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Green Chips has a conversation with Gary Wood, original co-founder of the organization, and Renewable Energy Program Manager at Southern Nevada Water Authority.

November 30, 2015

As this is a feature about community leaders, what do you think makes a good leader?

A person that can communicate a vision, organize folks to get excited about it, and let them take action and move it in the right direction. Also a good leader is willing to roll up their sleeves and work along side people to demonstrate their own commitment to the effort.

Do you have a personal philosophy or approach to life?

There are people that like to talk about what should be done and then there are people that like to get things done. I think in many instances instead of taking the time of talking and planning to a degree of finite detail, folks should just get after it. My philosophy has always been we can study things and try to make them perfect or we can let the ship leave the terminal and re-direct as necessary. Any movement is positive movement.

What was your major in college and your path to your current position?

I’ve always a been a person that likes to fill my time with something. I don’t like sitting around. When I was in middle school, I started my own neighborhood landscaping business – not just mowing lawns, but actually helping people design their landscaping. But, my first paying job was in ninth grade, when I went to work for a car wash. I was breaking all sorts of child labor laws! It was the worst job ever. My role was to climb in the back seat and clean the rear windows. The car I hated the most as the Lincoln Continental because it had so many windows!

My major in college was Mechanical Engineering which grew from seeing my father’s work in the aerospace industry. I imagined I would work in a think tank – I really loved taking on difficult problems and finding solutions to them. In college, I found myself gravitating more towards the areas of thermodynamics and heat transfer – which in hindsight, probably created my basis for entering the field of energy. My first position was as a design engineer working in clinical instrumentation. One day as I was sitting there behind my drafting board, I looked over on one side to see a 45 year old man hunched over in the next cubicle doing his design work. I looked over in the other direction and saw a 48 year old guy doing the same and realized that would be me in 20 years. I thought, “No way!” and immediately made the decision to get in to something else because sitting locked up in a cubicle was going to kill me. From there, I put out some resumes in construction and the oil industry and went overseas and worked in oil for 11 years – thereafter, I returned to the United States and worked in the electric utility industry, and from there started doing energy conservation work and getting in to renewables. That lead me to my current position at SNWA, where I have been now for over 10 years now.

Is there one word that best describes how you work?

Active. I get bored very quickly if I have to do the same thing over and over again, I like new challenges, and am not afraid to decide on paths that are not conventional. I see every decision as a good decision, some are just better than others. Even a decision that doesn’t end well can be learned from and you have that lesson in your quiver of arrows as you move forward.

The other thing word I live by is fun. If you don’t enjoy what you are doing, you aren’t going to put your heart and soul into it. Just realize when you do screw up, it can be a funny experience. Others don’t always see it that way – but I can find humor in a lot of things.

What keeps you engaged/passionate about your job; what drives you?

The challenge. I love it when people say “that will never work” or “that’s impossible” or “that is so difficult no one wants to address it” – I look at those challenges as things I want to do. No one expects success out of it, so even if you move the ball an inch; I see that as success.

How do you re-charge?

Family. I’m very family focused and love to be with them. I have a couple grandkids that help put me in perspective a lot. I don’t have to rest to recharge. If I can get away from anything tedious that I’m working on and focus on something else, that’s great. I have a bunch of hobbies that will never get complete, like remodeling houses, rehabbing cars, etc. I always have something to spend time on and keep busy but that energizes me.

What are you better at than anyone else and what is your secret?

I don’t let obstacles stop me from doing things and I like to make things happen. A lot of people are afraid of the unknown or change. I love those things and I jump in. It’s something to explore. Looking at life in general – what makes life great is the differences and the changes. If everything is status quo, that would be boring. I always look at everything as an opportunity to learn. I had never remodeled a house before but figured if other people have those capabilities, then why can’t I? And by doing it myself, if I mess up, I can tear it out and try again.

My secret is, I have always looked at things from the perspective of try it first.

Where are you from originally and what has surprised you the most about this community?

I’m a native Californian. I was born in Northern California on an Air Force base. My parents say a plane dropped me off there but they felt sorry and went ahead and collected me. We moved to Southern California when I was 9 months old. We moved to the Long Beach area, right on the ocean. I’ve always had an affinity for the ocean – it has been in my blood since infancy.

When I moved our family overseas, the plan was always to come back to California. We had a two year plan to live here and then move back but the kids put down roots too quickly, and that two years turned into what has now been twenty-nine. We still call our roots California but Las Vegas and Henderson is where our home is, and family are, so we will always be here.

What had surprised me the most is how long it took to get to know our neighbors. There really wasn’t a sense of community when we moved in and people kept to themselves. It has changed with the nucleus that has remained over the years but is still prevalent with the newer homeowners.

What is your biggest hope for this community in the next 10 years? 50?

My biggest hope is that we create a community where people walk down the street and say “hello” to each other. A community where we look out for each other, where everyone feels safe and that this is a good place to raise a family; where we have a healthy environment for everyone. My hope is that we create more of a community where people really care about each other and are engaged in what is going on here.

What app or technical gadget can’t you live without?

I still miss my flip-phone! (Gary had a flip phone up until last year – I think its in the Smithsonian now.)
Texting and emailing on my cell phone would probably be the best answer. That functionality has really broadened my ability to communicate and after all, you have to adapt to the times so I am slowly, like a big dinosaur, moving in those directions.

What is the best advice you ever received?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was not to limit myself on what I can do; to try hard at everything and give everything a chance. Probably even more than that though, is don’t let other people define you. Especially if you are out there, sometimes inadvertently, taking the lead on an effort – there will be people that will try to limit you or deride your effort. I choose to stay focused on the task and let other think as they will while remaining true to myself.

What advice would you give young professionals starting out?

Seek your passion and follow it. The reality is you have to look at what your abilities are and focus on them; don’t worry about what you can make out of it financially. Whatever you do, be the best at it; financial success will come. Stick with your passion, work your passion, and it will work for you.

Do you know your Meyer’s Briggs Personality type?

Its been so long since I took that test that I don’t remember. In any case, I think there is an evolution as you mature and as your wisdom grows. I would hope mine is somewhere in the realm of visionary. I am definitely more extroverted and action-oriented.

Last question, what are you reading right now?

I am not much of a reader. I read technical information from my industry and the news a lot. Although I do have a passion about taking some of my life experiences and putting them into words.

Any final thoughts?

I think Green Chips is poised to really be the leader in helping to transform this community. I would really like to see people embrace the idea of this being their community – where people start saying they are from Las Vegas and this is their home. This is where they want to stay and where they want to be. Green Chips can help create that message and let people know why they should be proud of their community, why they should be a part of it, and why they should be involved in helping to transform it. I also have a real passion about some of the bigger social ills. If we in Las Vegas can address some of these issues, that would be very transformative and send a message to the rest of the nation. These are the things I get charged up about. The vision of taking on the impossible, stepping out of our comfort zones, and making it happen.

Get more information about SNWA’s sustainability projects.