Lindsay Saxby (C12) can trace her career at PG&E back to a single journal entry on an ordinary day of class.
“I was in Nils [Moe]’s class and expressed that I was looking for a new career,” she remembers. “Nils had heard about a solar permitting project in the East Bay that was offering an internship and encouraged me to apply for it. So I did, and I got it, and it was the domino effect that led me to get the job at PG&E.”
Before enrolling at Presidio, Saxby worked at a restaurant but realized she did not want to be a career server. Her interest in environmental causes led her to Presidio. “I did a complete career shift,” she says. “Presidio really jump-started my whole career. I went from zero professional experience to landing an associates job at PG&E.” She is now the Senior Analyst Commercial Lead on the Community Solar Choice Program.
Saxby is one of numerous Presidio alumni who have gone on to work for The Pacific Gas and Electric Company, commonly known as PG&E, the natural gas and electric utility provider for central and northern California. PG&E’s commitment to sustainability and wide-reaching impact make the company a natural fit for many Presidians—both recent graduates and members of the early cohorts.
Xantha Bruso (C3) has been working at PG&E for ten years and is currently the Manager of Long-Term Energy Policy. She sees definite parallels between her time at Presidio and her career. “At Presidio, you are maximizing a lot of variables,” she says. “[Unlike a traditional MBA] you are not just trying to create profit, you are also trying to maximize social and environmental change.” Her work at PG&E is also about trying to optimize many different factors. “Environmentally conscious, cheap, reliable—you can’t fail on any of those measures,” Bruso explains. “Utilities provide a product to everyone, affordably and reliably, and more cleanly over time. It is an ideal fit for a triple-bottom-line industry because you have to optimize all those variables, you can’t just maximize one of them. I went into my job knowing how to do that, thanks to my time at Presidio.”
Rhonda Shiffman (C9) is a supervisor in PG&E’s Environmental Management organization supporting Gas Transmission. She enrolled as a part-time student at Presidio while working at PG&E because, she says, “As a project manager I realized I lacked business acumen, and as part of the aging baby boomer generation, I became aware that my skills needed updating.” At Presidio, she gained much more than increased digital literacy and an updated skill-set; she gained poise, emotional intelligence, analytical and strategic thinking and a renewed passion for doing good in the world. As a small example, Shiffman reflects that her time at Presidio made her “religious” about stakeholder involvement. She says, “Whenever we are brainstorming or developing a process improvement, I make sure to include stakeholders—even though it will likely take more time. We always get a better product or process when we do this!”
Many alumni spoke about the tension between wanting to push for social and environmental changes, while still balancing other factors of working at any company—much less, a large utility company—such as reliability and profit. Shiffman remarks, “What Presidio engrained in me is that it is better to do the right thing and be transparent about it than to do the wrong or safe thing and hope that no one will find out. We have a core ethic [at PG&E] that involves the provision of a physically and socially safe working environment where anyone can stop a job if they believe it to be unsafe.” When wrestling with this tension between the traditional business world and a desire to spur social and environmental change, Eunice Barnett Garcia (C4), the East Bay Division Senior Manager at PG&E, advises getting personal. Focus less on pushing an agenda and more on building strong relationships with leaders across the business. “Build trust first,” she says. “It’s about building your relationships before you try to make a big change. Once you prove yourself, then you can focus on some of your larger goals.”
She also says taking the time to learn the company’s culture is crucial, so you can present opportunities for sustainability in a way that makes sense to the company’s goals and mission. For example, at PG&E, safety is a very strong cultural incentive. Barnett Garcia cites fellow Presidian-turned-PG&E-employee Joe Herr’s successful argument that sustainability is an integral part of safety. “Joe found a way to re-contextualize sustainability,” Barnett Garcia says, adding that this is applicable advice for any industry. Often, big changes come about little by little, with much patience and many conversations.
An MBA from Presidio is not just an education in sustainability; it is an education in personal connections. Nearly every alumni interviewed named the Effective Management and Communications class as a continual aid, both professionally and personally. Bruso states simply, “That class made me think about how to phrase a question and get an answer back that will help me reach my goals.” Barnett Garcia says that Effective Management and Communications permeates all aspects of her job, whether she is making a request, leading teams, trying to grow people to be more accountable, or getting buy-in from stakeholders. In addition, the knowledge and skills she gained from that class have been especially helpful when working with leaders of other teams who don’t report to her. “How do you get commitment and buy-in and get them to work with you when you are not their boss?” she asks. “That class taught me how. I will use what I learned there for the rest of my life.”
Bret Mueller (C15), a Senior Financial Analyst at PG&E, echoed the importance of effective communication and added that the class helped him discover ways to motivate different types of people when working together on a project. In addition, he says, “All the EL [Experiential Learning] classes were super helpful in building a management background, developing a leadership style, and collaborating with others.” Similarly, Barnett Garcia states, “Presidio is what you make it.” She believes one of the best things about getting an MBA from Presidio is that “if you focus on relationship-building and connecting with people who are like-minded, every class has opportunities to work with companies you admire and respect.”
Ayaka Emoto (C15) shared her excitement in being able to dive into real-world sustainability projects while working towards her MBA at Presidio. For example, she had long admired the nonprofit Ideo.org and their mission to solve world poverty. At Presidio, she took on a leadership role of the International Sustainability Club (ISC) and reached out to Ideo.org—and ended up working with them as part of ISC’s humanitarian trip to Bali. Emoto advises current Presidio students: “You have a limited time as a graduate student, so take advantage of that. Reach out to organizations that you are interested in working for. Volunteer your time. Apply for low-pay or no-pay internships. Just get the experience! Companies often want to work with grad students, so it’s up to you to be proactive and make those connections.”
From time to time I receive communication from Presidio students that goes something like this: “I met someone from (name...