When James Correa was coming to the conclusion of his military service as a logistics officer (Captain) in the US Army, "There was only one desire for a professional career that I was sure of -- to continue a career in leadership."

With no particular industry or function in mind, James knew he wanted to "manage a team and help people develop," and that HBS, as the "premier leadership institution in the world," would be the "best way to learn the general aspects of business."

As graduation approached, "It became clear that I wanted to be part of a mission-driven organization," says James. The perfect opportunity arose through the Leadership Fellows program, through which James joined the Sacramento Mayor's Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. "I looked inward, and I realized that the role was a great way to blend the skillset I had acquired at HBS with a desire to have an impact on society."

During his 2015 – 2016 Fellowship year, James served as the Mayor's representative to the startup and innovation community. "I recognized that I was interested in early-stage startups," he says, "particularly startups that have an impact on cities and sustainable living."

"By the end of my Fellowship," James says, "I knew I wanted to be part of a startup and that it was the right time to take risks. It's easier earlier in a career than later, and I was at a natural transition point for trying something new."

No direct path, yet a destination emerges

Over the next two years, James would fulfill roles at three different startups until he found a fourth, Getaround, a peer-to-peer car sharing service, which proved to be the right fit.

"It was not an easy road," says James. "I think part of it was a consequence of the natural course of events in early-stage companies – some of them just won't succeed. But it was also about taking on roles that weren’t right for me." As he moved among startups, "My role became clearer. I knew I wanted to be involved in tech for sustainability, and I've been passionate about transportation since my Army days."

"And I wanted a general management role," James says. "It got to the point where I would be a general manager, come hell or high water."

Reflecting on the complexity of his journey, James says, "A lot of the personal development lessons we learned from professors, or among our peer groups and counselors, helped me look at my core motivations and make the right choices – after making a few wrong ones. I would've kept stumbling without the professional patience HBS taught me."

James' patience paid off. After joining Getaround in 2018 as a general manager of its Los Angeles operations, James took on responsibility for San Diego, Seattle, and Portland, eventually becoming Regional Manager for the entire west coast outside of San Francisco.

"There's no substitute for finding the right role: what you want, what you're good at, what meets customer needs. I found it. In nine months I have gone from launching one market to managing four," James says.

"Getaround is a fantastic, mission-driven organization that's trying to reshape car ownership and make the world more sustainable. As the company grows, I want to grow with it."

This post was originally published on the Alumni Careers blog.