As part of Microsoft’s commitment to diversity and empowerment, we’re thrilled to celebrate Women’s History Month with our newest spotlight series. We’ve asked local women leaders to write a letter to their teenage and college-aged selves to recall a moment in time when they felt empowered by technology. Throughout the month of March, we’ll be spotlighting this series on our blog. We hope these stories uplift you and inspire you to #MakeWhatsNext.

Dear Ruth,

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey surrounded by chemical plants on the Delaware River – Dupont, Monsanto, Allied Chemicals.  They were huge polluters of the river, the ground water and the air.  Sometimes, they would release chemicals into the air that ate the paint off our cars.  Further down river there was a nuclear power plant.  My parents’ friends died from cancer at an alarming rate and both my parents had various forms of cancer that fortunately didn’t take their lives but did, I imagine, shorten them.

As a consequence, I knew that a healthy environment was not something to take for granted and as I studied political science at University, I learned how policy can shape behaviors of corporations and individuals. The EPA was created when I was a teenager and I was fascinated by the potential impact of an environmentally focused agency in our Federal government.

Although I received my degree in political science, I didn’t actually become involved in government or politics until many years later. After graduation, I used my analytical skills to become a systems analyst and ended up a marketing and business development executive in the communications and computing industries. This was during the Information Age when the U.S. experienced the most robust economic growth since post-World War II as the leading supplier and consumer of information technology. I worked for several highly innovative companies and lived in Europe for five years. I traveled all over the world delivering technology that would transform the way society interacts with money and communicates.

It became clear as we entered the 21st century that the world was shifting to the Energy Age, where the currency by which economies would grow would be access to affordable and sustainable power.  In 2004, I concluded we needed a President that would make an integrated energy, environmental and economic policy a priority. This would enable the U.S. to boost economic growth and improve environmental quality by become the leading supplier and consumer of clean technology – technology that would transform the transportation, built environment and energy market sectors.

I worked on the Kerry campaign in 2004, and subsequently went on to help elect President Obama to office in 2008. In 2011, I was appointed Pacific Rim Regional Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration where I implemented the Administration’s sustainability policies in the civilian Federal government’s real estate portfolio, fleet and supply chain. Later, I became the Chief Sustainability Officer for all of GSA. Honestly, if I had known how hard it would be on the campaign trail in seven states for 18 months and to actually secure a political appointment, I might not have done it, but oh, how rewarding it was in the end!

My position now is CEO of Prospect Silicon Valley, a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the adoption of clean technologies by providing commercialization services to start-up companies. It is a joy and privilege to be pursuing my passion, hopefully creating a foundation for U.S. leadership in the Energy Age.

So, what would I say to my former teenage self? First, I would say that despite a career which evolved based on core competencies and fortuitous opportunities, I ended up doing exactly what I always wanted to do.  Which leads me to the next thing – and I have to quote Joe Jackson, a rock-and-roll singer, to say it best:  “You can’t get what you want ‘till you know what you want.”  Deep down, I had a vision of what I wanted to accomplish – to make a real difference to the quality of life for all inhabitants of the earth.  That kind of compass, if you will, enabled me to know whether to turn left, turn right or go straight whenever an opportunity presented itself. Thirdly, I would tell myself to follow my passion. Work is work – it’s not necessarily meant to be fun. Passion is what motivates me to get up and do it every day, to work nights and weekends when necessary, to be away from my family when I must travel for work, and to enlist and empower others to help achieve the goals the organization has set for itself. And, always, believe in yourself. You have the power to dream, and the power to realize those dreams. Go for it!!!!

Love,

Ruth

Ruth Cox was appointed CEO of Prospect Silicon Valley in January 2017. As chief executive of the Pacific Rim Region, Ruth headed a workforce of nearly 1,000 with an annual operating budget of almost $1 billion. She oversaw operations of both the Public Building Service, providing real estate solutions to the civilian Federal government, and the Federal Acquisition Service, managing a supply chain to deliver goods, services, telecommunications and information technology to both civilian and military operations. Prior to GSA, Ruth served as the President and Executive Director of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association, the industry’s premier trade association. Most recently, she served as the VP of Marketing for a start-up developer of utility-scale solar and wind power generation facilities and assisted a start-up IoT company in developing a market strategy and raising Series B funding.