Spotlight Story

Ted Howes’ Innovative Approach to Sustainability

 You’ve held leadership roles at IDEO, Business for Social Responsibility, the Cleantech Group and now Fathom Travel. Tell a little about your career path.

My career to date has been about where/how I can have positive impact on the world through my work. The shape of this has changed over time, but my formula has always been: do work that matters on interesting challenges and with great people. The expression of this evolves over time in terms of what’s interesting or what true impact (net positive, nonincremental) looks like, but really, life is too short to not pursue work with meaning and that is fun.  

Fathom came to me through a friend (and now collaborator on Fathom). I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ‘ship’ a ship.

What are you passionate about in your work?

I’m really interested in design thinking and systems thinking. These twin lenses afford a powerful tool for creating new opportunities, be they products, services or experiences. The power of design is unquestioned: any organization that fails to fully engage design to create their offering, structure their organization and build their culture will ultimately be surpassed by organizations that do. AirBnB, Apple, Uber, etc. all use design as a force multiplier. The second lens of systems thinking is critical when building the context for design and ensuring that you minimize unintended consequences of what you create. 

Where is your career headed?  What do you hope to achieve professionally? 

It’s shifted over time: as a grad student, I wanted to eventually be a chief sustainability officer in a large company. Now I prefer to work in smaller organizations and use innovation as the approach for sustainability. I want to keep rolling up my sleeves and building cool stuff. 

You graduated in 2004. How has your UC Davis MBA experience helped shape your success?

It’s helped me immeasurably in developing fluency in the language of business. At times, innovation runs counter to existing businesses and in order to build something new, you have to be able to strategically navigate they why of it. While ROI is a great metric for an energy-efficiency project, it’s insufficient when you’re building something new. Being able to triangulate a deeper articulation of a new idea is critical.

What is the most significant thing that’s happened to you since graduating?

Professionally there are too many great experiences to count, from designing and implementing a global coffee sourcing program for Starbucks to launching the Fathom experience in the Dominican Republic and Cuba. (We’re the first U.S. passenger ship in 50+ years to sail into Havana Harbor, with Cubans lining the Malecón waving the Stars and Stripes just phenomenally moving.) It’s been a really fun and exciting career to date!

Your favorite GSM memory? 

It’s really about the relationships I have with my former classmates — very tight, strong, lifelong friendships.

How do you support and participate in the GSM now? 

I support the GSM in a number of ways, but the most prominent are talking with students and the occasional guest lecture on innovation and sustainability.