IES Abroad: Did anything happen in Vienna that shaped the way you think in a profound way?
Les Lo Baugh: I came to Vienna to study under Professor Edward Mowatt and complete my Santa Clara University senior thesis on the work of Austrian-British philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Professor Mowatt challenged us to be responsible for our own value systems and made us internalize and wrestle with our choices. I took this to heart in my family life and my work. I believe you become what you do, my actions are my legacy, and I have chosen them carefully. I have been fortunate to be able to play what some people describe as an important role and have a significant impact on matters of the environment in this country and abroad.
IES Abroad: How did you change the most during your time in Vienna?
LLB: My father was a special assignment, military serviceman. Before college, my family moved around the world in several countries almost every year, and I had already attended 17 different schools by 8th grade and 20 before college. I was brought up to be self-reliant and was somewhat of a loner. Vienna allowed me to reach out and make lasting friends and develop socially. In Vienna I became close friends with my roommates and enjoyed the unsheltered environment of Vienna where I was free to explore everything the city had to offer. Vienna also impacted my faith through my studies and life there. Before Vienna, I was a devout conservative Christian believer. I emerged as an agnostic, and eventually, I became compelled by Catholic mysticism.
IES Abroad: Early on in your career, you worked in government and came up with the idea of giving federal protection to all endangered species through federal legislation that was later signed into law. What drew you to this cause, and were there lessons learned in Vienna that helped you advocate more effectively?
LLB: The near extinction of the Bald Eagle and other birds of prey…Early in law school at Georgetown, I happened to be in a lobby waiting room and reading a “coffee table book” about these magnificent creatures. Someone walked up behind me and asked why I was so upset, and I told him. He replied by telling me that when you believe strongly that something needs to change, you have an ethical responsibility to work for that change. He happened to be a U.S. Senator, and our continued discussions led to an offer to work for him as his Legislative Aide and with the offices of four other Senators. One job responsibility was to draft any environmental legislation I thought made sense and give it to the Senator for his review. Ultimately, this led to a number of environmental laws in the late 60s and early 70s. In 2010, the U.S. EPA asked me to speak to its headquarters staff in D.C. on 40 Years of Environmental Progress: (1) why there was so much legislative progress on environmental matters back then when it seems little or nothing can be done now; and (2) how Native American culture and ideas have influenced the environmental movement. The 1960s and early 1970s was a highly contentious time in U.S. history; anti-Vietnam demonstrations; riots; march on Washington over the cost of foods; Cuban Missile Crisis and the risks of nuclear war; the murder of John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy & King; etc. But concerns for the environment and safeguarding our only planet for our descendants was not a divisive, partisan political issue at that time. The Endangered Species Act was perhaps the most challenging from a process sense, but ultimately, it was passed almost unanimously by both the House and Senate.
IES Abroad: An expert in regulation and compliance relating to energy and environmental issues, you have served as the Chief Environmental Officer and general counsel for several Fortune 500 companies. Is there a specific role or project that has been particularly important to advancing sustainability on a national or global scale?
LLB: During the period I mentioned above, the backbone of environmental legislation was enacted: NEPA; Clean Air; Off Shore Drilling; Water; Noise Abatement; EPA; etc. It was my privilege to be able to play a small role as a staffer to help others bring environmental stewardship into our legal system.
IES Abroad: What are some of your professional accomplishments you are most proud of?
LLB: Professional accomplishments would include the environmental legislation mentioned above, as well as restructuring several companies, almost 100 M&A transactions, various regulatory victories that made a difference, helping Boards of Directors and senior corporate management to fulfill their duties, the merger that created Sempra Energy, the restructuring of Niagara Mohawk Power and its acquisition by National Grid and mentoring some remarkable younger people. But my greatest accomplishment has been my wife and our family.
IES Abroad: What words of wisdom do you have for students considering studying abroad, particularly those from diverse backgrounds?
LLB: It is helpful to approach different cultures and people without the belief that the way you and those close to you know the best way to live, learn, act, and believe. Embrace the wonderful diversity the world provides and learn from that. It will enrich you as a person, release your creativity, and help ground you as an individual. None of us has all the answers, but everyone has some.