Obama to pick Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, as Interior Secretary


WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 16 2011: Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, speaks at America's Great Outdoors Initiative which encourages Americans to connect with the outdoors and conserve its environment. Jewell is expected to be nominated as Interior Secretary.


Brendan Smialowski

President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Sally Jewell, conservation advocate and CEO of recreational retailer REI, as the next Interior Secretary.

Reuters reports that Obama will chose Jewell to replace outgoing Secretary Ken Salazar. Jewell will be the first woman nominated to the president's second-term Cabinet. 

The expected nomination, which was first reported by the Washington Post, is an unlikely choice for the president. Jewell began her career in the oil industry as an engineer for Mobil. She then worked as a commercial banker before becoming the CEO of Recreation Equipment (REI), a $2 billion recreational equipment company, reports the Washington Post.

A former Interior Department officia praised Jewell to POLITICO.

“Sally has overseen the growth of a $1.8 billion company consistently ranked among the best U.S. companies for which to work. An engineer by training, she is a practical, no-nonsense leader who is focused on results,” the former DOI official said in an email.

The choice of Jewell will likely please conservationists who are pressuring the Obama administration to do more in his second term. Jewell has pushed for land conservation in her home state of Washington and nationally, reports the Washington Post. 

Molly McUsic, president of land conservation group Wyss Foundation, told the Post that Jewell “understands the full economic potential of America’s resources.”

“She knows the oil and gas business from having worked at Mobil and in the banking industry, but also understands the growing economic potential of America’s $646 billion outdoor recreation industry,” McUsic added.

According to a 2005 profile of Jewell in the Seattle Times, colleagues and friends described her as "an intelligent, thoughtful, no-nonsense leader".

When taking over as CEO of REI, Jewell told the newspaper her leadership philosophy is "transparency and openness and listening and that nobody lets their position go their head."

"It's not one person's vision," she said. "It's a team."

While Jewell has little political experience she is not a strange face in DC. In 2011, she introduced the president at the White House conference on “America’s Great Outdoor Initiative,” noting that the $289 billion outdoor-recreation industry supports 6.5 million jobs.

President Obama is expected to formally announce the nomination on Wednesday afternoon.