Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to [email protected]canarymedia.com. Canary thanks FischTank PR for its support of the column.
Susan Nickey: An EVP who understands the art of diplomacy
Susan Nickey is executive vice president and chief client officer at Hannon Armstrong. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
How did you end up on this career path?
I was in the right place at the right time. The independent power industry was just starting to take off, and my then-boss asked me to join him in launching ABN AMRO project finance group. At the time, I was planning to go into international banking and rotate into the bank’s expat program, but he convinced me that a detour into energy project finance was the right career move — and he was absolutely right. I’m still here.
I was assigned to alternative energy before it even existed as a sector. So while I wanted to go into international finance and have a big global impact, I soon recognized the unique opportunity to help drive the alternative-energy industry. At that time, no one believed it was real or really had a future, and look at where alternative energy is today.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Set a goal of where you want to end up and make decisions to move you forward on that path.” When I was in high school, a client of my father’s who was a Swiss businessman asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I responded that I wanted to go into international banking, and he gave me that advice. I really took it to heart — I spent my sophomore year of college abroad, and after I graduated I did an international banking internship in the Philippines, and then came back and went into the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. Even if you switch focus in your career like I did, I think having a set goal and moving toward it puts you in a position to take advantage of exciting opportunities as they come.
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What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it?
I was one of the first women not only in finance but also in energy, which was not always easy. However, as a young banker, I faced another more amusing — but still very real — barrier: I realized that a lot of business was conducted on either the golf course or the ski slopes. I was neither a golfer nor a skier, so I quickly got frustrated with being left out while everyone else was out networking and relationship-building. I decided to take lessons in both sports, and though I was worried I would not be good enough, eventually I was able to keep up. I learned that it is good to not be scared and to just go for it, and soon enough, I started enjoying those rewarding conversations and stopped missing out.
What do you think are the most exciting new career opportunities in climatetech?
There are so many emerging career opportunities — in home electrification, utilities, decarbonization — where you can really hit the ground running if you have a solid data analytics background. But whatever your skill set or background, the Inflation Reduction Act that just passed will only increase the robustness of the job market, both in the private and public sectors. And we need all the talent we can get.
What is your superpower?
The art of diplomacy. I had the great benefit while I was at Georgetown of studying under Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, arguably the two most important secretaries of state of our time. I think their storytelling, in their lectures and their memoirs, is rich with lessons on the effectiveness of back-channeling as well as face-to-face engagement. Their successes helped drive the importance of forging consensus, putting yourself in the shoes of someone on the other side and finding common ground. I think having that experience helped me with my diplomacy skills and effectiveness in my professional roles.
Bessma Aljarbou was promoted to director of supplier carbon solutions at Apple.
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