoors using technology tools to find different species. While playing the game, the information about species could also be automatically recorded in science-research databases, helping scientists track the African killer bee, the Tansy Ragwort, English ivy, how far north has this species or that invasive species gone, etc. You convert the population into data gatherers for researcher while playing games. That is Sally’s little pipe dream, but technology is making this possible and that’s very, very exciting.
There are also some technologies that are creating new products for the outdoors. We have vendors on the cutting edge that have washable jackets with a copper wire woven into them. You flip a switch and it warms you up as you are going up the ski lift and then you can shut it down when you are going down hill. We also have jackets with solar collectors on the shoulders. And a backpack where your iPod controls are embedded. Technology is beginning to make a lot of things possible, and that opens the door to many new products.
Banking to REI
How did you get from banking to REI?
With the encouragement of my management, I got involved in community service through a school board when I first started in banking when I was 25 years old. This began a commitment to community service that has been very, very important to me.
Soon I got involved in the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, the project I mentioned earlier that REI is still involved with. There I met people such as Jim Ellis, who became my mentor and is one of the people I admire most in this world. Jim talks about living his life in thirds, a third for family, a third for work, and a third for community, another lesson of lifelong importance to me. When the Greenway was formed in 1991, I went on the board, and there I met someone from REI. Through that relationship, I was eventually invited on the REI board in 1996. In 1999, REI was trying to decide how to compete with all of those crazy dot-com companies. REI had no access to outside capital, and the dot-coms were gunning for REI, using their investment money. In the midst of these discussions, REI recruited me to join their company. I started there as COO in 2000, reporting to the new CEO.I had the opportunity to combine my passion for the outdoors with my career, a wonderful opportunity.
Reflection on Banking
It seems like there is a big difference between REI and a bank. You are trying to create a great outdoor experience for your customers, and a bank wants to make money. Or have I oversimplified?
I think you have dramatically oversimplified. I would say first that the bank is interested in way more than making money. The bank is very interested in building community. Recently, seeing what we’ve seen in the catastrophe in the banking and finance sector, you can get an impression that banks are just a bunch of money-grabbing thieves. I don’t think that’s the reality. If banks weren’t contributing in the way they are to the arts, education, infrastructure, and political support, communities would not be what they are.
As a banker looking what has happened recently in that industry, how do you react to this? What will it take to keep from going here again?
This whole situation really makes me angry. In the four years prior to joining REI, I was with Washington Mutual. I was taking them into commercial banking, a new area for them. When I joined Washington Mutual, it was a $20 billion bank, a good-sized regional bank. When I left they were $200 billion. We made a lot of acquisitions, but still it was on a very sound footing. What happened over the eight years that I have been gone, and in particular the last three or four years, just makes me angry. In fact, I got so angry at them about three years ago, I sold all my stock at $40. It turned out to be an incredibly good decision for all of the wrong reasons! I am also unbelievably sad for a number of really good people who work there. Wall Street pushes companies and gives them a hard time if they don’t toe the financial growth line. It happened in banking to a very significant degree. Have you interviewed Jim Senegal at Costco?
Yes, we talked with him in issue 28.
He has taken a long-term view in the way he runs Costco, but acknowledges tremendous pressure for short-term results.
I think that’s exactly right. Costco must deal with analysts or shareholders saying they are wasting your money by paying your employees so much, but they have great long-term results. Today in banking you see what has just come to a head recently, but this has been happening for years. I would say lot of blame does lie in Wall Street. They are constantly pushing for short-term results, and they also push companies into riskier, potentially higher profit products. In the case of banks, this was mortgage-backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, and derivative products. Even people even on Wall Street don’t understand some of these instruments; they just talk fast, and everybody thinks they understand.
At the REI, we have board buddies, where every board member has a member of the leadership team that they are assigned to each year, and it’s direct line of communication.
This is not a new story, unfortunately. It’s just more dramatic this time. Frankly all of us need a bucket of ice water on our heads in terms of our spending patterns relative to our saving patterns. We don’t handle our personal financial responsibility very well, and I think that there is a trickle down effect. In addition, for banks, they must resist the pressure from Wall Street pushing them into things that they don’t understand at all.
I call that the technology factor, which creates complex instruments that nobody understands.
Early in my career as a banker I was a credit administrator, approving loans. It was right in the middle of the energy debacle in the early ’80s and I made my mark by avoiding some bad loans. When a client came to me with a complex loan proposal, I would tell them, “I am just not very bright. I need you to walk me through each step and show me exactly how this works.” They could never do it. A lot of the derivative products, the swaps and caps, are very legitimate. But some of them got so far over people’s ability to understand or collateralize that nobody can go back to say how you can collect on them. I think it is up to the board to really question and push back.
Dealing with Boards
Unless the board is also caught up in this frenzy too! So how do you deal with your board?
At the REI, we have board buddies, where every board member has a member of the leadership team that they are assigned to each year. It’s a direct line of communication. I think it is a good check and balance. They go to the Outdoor Retailer trade show and go to meetings with vendors with our buyers, so that they get a depth of understanding of the industry. Then they are prepared to do appropriate corporate governance. But it’s important that they have a conversation with somebody two layers down from me. If they are smart, they are going to say, “How is Sally doing?”
I have been asked to go on a bunch of boards and I have to say, “No.” Recently I was asked by a respected company to be on their board, but when I looked at the executive compensation column I knew I couldn’t support that. The compensation was so far out of range from what seemed fair. When I told them I really struggle with this, they responded, “That’s why we need you on the board.” I didn’t want to put myself in that situation because once you get there, it’s very tricky.
How do you balance your life between work, community, and family?
I wouldn’t be able to do what I have done or be who I am today if I hadn’t married the right guy. Warren and I have been married for 30 years. We share parenting duties. We have been through times when we were both working full time and forgetting to pick up our sick kids from the nurses’ office and all those things you go through that make you feel dreadfully guilty for the rest of your life. Now we are at a place where he has been our primary parent and I have been the secondary parent, and I have been the primary breadwinner and he has been the secondary breadwinner. But I do try to think about my life in thirds – time for work, family, and the community.
I have hardly ever in my life missed any vacation. I do work on the weekends sometimes, but I try to not work on the weekends and pretty much while at home I try to be home. My kids are now 23 and 24, so, the need is different. My daughter is applying for jobs right now, so I did some mock interviewing with her. When the kids graduated from high school, one in 2002 and the other is 2004, I took them each on an REI Adventure, just the two of us. My son and I climbed Kilimanjaro and went on a safari for three weeks, my daughter and I did the Tour du Mont Blanc in Europe, hiking into three countries. We do a family ski trip to Whistler and we invite our kids’ friends and our friends. It’s about 12 people, and we just have a blast. I chose to leave the oil industry and move to Seattle long before the rule of thirds but because we really wanted to raise our children where we had family. We have consciously made choices that have supported a healthy family environment.
You protect jobs in the country, not by putting up fences, but by leading and thinking, taking everybody to the next lily pad.
I haven’t calculated how I split my time, but I know at some points it is 100 percent work, sometimes 100 percent family, and in some cases community is 100 percent. I think that the balance probably does work out pretty much to what Jim Ellis espoused of living life in thirds. I let my family know what I am up to, so there aren’t any surprises.
Do you ever sleep?
I sleep well, I sleep seven to eight hours at night and I work out regularly. One piece of advice I give is to tell people to take care of their body, including physical fitness and sleep.
How did being an engineer affect the way you look at things? First of all most woman aren’t engineers and most bankers aren’t engineers.
Engineering was an incredible degree to get, and I have never regretted it for one second. I was offered opportunities to take an executive MBA while I was in banking, but I didn’t because of family circumstances. All I have is my engineering plus a couple of night classes on business and a lot of seat-of-the-pants experience. But engineering teaches you how to think. One of my banking colleagues called me an information sponge. I can be pretty detail-oriented when I need to be.
I think engineering really gave me analytic and spatial abilities that I continue to use. The Washington pre-college test told me that I should be a nurse or teacher or go into Russian studies, and every single woman in my high school had the same recommendation. That was back in the ’70s. It didn’t really matter that you had math aptitude or mechanical attitude. I felt very fortunate that I met my husband in engineering at the University of Washington, and his studies just looked quite a lot more fun than mine.
I have one quick story here on this topic. I was the top student in machine design, a difficult class, but one I just “got.” My professor gave me a grade of 3.8 and I knew there were higher grades in the class. So I asked him, “What would it take to get a 4.0 in your class?” He said that women don’t make good engineers. Several of my classmates who were men got 4.0 with worse scores than I had. I think that environment is much better today.