Right from Day 1 of my MBA at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, one of my objectives has been to channel my previous consulting experience to deal with the world’s most pressing issues.
Prior to Booth, one of my projects had involved improving the businesses of the thousands of independent owners of Ace Hardware stores across the country. This was a great learning experience, but after five years, I was longing for new challenges.
I knew an MBA would help link my experience with my new career path but I am surprised at how fast this transformation has happened.
If you're thinking of going to business school, the best piece of advice I can give is to seek as many opportunities as you can to work in the industry that you are looking to get into. And this is not just to pad your resume, but to really understand what kind of people you will be working with, what the projects are like, and whether it is to in fact the right path for you.
I knew I wanted to expand on my consulting experience. But I also knew that I wanted to work in sustainability. So here's how I mapped my two years of business school:
Do I Want to Work in Sustainability?
A Summer Fellowship with EDF's Climate Corps
My summer internship last year proved to be a pivotal point of my career. I was one of 51 Climate Corps fellows and was trained by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to help Fortune 500 companies find energy efficiency solutions.
Our mission: Identify, analyze, and recommend financially-lucrative energy efficiency plans and investments.
My host: PepsiCo
During my first week, I remember thinking:
"There is no doubt that PepsiCo is a sustainability leader in the corporate world. Walking into PepsiCo for the first time and realizing that its LEED Gold certified headquarters is just up the street from my project was a bit intimidating for a student searching for environmental opportunities."
But I was not only able to get client-facing experience; I also worked on a critical component to the growing energy crunch. The experience allowed me to show off the analytical toolkit that I have developed at Booth, work on my client management skills, and get out of my comfort zone into a whole new arena of business and social problems.
Over the course of my fellowship, I found ways to save PepsiCo millions of dollars and avert millions of tons of carbon emissions. At the same time, I took a big step toward a future career in consulting and gained a significant network of future leaders that are my Climate Corps colleagues.
I knew I was on the right track.
Do I want to pursue a career in sustainability consulting? Check.
Do I have the Skills for a Career in Sustainability?
This quarter I am working on tackling another critical issue: Hunger. In partnership with A.T. Kearney, Chicago Booth has a new experiential class that brings clients to campus so that students can gain experience working on strategy projects.
Feeding America is my team’s client, with a network of 200 member food banks across the country. For some context, Feeding America supplies more the three billion pounds of food and grocery products annually.
Unfortunately meat—which happens to be my favorite food group—is one of the most challenging food groups to source because of its perishability and high cost. But these very factors also make it one of the most important for families.
My team is working to analyze meat industries and hope to find win/win strategies for Feeding America to work with the biggest meat producers in the country to fill this gap. While the problem has been daunting, the experience has given me the opportunity to work on a consulting team and put my project management tactics to the test.
Do I have the skills to do so? Check.
Does my Resume Compliment my Passion with Work Experience?
The Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE)
The CSE is a global strategic advisory and training organization that is focused on a wide range of sustainability and CSR issues for the world’s largest corporations. They are active in over 18 countries, but their presence in the North American market is recent.
I am working with their team of partners to expand their client base in North America. Some of their key offers include sustainability reporting, product life cycle assessment (LCA), and carbon foot printing. I will also take part in their upcoming Certified Sustainability Practitioner training in New York next month, and suspect I will learn a lot more.
Do I have demonstrable experience in client management and business development? Check.
So, how did I leverage my MBA into a new career?
Three key takeaways that I hope will help you in your professional journey:
- • Burn Your Ships: Sometimes you have to leave your job and what you know behind to really make a clean break.
- •Don't Follow Tradition: Don’t wait until graduation to get experience in your new field because by then your career change will seem like such a drastic change in direction that you'll have a harder time navigating.
- •Keep Your Options Open. Completely Open: Keep an open mind. I have been exposed to so many new career options and concepts at Chicago Booth that I have, unexpectedly but happily, had to refine my goals several times. But I am at a good place today.
--By Peter Petropoulos, MBA '11, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, Member of Net Impact
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