In June, two of Pattern’s Employee Resource Groups, Blacks in Renewable Energy (BiRE) and Women in Renewable Energy (WIRE), hosted a fireside chat with one of Pattern’s newest board members, Mona Sutphen. BiRE President Lauren Haller and WIRE President Amber Rees led the discussion in our San Francisco office with Sutphen, whose extensive experience includes strategic advisement on financial markets, geopolitics, policy, and risk management as well as working in the White House–twice. The conversation covered the surprising developments in Sutphen’s career path that brought her to where she is, as well as her perspective on renewable energy. The excerpts below underscore how Sutphen’s experience and intellect make her such a valuable addition to Pattern Energy’s board.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, Sutphen is the mother of two who practices yoga and tries to read often as possible in her downtime. But with all that’s on her plate, it’s hard to imagine what downtime she has. In addition to serving as a Director of Pattern, Mona’s current portfolio of work includes private equity investing, as well as involvement in a few startups.
From 2009-2011, Sutphen served as the White House Chief of Staff of Policy under President Obama, at a time when tensions were running particularly high. It was the height of the financial crisis when the U.S. had 130,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, and unemployment was skyrocketing. “I’ve never quite been in something so intense, and fast-paced, and diverse,” Sutphen said. “I worked on everything from small business lending to banking-related regulation. I also worked on space policy… fish policy, everything that you can imagine… cybersecurity, counter-terrorism, North Korea, trade–you name it.” But it was that diverse role that sparked her interest in renewable energy. When asked what drew her to join Pattern Energy’s board, Sutphen explained how that connection came to be.
When asked about some of the key opportunities that helped shape her career, Mona said, “The biggest, most important development in my life was when I joined the Foreign Service… that really changed the trajectory of my entire career.” She had been working at an advertising agency and came to a moment where she felt there had to be something more to life than what she was doing. Six weeks later, she was offered a job in the Foreign Service. Mona calls that “the most important inflection point” in her life.
She shared another story about an opportunity that impacted her career while she was working in the Foreign Service – where she learned that the task you may not want to do could very well take you to unexpected places.
Though it was a seemingly undesirable task that ultimately helped land Sutphen a role in the White House, she explained that best career advice she has ever received pertained to taking a job you might not truly want.
Reflecting the missions of BiRE and WIRE, a big part of the discussion focused on diversity and inclusion. Haller shared an analogy describing diversity as being invited to the dance, and inclusion as being asked to dance while you’re there. The question was then put to Sutphen for her take.
When it comes to a company setting goals around diversity, Sutphen said that looking at peers can help a company examine what other, similar companies are doing well or lacking, and reflect on how that compares to what they are doing and where they can improve. “It’s helpful to have benchmarks,” she said. “Everybody’s got a different challenge that they have to deal with.” That’s why Sutphen feels that looking at peer companies offers a comparison that’s “a little more realistic about where you’re trying to go.”
Sutphen brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Pattern Energy, all of which make her a welcome addition to the board and will help in advancing Pattern Energy’s mission to transition the world to renewable energy. For her part, Sutphen said, “I am thrilled to be part of this company’s growth and expansion.”