Lynelle Cameron was recently the vice president of sustainability at Autodesk and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation and is currently at a pivot point in her career. Growing up in a family of educators, she has had the privilege of spending school breaks outdoors. Hiking in the mountains and communing with nature showed Lynelle how important it is to respect the limited planetary resources. In the countless hours she spent on the trails, her dad would always ask her how she’ll contribute to making the world a better place?
The Need to Find Your Purpose
She interestingly pointed out how the growing trend of The Great Resignation shows that more and more people understand that it’s more than just the income; it’s about finding one’s purpose in life. Fortunately, she knew she wanted to work with people and help them find ways to live sustainably from the finite resources our world offers.
“There’s something really interesting happening right now in the workforce. People talk about the great resignation that’s happening with the pandemic. And to me, that’s exciting, and it’s exciting because people are starting to have a sense of agency that they can create meaning and have purpose when they go to work. Versus, I think, generations in the past you had your work; you were in your money, and then you give back in your volunteer time or community service work.”
Finding the Right Place to Prepare for Her Goals
Lynelle chose to pursue her MBA at Haas because it’s always been grounded in ethics. It’s way ahead of its time, offering ethical leadership 100 years ago.
“Then I went to Haas the next fall, and I chose Haas because there are no programs in responsible business and some of the things that exist today. But it was a school that was founded on ethics. And they were one of the first institutions that taught ethical leadership a hundred years ago, actually”. Plus, there were a lot of things happening in the Bay Area around sustainable business”.
The experience, while it was a cultural shock for her, proved to be helpful. With a background in anthropology and environmental science, the school gave her a solid foundation in business. During her time at Haas, she gained insight into capitalism and perspectives on sustainability and the environment from a business perspective.
The bonus? Paul Hawken, the American environmentalist, entrepreneur, author, economist, and activist, also lives in the Bay Area.
Learning from Thought Leaders and Mentors
Apart from learning from fellow Haasies and work colleagues, Lynelle had the opportunity to meet Paul Hawken and receive interesting advice on choosing a workplace. What did Paul tell her?
“I remember meeting up with Paul Hawken after I have pursued a business degree. And I said to him, ‘You know, I read your book. I went back to business school. Now I’m going into the corporate sector. What advice do you have for me? And he simply said, ‘Go where you’re respected.’ And what he meant was go to a company that’s ready for what you want to bring versus banging your head against a wall at a company with a really big negative impact.”
Changing mindsets doesn’t happen overnight. The journey to encouraging businesses to be sustainable and ethical is a project with huge goals. Her mentor at HP taught her a crucial lesson:
“One of the key things that she instilled in me is that change of this magnitude takes time and, staying power, and perseverance. Persistence is absolutely critical. A couple of lessons I learned along the way, your adversaries can become your biggest advocates if you use them wisely.”
Her tried-and-tested way to do it? Listen to the opposing side’s perspective and find common ground. Help address their common hesitations.
The Real Role of Leaders
Lynelle believes leadership is not just about hiring experts and the right people; it’s also about helping them succeed. Something you do by building great relationships with your colleagues and helping them remove roadblocks to drive your team’s goals forward.
“So you need to make sure that you’re prioritizing building those relationships. Sometimes, it is more important than doing the work that you want to do on climate and whatnot. And so, I had to focus, and I did this to different degrees over my tenure there, prioritizing relationships and removing barriers for the team to do what they needed to do to drive the business forward”.
Learn more about how Lynelle is helping board members pursue sustainability in their companies, and she’s changing mindsets in a consulting role.