by Ben Austin
At Hewlett-Packard, alumna Gabi Zedlmayer taps the power of technology to promote human, economic and environmental progress.On a rainy September morning in San Jose, Costa Rica, Gabi Zedlmayer is trekking through the La Selva rainforest, catching up with scientists monitoring the region’s ecosystem.
Zedlmayer, vice president and chief progress officer at Hewlett-Packard, guides the company’s sustainability efforts ranging from healthcare to education and job creation to conservation.
The sun rises on the 90-minute drive from San Jose to the rainforest as Zedlmayer is briefed by one of La Selva’s conservationists. Travel is a regular part of her job and traveling deep into a wilderness like this is not uncommon. Months earlier, on a trip to India she met with the National Skills Development Foundation in Delhi before hopping in a car to jounce over rutted roads two and a half hours to a rural medical center in Payradanga.
“It was quite an adventure — streets are narrow, traffic is heavy, everybody is honking all the time and people don’t pay much attention to which side of the street they are driving on,” Zedlmayer recalled. “Between the crazy traffic, the cows that cross the street every now and then, and the people who cut their way across the street you end up thinking that it seems impossible to arrive all in one piece. But we did it!”
As a young woman, Zedlmayer made one of the most important trips of her life, traveling from her native Germany to the United States. In a breakneck year and a half, she earned her degree at Georgia State, pushing herself on 17-credit-hour semesters.
Since graduating, she has brought her expertise back to the college, serving on the Robinson College’s Board of Advisors and helping develop Panthers Accelerated Career Experience, an experiential learning program in which Robinson student teams solve business problems.
Students in the program have worked to increase donations to the Georgia Food Bank Association, for example. The increase was due in large part to the students’ recommendations, which included ways to better leverage current food sources. Those recommendations have an economic impact of $7 million. This year, Zedlmayer came back as a guest lecturer for an operations management class.
“I loved seeing the students,” Zedlmayer said. “They were so impressive, and they made me reflect on how much I had learned here. The diversity — so obvious in the faces of the students — made me happy.”
Then it was back to the airport to return home — briefly — to Zurich, Switzerland. Since joining Hewlett-Packard, Zedlmayer has traveled to New York, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, China, Cuba, India and Dubai.
But La Selva is her first rainforest. Spider monkeys chatter in the canopy when the party arrives, and owl butterflies hang from dripping branches. Zedlmayer has her poncho on, hood up and hair streaming down the sides. She is smiling.