First and foremost, a big ‘THANK YOU’ you to Michelle, for building the network and offering the opportunity to blog about my work week. Through these posts, I hope to give you a sense of the challenges and opportunities of being a management consultant, as well as the commonalities that I see between consulting and my prior career as an academic scientist.
But, if you had asked me as a graduate student if I would ever see myself as a corporate executive, I would have had quite the laugh. I was a behavioral ecologist, studying the diversity of colors, songs and dances that male birds employ to attract prospective mates, as well as the evolutionary forces that explain why females choose their partners (both primary and “extra-marital”) using those characteristics (not quite corporate income statements). I really enjoyed the annual cycle of teaching and analyzing data through the Fall and Spring, and diving into my research during the summer. After completing my degree in 2001, I accepted a position at Hope College to serve as a Visiting Assistant Professor.
I enjoyed my time at Hope, but as time wore on, and interviews for my first tenure-track positions kept taking me to smaller institutions in out-of-the-way places, I thought I might need to lay the foundation for something different. So, as the third and final year of my contract began, I started investigating business schools, studying for the GMAT and ‘networking’ outside the ivory tower. The choice of business school made a lot of sense at the time. Having spent 14 years on a college campus, going back to school felt natural, and I was confident that a business degree would maximize the number of career paths I could pursue after graduation. When the last job interviews were complete, and I received the University of Michigan Business School’s very elaborate e-mail of acceptance, I was off to Ann Arbor.
Wanting to maintain a focus on the environment, I studied ‘sustainability’ and the intersection between corporate strategy and environmental science at Michigan’s Erb Institute for Sustainable Enterprise. My first year led to an internship with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) in Washington, DC, which evolved into a full-time consultancy and an eventual transfer to The George Washington University, where I finished my degree. When my time at UNEP was coming to a close, I accepted a Fellowship from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and served as a Legislative Fellow on the U.S. Senate Committee for Commerce, Science and Transportation.
By the time my Fellowship concluded, I’d added policy experience and a business degree to my scientific background. Sustainability consulting seemed like a natural next step, as I’d regularly switch between my science, policy and business hats. After a year at Esty Environmental Partners (now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers), and some time working for myself, I joined Accenture’s Sustainability practice in 2010. With Accenture, I work with corporations, government agencies, and global non-profit organizations, primarily on sustainability strategy. Much of my work has been helping clients understand the corporate, environmental, and policy drivers for becoming more sustainable, and helping them develop their first sustainability strategic plans.
Tomorrow, the work week begins and sunrise will find me hailing a taxi to catch a plane to my current client in Ohio, where I’m helping them develop a strategic plan to reduce their paper use.