Sally Jewell

Sally Jewell bounded up a granite boulder near the peak of Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park and turned back to her hiking companion, who was staring up at the smooth rock that offered no obvious hand- or footholds.

“Trust your feet,” she said.

That mountaineer’s mantra has carried  Jewell through a lifetime of challenging ascents and a varied career as petroleum engineer, banker and retail executive, the New York Times reported. On April 12, she was sworn in as the 51st secretary of the interior.

Jewell, 57, who has climbed Mount Rainier seven times along with some of the world’s highest peaks, said that she is happiest on the steepest part of the learning curve. A woman of untamed energy, competitiveness and confidence in the boardroom and on a mountain trail, she is undertaking perhaps the greatest challenge of her life as she assumes command of a huge bureaucracy in a city that festers barely above sea level.

Until President Obama tapped her as interior secretary to succeed Ken Salazar, a former Democratic senator from Colorado,  Jewell was chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc. in Kent, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. She has never held elective office, though she has served as member of the board of trustees of the University of Washington and at a variety of nonprofits. She has spent little time in what residents of the Pacific Northwest call “the other Washington.”

Like many successful corporate titans who have come to Washington before her, she will learn that running a business or a university board is not necessarily adequate training for a top government post. She noted during a five-hour round-trip hike of Old Rag, for example, that no rational business executive would cut an operating budget across the board, as the federal budget process known as the sequester requires. And she said that no matter how determined she is to spend her time promoting outdoor recreation or increasing renewable energy production, events can rudely intrude.

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