Rebecca Karp

Managing Principal & CEO

Karp Strategies

What is your role at your company? What are your responsibilities/focus areas? 

I am both the CEO and Principal of Karp Strategies. As CEO, my role is focused on staff development, business development, and setting Karp Strategies up for long-term financial success by carefully managing and expanding our team and portfolio. As Principal, I oversee significant client initiatives and apply my expertise more directly to planning and strategy. 

I consider mentoring and coaching staff, and generally creating a healthy work environment that fosters growth and collaboration, core to my job. As I’ve grown Karp Strategies, I’ve been thoughtful about adding people to my team who are talented and passionate about the work our clients need. I’m proud I’ve been able to expand our executive leadership team and grow the firm as a whole from a staff of one in 2015 to more than 30 people today to meet the demand for our work.  

As CEO, I am also responsible for and constantly working to generate more mission-aligned work for our team. I am always thinking about where our firm will bring the best value in the world through our content and client services, and where our team excels.  

As Principal, I lead select client projects, and with my team, get to be in the guts of the work, working on strategy and helping our clients make informed decisions. This is where I’m directly using my formal training as an urban planner and my experience working for government agencies at the center of planning and economic development to support equitable and inclusive projects. 

What was your pathway to getting a career in the industry? What did you study in school or what previous job-specific training did you complete?  

I was a sociology major in college and later completed MIT’s urban planning program. Early on I understood where I wanted to have an impact—I just didn’t know how or in what way.  

After undergrad, I worked at a community development corporation up in Maine where I did service that was local, direct, and rural. Then I moved to NYC and worked at a socially responsible investment fund company, launching a new fund focused on Asia, which was the total opposite end of the spectrum—big picture, double Bloomberg terminals, international, and totally removed from people.  

Ultimately, I found a middle ground working at municipal agencies including the NYC Department of Small Business Services and the NYC Economic Development Corporation on workforce development initiatives. In these roles I was working at the intersection of where people, program, and policy come together, thinking about how we execute large-scale development across sectors, and strategizing how to get those projects done in a way that’s equitable and fair for communities and provides some level of certainty for developers. I realized that is what I wanted to do. I wanted to think about government and real estate, economic development and communities, and consensus building and power dynamics—the intersection of people, policy, and the operating systems that are the backbone of our economy. That was what spurred me to go to MIT, where I focused on community benefits agreements, economic development, and negotiation 

After graduate school, I worked in a rotational program at the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PA) that gave me insight into various logistical pieces of our region’s transportation and port systems. An incredibly valuable operations role at the ports in Brooklyn and Staten Island gave me the opportunity to appreciate up close what it takes for our ports to run effectively. At the other end of the spectrum, I learned a lot as the policy advisor to the PA’s executive team, often receiving direction from the Governor’s office, on a variety of initiatives including community investments. I worked on transformative projects modernizing our regional port infrastructure like the Bayonne Bridge Navigational Clearance Project, which finally enabled the post-Panamax container ships to access the ports of Newark and Elizabeth in New Jersey. During my tenure at the Port Authority, I also saw firsthand the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which was a crash course on the vulnerabilities of our ports to climate change and the importance of investing in resilient infrastructure.  

When I left the Port Authority I joined a global engineering firm where I got my first taste of professional consultant work. During this time, I also participated in a cross-sector leadership program, which was essential preparation for starting my own business as it demanded that I reflect on the purpose of my work.  

While I was at the engineering firm, my amazing graduate school advisor invited me to work on a project with him to develop the economic development strategy of South Portland, Maine. It felt full circle – I went to undergrad in Maine and my first job was there too. The project also felt much more aligned with my skills and values. To take it on, I had to quit the firm I was at, and so I did. I decided to bet on myself and started my own urban planning consulting firm. And after years of dedicated client work, I received a cold call from Atlantic Shores Offshore Wind to support them on a significant project, which led to the launch of Karp Strategies’ offshore wind and clean power practice area. 

Why did you choose a job in clean power? What was it about a career in the industry that appealed to you? 

Emerging clean energy sectors like offshore wind and solar promise not only a more sustainable approach for our environment, but significant economic opportunities for communities. That double win is impossible to ignore if you are invested in the future of the nation’s energy economy. And what’s exciting is we have the opportunity to write the rules from the beginning—building these industries up with a commitment to inclusion and justice, and reversing the historic marginalization of primarily lower-income neighborhoods and communities of color in the development of green and blue infrastructure. At Karp Strategies, this is the work we do on behalf of our clients, whether it’s analysis supporting equitable economic development or strategizing stakeholder engagement that is inclusive and positioned as a project priority.  

What appeals to me the most is that we are on the forefront of change to the economy, helping address climate change — and there is the chance to meaningfully include people and communities who are too often excluded from decisions that impact their lives. I also love working with a wide variety of disciplines, and across our energy portfolio, I work with energy analysts, engineers (lots of engineers!), permit experts, environmental scientists, communications specialists, developers, financial modelers, and more. I am always learning and always feel like I have something to contribute. 

Extra Questions

What is the best part of your job? 

As CEO, it brings me so much joy to watch my team members develop new skill sets and see them flourish – take on bigger challenges, start to coach other team members, get promoted, and grow in their careers. As Principal, I get a profound sense of fulfillment supporting our clients in both the public and private sectors as they are playing pivotal roles in shaping the rapidly growing offshore wind industry. We get to see firsthand the impact and influence our work has on the industry, and it’s encouraging to see our clients’ commitment to the same principles of equity-driven planning and collaborative process that guide Karp Strategies. I am always excited when clients win new business and look forward to the realization of transformative projects that will fundamentally reground our energy system in cleaner sources like wind and solar. 

How do your background and fundamental skill set support your current role? 

I have formal training in negotiation and consensus building, urban planning, real estate, and community development — all skills that transfer over to my work in clean power. After working at SBS and the EDC in New York I made the huge decision to take a break from working and go back to graduate school at MIT. I went in with philosophical and tactical questions; I was influenced by a program on negotiation by Larry Susskind and another on economic development strategies by Karl Seidman. I wrote my master’s thesis on community benefits agreements and ultimately recommended changes to a New York City charter to address the dilemma we find ourselves in repeatedly: how can we provide certainty to all stakeholders in a large-scale development process? How do communities and community leaders engage? How do developers engage? Is there a way to make the pie bigger? Can development address inequity – and how? I founded Karp Strategies on the basis of my tactical point of view and the skills I developed to train myself to answer questions through strategic thinking. 

I also have a specialized executive MBA, offered by Interise in partnership with NYU Stern, which has been fundamental to my success as a CEO. As our company scales it is critical that I understand financial fundamentals and how to build the infrastructure of my company, which I can do effectively because I put in the work to develop the knowledge and tools. 

But it’s the work ‘outside the classroom’ that’s most defining in your career, and my depth of experience in economic development has set me up for success in partnering with government agencies and private companies to help them execute their projects. For example, when I was at the EDC I was able to work on some of the most transformative projects of the time, like the mixed-use, large-scale redevelopment proposal of Willets Point in Queens; I focused on workforce development and small business access, both of which are crucial to the conversation today in scaling clean power. EDC is also the agency where I really developed my understanding of community benefits agreements — and how these so often go awry when communities are pitted against each other and against developers. I would see millions of dollars in economic development potential put on hold and I realized then, seeing it play out, that everyone loses if we can’t practice real dialogue, consensus building, and incorporate a deep understanding of historical injustice. 

What is the best decision you ever made at work or that impacted your career? And the worst? 

The best decision I ever made was to abandon the semblance of having a 5- or 10-year plan. Post-college I had a vision for my career, but I realized early on that there are too many exciting and terrifying changes in the world that you must accommodate no matter what. I never expected to work for a public agency that had a budget bigger than most countries, a global engineering firm, or to be running my own multimillion-dollar business this early in my career. Life is long and we will work for years, and you can go in multiple directions in your career. Be flexible toward that. And in my case, the best bet I made was on myself as someone ready to put in the work to build a company.  

I made the worst decision early in my career when I put a lot of stock in the feedback that people in more traditional career trajectories were giving me. I had a few mentors who were risk-averse and suggested that a woman-led company working in technical disciplines like real estate and clean energy could not be successful in the sharky waters of NYC, and in a crowded market. While it is wise to stay connected with a variety of advisors – you don’t want to be in an echo chamber! – understanding who to let into your mind and who you decided to give power to is valuable. Don’t give that away! 

What advice would you give to the next generation of the workforce? What do you wish you had known at the beginning of your career? 

Take a big, deep breath! I would have told myself that life is long, and my first two to three jobs would not be forever. They were opportunities to learn, decide what I did and didn’t like, and develop areas of interest.  

Things are so in flux right now. The pandemic is becoming endemic. We are navigating hybrid work and a tumultuous economy. Given all that uncertainty and stress, my guidance is to approach every opportunity hungry, walk away from situations that are psychologically unsafe, work with smart people and teams, find a great boss who believes in you, and pay it forward whenever you can. Working with great people is almost more important than the content earlier in your career. 

Then as you grow in your career: embody the shine theory and pay it forward. I’ve spent my career prioritizing others’ development in their careers and working collaboratively to advance innovative projects – and in turn ensuring I’m always learning from others’ expertise as well. Especially in renewable energy or clean power, we truly don’t have enough people to do the work—whatever we can do to support each other’s growth will be mission critical to our growing industry.  

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