Interior has never had a secretary with more experience in the department's two biggest areas of responsibility—public-lands management and energy development—than the 57-year-old Jewell. She took over from Ken Salazar in April, fresh from a dozen years as a top executive at Recreation Equipment Inc., better known as REI. She joined the outdoor-goods cooperative as chief operating officer in 2000 and rose to CEO in 2005.
Earlier in her career, Jewell worked the oil and gas fields of Oklahoma and Colorado as a petroleum engineer for Mobil Oil. In between, she spent 19 years in commercial banking, working part of that time in energy financing.
Since coming to the States with her family from England at an early age, Jewell has spent most of her life in "the other Washington"—the one that borders Canada and the Pacific Ocean. Her father, an anesthesiologist, had a fellowship at the University of Washington, and she earned her degree in mechanical engineering there in 1978. During a career spent entirely in the private sector, unlike many previous Interior secretaries, Jewell worked not just on energy production and business development but also on education as a board member at the University of Washington, on health care issues as REI's chief, and on conservation as a board member at the National Parks Conservation Association.
"She knows that there's no contradiction between being good stewards of the land and our economic progress—that, in fact, those two things need to go hand in hand," President Obama said in nominating Jewell to succeed Salazar. In contrast with Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, Jewell is not a politician and is likely to take a CEO's approach to running her department of more than 70,000 employees. With nine separate and diverse agencies ranging from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Geological Survey to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the National Park Service, Interior presents monumental management challenges that can quickly turn into crisis management. Just ask Salazar about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Jewell's experience as a mountain climber could come in handy.