Lessons Learned from My HBS Career Journey in Environmental Sustainability

I began my HBS admissions application essay with the following sentence: “I aspire to help build organizations that are advancing sustainability and addressing the issue of climate change.” I was doing this before HBS; I was an engineer at Tesla, where I worked in manufacturing and design engineering. I loved my time there and am proud that I played a small role in helping drive the automotive industry towards electrification. Most importantly, I learned about the power of an organization to develop technology and execute business strategy to bring positive change in the world.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been trying to figure out how to continue meeting the goal I outlined in my HBS essay while working in a business facing role. Some soul searching has helped me realize that my ideal post-MBA role should satisfy the following criteria: 1) be sustainability and technology focused; 2) challenge me to solve tough problems; 3) teach me how to work in business strategy and/or ops functions; 4) allow me to develop strong professional relationships; and 5) be a launch pad for future career growth.

In my first semester, I joined the Energy and Environment Club and the Sustainability Club to meet fellow classmates with similar interests and deepen my involvement in helping advance the climate change conversation at HBS. As an active member of the clubs, I helped plan professional panels for each of the clubs’ conferences. It was a tough task to balance the first semester course load with cold emails, Zoom calls, planning meetings, etc. However, both the planning process and the conference itself were instrumental in getting exposure to exciting businesses, innovative ideas, and brilliant people who became part of my network.

At the behest of my professor and mentor, Euvin Naidoo, I dedicated effort into getting to know HBS professors outside the classroom, which has been one of the best decisions I’ve made at HBS. One of the professors that I got to know was Dean Nitin Nohria. During my second semester I worked with him to develop a market research report for a battery startup that he was advising. This, along with the conversations I had with CPD Career Coaches Oscar Mak and Ryan Kim, convinced me to pursue an internship at a battery startup. Finding a startup role, particularly in a relatively niche field like batteries, required a lot of networking. In addition to the individuals that I met through the conferences, the HBS Alumni Directory proved to be a wonderful resource in helping me connect with people. After months of conversations and interviews, in April of 2021, I accepted a role at battery startup called Natron Energy.

My summer at Natron Energy taught me a lot about the assumptions I had made about myself and my career journey. I thought that I had found the perfect fit because the role checked a lot of boxes – growing battery startup, opportunity to work directly for the Chief Business Officer, and remote. However, after a few weeks, I realized that the ambiguity that often comes with startups did not fit my learning style; I needed more structure and guidance. In addition, I realized that being remote comes with its own challenges and not having any peers in the same role proved to be difficult. All in all, though, I’m glad I did it. I stepped out of my comfort zone, learned a lot about the battery space, met great people, and practically applied the knowledge I’d gained in the HBS classroom.

The startup experience put me at a career crossroads by August 2021. Going in, I had convinced myself that the startup path would fulfill all five of my criteria but, ultimately, it fell short on criteria #3 and #4. To figure out what to do next, I relied on my classmates and on CPD Coach Phillip Andrews, who acted as remarkable sounding-boards. After many conversations, I decided to recruit for consulting, a career option that I had completely brushed off prior. I had initially discounted consulting because I wrongly assumed that it would require me to travel excessively for projects that I wouldn’t feel passionate about. The conversations helped me realize that I will actually have considerable input in deciding which projects I join and how much I travel. Moreover, I realized that working at an MBB firm would satisfy criteria #2-5, but I still wanted to ensure that it would meet criterion #1, so I focused on that in my conversations with the firms during the recruiting process.

This decision was a challenging pivot because full-time consulting recruiting begins in September and ends in October of EC year. My classmates (in particular, members of the Consulting Club) and CPD Coaches again proved to be an invaluable resource by helping me navigate this career pivot and prepare for case interviews. I was fortunate to receive multiple offers and, after careful consideration, decided to sign at BCG Boston. What I admire most about BCG is how well it meets criterion #1 – a focus on sustainability and technology. My “Risks, Opportunities, and Investments in Climate Change” (ROICC) professor, George Serafeim, introduced me to the Global Chair of BCG, Rich Lesser, and he spoke to me about all the ways in which BCG is focusing on corporate transitions to net-zero. In fact, he is dedicating most of his time to that effort. Of course, I will likely be doing many non-sustainability related projects as well, but working at a place with several of my HBS classmates and with a structured learning and development process will be make BCG a great first job post-MBA.

For students grappling with questions about your own career journey, I encourage you to take advantage of all the resources that HBS has to offer. Below are a few key pieces of advice that I learned along the way:

  1. Use HBS resources including clubs, CPD Career Coaches, and your classmates to define your career goals. As you develop relationships, they can help you refine your goals and priorities as they change.
  2. Get to know your professors outside the classroom. They want to get to know you, and many are very well connected in the sustainability space.
  3. Spend your summer working at a company in the clean tech and sustainability space. Given the nascency of the space, most companies will be at the startup/growth stage, so you’ll get to experience what that’s like and decide whether it’s a fit for you.
  4. Recruiting for startups in this space is certainly not easy but start speaking with people early. Use club conferences, BEI alumni, the Alumni Directory, professors, and your classmates to meet people at those companies.
  5. Businesses of all sizes are now setting ESG targets and attempting to transition to a net zero future. This has caused the consulting field to also shift and take on many projects in this space.