Your Haas Network
Maura O'Neill, MBA 04
Chief of Staff, US Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington)
Lots of people told Maura O'Neill, MBA 04, she was crazy to come to Haas after starting three companies. But she wanted to reflect on and expand her skills, and chose the Berkeley-Columbia Executive MBA Program to get the best of both universities.
She one-upped her own expectations: The serial entrepreneur also helped classmate Bryce Johnson, MBA 04, build a Web 2.0 textbook company, which they sold in March. "I believe that you have the most amazing life if you are a voracious and continuous learner," says O'Neill, who lectures on entrepreneurship with the Haas School's Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
In January, O'Neill's career took another turn when she became chief of staff to US Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington State Democrat whom O'Neill has known since 1992. Cantwell is a leader in energy reform, also O'Neill's passion. As Cantwell's top aide, O'Neill has organized Senate hearings on oil prices and is leading the charge on clean energy tax incentives. On a typical day, O'Neill may also tackle issues of media consolidation, wiretapping, Medicare, and Iraq War financing — all before lunch.
"My life has two main threads: I've invented most things, and I've always tried to make a difference," says O'Neill. "I thought there must be a way to build a profitable business and step more lightly on the earth."
O'Neill wrote her own degree program in environmental studies at the University of Washington, and now she's completing a doctoral dissertation there on unconscious bias in decision making.
From 1982 to 1995, she headed O'Neill & Company, advising electric utilities on energy efficiency and then pioneering curbside recycling programs. She then followed with two more creations: ConnexT, a software company serving the deregulated energy market, and ImproveMyBusiness.com, which used the Web to help streamline small businesses. Next she served as CEO of Explore Life, a public-private effort to build Seattle's life sciences industry.
Along the way, she and her husband raised two children. "I'm a mom, and you learn to multi-task very well," O'Neill laughs. "I've always done volunteer work, my businesses, and family stuff, so this job is actually a little easier because it's all in one place."