In What it's Like we ask people working in a variety of roles across the range of sustainability sectors to tell us about their organization, their work and their career path. In this edition of What it's Like, we hear from Mary Solecki , a partner at AJW, Inc., a boutique consulting firm in the emerging technologies sector.
What is AJW's core purpose and mission?
We want to make public policy smart and responsive to new and emerging technologies. We want laws and regulations to facilitate the quick, large-scale adoption of more environmentally friendly energy and technology.
Tell us about your role
My firm works with new energy technologies to assess business strategy and market barriers. We work on strategic partnerships and external affairs for our clients. I lead our California office, with most of our firm located in Washington D.C. I advise any of our clients’ west coast-related questions, like where and how to deploy a technology for the best market potential. Long-term, I’m developing a portfolio of bleeding-edge technologies and working on policies that will help create new markets. Day-to-day, this involves lots of research and conversations with state and public officials, as well as with our clients.
How did you get the job? What has been your career path?
I have a background in sales and marketing. Later, I got an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. Interested in the intersection of environment + business + public policy, I got a job with E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) immediately after my MBA. There I worked on E2’s policy issues across the West Coast, bridging business voices with policy development. Through my work and connections at E2, I was eventually offered this opportunity at AJW. I saw it as a unique way to build my expertise and focus more on the private sector, so I embraced it as a learning opportunity.
Describe the AJW work culture- what's it like to work there?
We are a relatively small firm, with about 25 people on staff. It’s a culture of assumed trust, shared responsibility, and adeptness. We are focused on outcomes for our clients, and not on internal minutia. We are also committed to continuous learning – things change quickly in our field, and there are always new topics, technologies, or policies with which to become versatile. I don’t have typical days or even typical weeks – other than that I’m always on the go: lots of external meetings to drive projects forward and client meetings to keep them informed as a project develops.
Describe the sector in which AJW operates
We are a boutique consulting firm for emerging technologies. There are a couple of other firms that provide similar services, but we really pride ourselves on the unique niche we serve, starting at business strategy development. Other consulting firms typically specialize in just lobbying or one level of government affairs (federal or state; regulatory or legislative). Despite being 15-years old, we haven’t seen other firms develop beyond public policy or one region of the country. Our clients are also unique, because they value a long-term partnership that develops their business alongside the right policies in an iterative process.
What do you love and hate about your job?
What I love: the independence and autonomy to create the work I want, with the clients I want.
What I hate: the amount of energy to carry out this work is sometimes exhausting! However, done right the work can also fuel me with new energy. Also, there’s always coffee.
What advice do you have for job seekers interested in working in your industry?
Learn all you can about a particular law or regulation. How does it impact businesses on a daily basis, as well as other stakeholders? How could it be refined or enhanced to deliver better outcomes? Then, develop the relationships to pursue these outcomes. Proving your capabilities in one topic shows your potential in others. Also, a strong network of professional peers is essential. Make connections with new people, and take the time to keep your professional network alive by meeting for coffee or lunch on a regular basis. A consultant is only as valuable as their Rolodex.
How can people find you?
What is your favorite animal?
I’m an animal lover, so there are infinite ways to answer this. I’ll keep it succinct and say that I’m always awed and amazed when I see elephants. They are such massive, regal creatures. My dogs are my favorite non-human co-habitants, and make me laugh every single day. I don’t eat meat, so I love to learn about the dignity, personalities and worth of all animals.
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