This is the inaugural post for How She Leads, a column created by Maya Albanese for GreenBiz.com to spotlight women leaders in sustainability.
Through her column, Albanese will explore the career paths of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable development. She’ll ask participants to share how they acquired their roles and discuss the opportunities and challenges they face. Her goal for How She Leads is to inspire and encourage more women to attain executive positions in sustainable business.
Albanese's first interview is with Leilani Latimer, the director of Sustainability Initiatives at Sabre Holdings, a board member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and a member and former co-chair of the Corporate Social Responsibility Committee for the National Business Travel Association.
Latimer’s experiences illustrate what it’s like to be a high-level sustainability professional in a global company. She provides her insights on the past, present and future of this relatively new discipline.
Sabre Holding's mission is to connect people with the world's greatest travel possibilities. Sabre merchandises and retails travel products and offers distribution and technology solutions for the travel industry. The company's businesses include Sabre Travel Network, Airline Solutions and Hospitality Solutions, as well as Travelocity.
Maya Albanese: How exactly did you rise to this role? Did you create the position or were you hired into an existing role?
Leilani Latimer: I have been working for Sabre for 20 years. Before leading Sustainability Initiatives, I was leading Global Marketing Strategy and Planning, where I was bringing together people across functions and cultures to move toward a common framework. Because of this, and my ability to work across cultures and organizations, my boss at the time recommended me for the sustainability position. At the time, we had a series of different sustainability initiatives at Sabre, but no one was really bringing everything together across the enterprise to streamline and create a cohesive and strategic direction. At about the same time, I decided to start looking at green MBA programs, and in 2008, I completed the Presidio School of Management's Executive MBA program, which I would recommend.
MA: Was there a specific incident in your life that led you to be passionate about working in sustainability?
LL: I grew up in Southern California in the 1970s where water conservation is a crucial issue, and the proximity of the beach and the beauty of nature were both parts of my daily life.
MA: In light of your success in this role, what advice would you give other young professionals aspiring to be sustainability leaders?
LL: Focus on what you know how to do well. The opportunity to drive sustainable development comes when you are in an organization, already contributing your expertise. Hunter Lovins' philosophy is that "to make change happen, you have to be in the system and know how to change the system." For example, I know a woman who had worked in financial real estate planning and who wanted to make a career change to sustainability. My recommendation to her was to find the ROI (return on investment) around projects related to sustainable real estate development. The opportunity to move into sustainability is there in every role in the company.