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Renton High School Centennial: Sally Jewell, Class of '73

Sally Jewell, President and CEO of REI is a Renton High School alumna of the Class of 1973

In the weeks leading up to the , Renton Patch profiled prominent  graduates  and . Our last feature is Sally (Roffey) Jewell, Class of 1973.

REI, based in Kent, Wash., has consistently been named one of the top 100 Best Companies to Work for in America. The person at the helm is Sally Jewell, the president and chief executive officer since March 2005, and a proud Renton High School graduate.

REI is ranked ninth on the 2011 list of Fortune Magazine’s best places to work. A retail cooperative, with 4 million active members, it is a leader in outdoor clothing and gear and has over 114 retail locations.

Jewell was the keynote speaker this week at the ” fundraising breakfast, which drew a crowd of over 300 people. Jewell spent the bulk of her speech talking about her passion for lifelong learning, and connecting children and families with nature. A key program at REI is its family adventures program.

Her speech was sprinkled with self-deprecating humor and memories of Renton schools. She gave special thanks to her mentor, a teacher named Mrs. Black, who encouraged and nurtured Jewell's love of the outdoors, camping, hiking, and climbing, as well as lifelong learning.

We should be encouraging unstructured play time for young people, Jewell said, and engage diverse communities with nature-based education. She doesn’t eschew the current technology; in fact, REI is a leader in this area, with an award-winning web site, but rather, she says, we need to blend technology with the natural world.

For a CEO, Jewell is surprisingly well balanced; she makes an effort to give equal time to work, family and community. An avid outdoor person, she hikes, bikes, skis and climbs. Last year during a sabbatical, she and several other women went to Antarctica to scale Mt. Vinson, at 16,000 feet.

Jewell took a circuitous route to her job as CEO of REI. A mechanical engineering graduate of the University of Washington, she first went into the banking industry in the 1980s. She quickly rose through the ranks, eventually serving as president and CEO of the Commercial Banking Group of Washington Mutual Bank.

During that time, she came on the board of directors of REI, and in 2005 was named its CEO.

REI’s corporate philosophy is aligned with her own. More than just outdoor equipment and tents and backpacks, its stewardship philosophy is laudable. Employees regularly work together on projects with nonprofits and with their partners in the outdoor industry. One recent project had Jewell clearing blackberry bushes to make way for a new park. REI employees provided more than 2 million hours of community service in 2010.

At Renton High School, Jewell said, she had a number of positive experiences that built confidence and leadership skills (including running for her first and only elected office as student body secretary). The experiences taught her many of the lessons that she still practices today—including encouraging diverse viewpoints and giving respect to everyone that you work with.

Jewell continues to maintain strong community partnerships by serving on a number of boards, including the University of Washington Board of Regents, the National Parks Conservation Board and Mountains  to Sound Greenway Trust, to name a few.

To sum Jewell up, listing her long list of professional accomplishments would not properly define her. On the other hand, stating her love of outdoors and the value of lifelong learning would. To a great laugh at the schools breakfast, Jewell’s vision, she said, is that, “No child should be left inside.”

REI, Jewell said, remains at the top of the best places to work continually because employees are engaged in their jobs, and all want to make a difference in what they do.

"Our core purpose is to maintain our lifelong committment to nature," she said.

A CEO she is, but she's much, much more than that. We should all be so inspired to just get out and enjoy nature every day the way she does.

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