The Business and Environment Initiative is constantly impressed by the dedication of our alumni in confronting the climate change challenge. In an effort to share the breadth of work being done, we are capturing career journeys of alumni who are leveraging their careers to tackle this critical issue.

What were you doing prior to HBS? What made you decide to go to HBS?

I graduated from Washington University with an undergraduate degree in civil engineering and, just before applying to HBS, I was a management consultant at Deloitte. After taking a step back from the day-to-day of working and thinking about what I wanted from a career standpoint, I realized that I didn't want to be consulting for other businesses in the long run. I had a small business in college, and I knew that pursuing an MBA would help me develop stronger business foundations and the skills I needed for the next step in my career journey.

When you applied to HBS, did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in climate?

I knew I wanted to be engaged in solving problems on the ground and that I wanted to be involved in solving core infrastructure problems for society, but I wasn’t looking specifically at climate. I had done some shipping and logistics work during my career, and had also liked the tangible aspects of working in a manufacturing facility. In the back of my mind, I was always curious about the physical infrastructure of cities. I had an internship at Uber and became interested in the transportation angle of cities and, more specifically, how we can positively impact people in communities with better infrastructure and transportation services.

Tell us a little bit about your career journey since graduating.

I knew that I wanted to impact the community at large, whether through government services, non-profits, or a business, so I took advantage of the HBS Leadership Fellows Program. The program offered me the unique opportunity to work in government through the MBTA at a time when they were looking to try something new and innovative and use technology to improve services. The role inspired me to think about efficiency, service, and the impact of transportation on the community. Working at Highland was a natural next step for me because while it’s about transportation, it’s also about the broader impact on the climate and local community. It was an exciting cross section of new technology and a service-related business, with climate at the forefront.

How do you see Highland Electric Fleets having an impact on climate change?

Highland was created in 2019 with the intent of trying to solve some of the major sticking points in electrifying municipal transportation. It’s complicated, but there are obvious risks around the new EV technology, the new infrastructure needed, and the support services, which are much more expensive than the current diesel or gas counterparts. Highland was founded to be a partner to help navigate the financial sophistication and new services that are needed to electrify fleets.

What is your role at Highland?

I'm the Chief Operating Officer at Highland. I have an amazing job that spans how we choose and procure the technology for projects to how we work with local communities and contractors through construction and implementation phases to supporting municipalities through the life of their assets and relationship with Highland. It’s a complex job, but immensely rewarding job to balance the cost control at the backend, while still delivering an exceptional service to our customers over a 10-, 15-, and 20-year contracts horizon. We do a lot of work to optimize our maintenance and energy costs while turning these electric vehicles into revenue generating assets that provide stability to the electric grid.

How has HBS helped you on your journey?

It expanded my mind to how to more broadly use the skill set that I already had and developed at HBS. Being in the classroom with a wide array of people from nonprofit leaders to finance experts offered a breadth of perspective on how someone can make an impact. It helped clarify where I wanted to use my skills and it helped crystallize that I wanted leverage my skills to have a greater impact in the community.

The Leadership Fellows Program also gave me an opportunity to explore something beyond working in a traditional business. Working in government was something that I wouldn’t have otherwise explored, but I had the confidence to take the risk, knowing that if it didn’t work out, I could always return to HBS and recruit for something different.

What advice do you have for students pursuing careers at the intersection of business and climate change?

The most interesting jobs that any classmate took didn’t come through the standard recruiting channels. You have to take the initiative to go find them – and they’ll be extremely excited that someone from HBS is interested in their business because they'll know the valuable skills and experiences that you have to offer.

My second piece of advice is to be comfortable with the timing and cadence of the recruiting process - it's okay not to have a job by the first semester of your EC year. Most of the most unique jobs are not able to hire people 9 or 10 months in advance, they want someone who can start immediately. For those interested in pursuing careers in climate or impact, you’re inherently following a path and setting yourself up for success from a broader career satisfaction standpoint.

Finally, use your network. It is amazing where all those opportunities come from if you get out there and start having conversations. Going to your network will give you the more fulfilling role, it will likely be better aligned to what you want to do, and you may be able to take a hold of crafting that job. My first job at Highland was Chief of Staff and it was a job that was molded based on my skills and what the company needed.

You can learn more about Ben on LinkedIn.