An interview with PPL’s Vice President-Public Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer Christine Martin on how natural curiosity and abandoning a traditional career plan can help build a successful career.
When Christine Martin joined PPL in 2003 she found herself a long way from where she started as a student of political science and international studies with visions of working for the federal government abroad or in D.C. As an executive for a FORTUNE 500 company, her approach to success was not about climbing a ladder, but focusing on personal fulfillment and excellence.
What does personal fulfillment have to do with success and how do you find it?
For as long as I can remember, I have been curious. I’m always asking questions and trying to learn new things.
Growing up, my family did a lot of traveling, which exposed me to different cultures, particularly my European roots. At home, we weren’t sheltered from the news — it was always on and we had a lot of discussions about current events. I always gravitated toward world politics more than domestic issues, but was keenly aware of both. I asked a lot of questions and was challenged to think and have opinions.
This influenced my interest in government and international politics and led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in this area. I had a phenomenal opportunity to study abroad in France and work as an intern at the European Parliament in Luxembourg as part of an exchange program established by the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I was exposed to people from around the world and the inner workings of a huge international governing body. I got to work on briefings for upcoming trade missions and was able to observe meetings of foreign ministers.
My work sparked my interest in public administration and policy. I knew that policy was something I could really sink my teeth into. I also wanted to have practical education in how to be an administrator – from organizational development and employee relations to budgeting and finance. So I pivoted to pursue a new, intriguing sector of government. I came back to the U.S. and got a Master of Public Administration degree from the Pennsylvania State University.
It was through a management program for recent master’s degree recipients that I started working in the Pennsylvania state government at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which became my launching pad to bigger opportunities. This was far from where I started my freshman year in college.
So, at an early age, my curiosity helped me get a sense of where my interests were and I continued to peel back the layers to shape and mold my experiences to what I really liked to do. When you like what you’re doing, you naturally feel satisfied and fulfilled – no matter what stage you’re at in your career.
It seems like you had a strong idea of what your career path would be from an early age. Did you always see yourself transitioning to the private sector and working for an energy company?
I never had a traditional five-year plan. The way I approached my career was to pursue opportunities that I was interested in – whether they were over my head or not. I wanted to work on exciting projects that made a difference, and I was always testing my limits. When I saw opportunities to stretch myself, I would go for them.
After the management program, I took a job working in civil service at the DEP. It was a comfortable job, but it wasn’t pushing me intellectually or creatively. I saw an opening for a policy role in the governor’s office and I knew I wanted it – it was a big step up from my current role. It had high visibility and a lot of responsibility. I knew it was a risky move to go work on policy for a second-term governor, when most likely I would be out of a job in two years. I took the opportunity anyway.
I started to see that I could do more and I could really excel if I stepped out of my comfort zone.
Later, I moved into the role as deputy secretary for water management in the DEP. There, I worked on landmark water resources legislation that afforded me the opportunity to work with many different stakeholders and balance competing interests. I had to know where to give and when to push.
This experience led me to consider a career in government relations. The thought of honing my skills and expertise and rallying around one set of messages was exhilarating. I wanted the opportunity to help influence from a different perspective.
If I hadn’t continued to pursue new opportunities with the Commonwealth, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You see, it wasn’t a deliberate path, but it was intentional in the fact that I followed where my interests led. Today, I’m still working in areas that I love and working on issues that inspire me, like sustainability.
Can you leave us with your top tips for a successful career?
For me, career success always goes hand-in-hand with my personal satisfaction. I have achieved success at all stages of my career – from student to intern to executive – because I stayed true to my core interests and always challenged myself to reach higher. My advice is simple:
Let your curiosity guide you – Ask lots of questions and explore new things to find what you love to do. Let go of anyone else’s expectations for you.
Abandon the plan – Don’t worry about milestones or climbing a ladder. Focus on pursuing the things that excite and challenge you. Tackle them with all your gusto and new opportunities will present themselves to keep you moving forward.
Don’t be afraid to pivot – No job or career move should feel like a life sentence. If you don’t like what you’re doing, hone in on the aspects you do like and adjust your course.
Don’t let yourself get too comfortable – If you are just coasting, then you aren’t growing. If you aren’t growing, then you aren’t succeeding. Seek out new projects or ask for different work. Above all else, don’t be afraid of change.
About Christine Martin
Christine Martin is PPL’s vice president-Public Affairs and chief sustainability officer. She oversees the corporation’s advocacy and policy development, corporate communications and sustainability efforts. She also chairs PPL’s employee political action committee, People for Good Government.
Before coming to PPL, she was deputy secretary for water management in Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, where she was responsible for statewide water resources management and policy. Martin also served as senior policy manager for environmental, infrastructure, energy and regulatory issues for Governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker and as executive policy specialist for Governor Ridge.
A native of Pennsylvania, Martin serves on the boards of the Public Affairs Council and the PA Chamber of Business and Industry and as a member of the Chamber Board’s Audit Committee and ESG Committee. She also serves on the Baum School Board of Trustees and on the board of the PPL Foundation, which contributes millions each year to improve the lives of people in the communities PPL serves.