Rolling Out

Tequila Smith, Covanta’s EVP and chief sustainability officer, says ‘accept new opportunities’

Tequila Smith, Covanta’s EVP and chief sustainability officer, says 'accept new opportunities'
Photo courtesy of Tequila Smith

Tequila Smith has been an innovative leader in the energy industry and recently made a big jump from Southern Company to Covanta. This new journey is allowing Smith to be the afro-futuristic champion that both young and seasoned Black individuals are counting on to show them there is more they can do to push their communities forward.

Covanta is taking the steps to build a better planetary home by transforming waste into sustainable energy. Smith’s leadership and representation in this company are creating career opportunities for the Black community.

What do you say to young Black executives who are making decisions on new opportunities?

I would say from a personal perspective, we have to overcome the initial fear. Oftentimes, from a physical perspective, that fear can also be excitement, it feels the same – it’s butterflies, it’s tingling palms. So, we automatically feel fear that we can’t do it … but don’t be mistaken, everything’s teachable, everything’s learnable. So, I would say the first part is believing in ourselves and having confidence that we can do this. We may not have grown up in this particular company, or culture, but we are mighty people, we are powerful, we are magical. There is nothing that we can’t do.

The second part is believing that you can do something and be excellent at it. I knew nothing about waste to energy, but I knew energy. I know how to lead people. I know how to be compassionate. I know how to get results through others. I know how to work in an agile system. I know how to collaborate. Those are the things that you learn early on. We had to work on team projects and we had to get together to problem solve. The more people you had that thought differently, the better your work product was. We should challenge ourselves to think “What else could I do? Where else can I go?”

… So, I would say thirdly, it needs to be something that your partner can sit down and really talk through the pros and cons with you about. [My husband] Mark and I have been together for 22 years. This will be our eighth move. We talk about it, we know how to do it. I have a high school senior, so surely you know how it is not to disrupt the teenager’s life. This is my life. This is my son, this is something that comes with the package. I’ll be there when I need to be there, but this person in my house really needs to have his full field 12th-grade year. As a mother, that’s important to me.

Make sure you talk to your team and say, “here are the pros, or the cons, what works for us in this season?” I think oftentimes, when it’s not in our back yards we are a bit apprehensive and that’s okay if it works for your team, the people in your house that you are responsible for.

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