How She Leads: Trisa Thompson, Dell

How She Leads is a regular feature on GreenBiz spotlighting the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business. In this edition, Maya Albanese interviews Trisa Thompson, vice president of corporate responsibility at Dell Inc. 

Thompson will moderate an all-female panel of sustainability leaders at the GreenBiz Forum New York about the changing role of the chief sustainability officer. It will delve into how corporate sustainability organizations are becoming strategic partners to assist other business units. 

Dell has been a sustainability innovator and leader in its industry, reflected by its numerous internal and external programs that support young entrepreneurs, female leadership and energy efficiency, among others. Thompson partners across all Dell functions to research and understand customers' sustainability needs. Her team conducts competitive analyses, provides assistance to the marketing and sales teams in this area, and meets with Dell's customers, mainly chief information officers. 

Maya Albanese: How did you move into your sustainability role at Dell?

Trisa Thompson: I am a lawyer by training and Dell was one of my first big clients. I worked on Dell's legal team for 13 years before I moved into my current role. It was a natural evolution into the sustainability position. In my legal role, I sat on our Global Sustainability Council and wrote articles on my own about the intersection between law and sustainability. I oversaw a lot of related functions within the business, including all of our manufacturing and factories globally and the former Dell Foundation. About 2 1/2 years ago, giving and sustainability were merged together, and I was asked to apply internally for this position to manage them. They were also considering external candidates, but I knew how to get things done inside the company across all the departments, which was a huge boon. It was really the perfect job for me.

MA: How has your law education been applicable to the role in which you work now?

TT: I was surprised to see in the latest GreenBiz State of the Sustainability Profession Report that the legal profession wasn't listed as a background for people in this field because my law experience allows me to do my job a lot better. There are so many environmental and labor laws that we have to adhere to, and I'm able to come up with a solution that's creative, because I can see it from the legal and the sustainability perspectives. My team identifies where the risks are and sends out warning signals to the rest of the company about what laws are in the pipeline. For example, we know that a law in India is on its way that will require all corporations operating there to donate 1 percent of their net profits. 

MA: What are some sustainability issues that you feel personally passionate about?

TT: My No. 1 passion within S&G [sustainability and giving] is using technology to solve the problems for our customers. On the giving side, we're very engaged with the issues of youth learning and pediatric cancer. About a year ago, we launched our pediatric cancer initiative, and it's been a real eye opener for me on the potential of technology. On the sustainability side, it's how our technology, like Smart Grid, can offer our customers environmental solutions. Energy efficiency and paperless management make a big impact. For example, at one of our hospital customers in Asia, we made all their documents digital, clearing up enough space to make a whole children's hospital area. 

Next page: Top responsibilities, employee engagement

Photo courtesy of Dell.