When Jana Holt graduated from Duke’s business and environment MEM/MBA joint degree program in 2013, she took her passion for business and environment to Context, a boutique sustainability consultancy with offices in New York, London, and Los Angeles. Jana is now a Client Director with the firm, where she works with clients including JetBlue, Morgan Stanley, and Lowe’s on sustainability strategy and communications.
She gave us some insight as to what she sees as important in the sustainability field in this Q&A.
What is your favorite part about your current job?
My favorite thing about consulting is that every day, and every client, brings a new set of challenges. I have an opportunity to work with clients across industries and job functions, and learn how sustainability and business needs intersect, and from time to time, conflict. I work with clients ranging from financial services to medical technology to airlines, but you’d be surprised at how similar the challenges they face can be. I love helping clients see an issue or solution in a new way, gain buy-in for significant sustainability initiatives, and talk about their successes so that others can learn from them.
How did Fuqua help to prepare you for your career?
I can’t underscore the importance of teamwork. Not only am I managing and contributing to multiple consulting teams at a time, but we really become part of the team for our clients. We help them navigate internal politics, resolve problems, and get things done. Learning how to work together with people who have a different view than my own goes a long way.
Sustainability also requires a lot of cross-functional collaboration. While I may not be the expert on marketing or corporate finance or supply chain management, the broad exposure an MBA offers provides a starting point for conversations with a wide range of people and teams. In the same day, I might have a morning meeting about human rights in the electronics supply chain and an afternoon meeting about ESG [environmental, social, governance] integration with institutional investors. Having a baseline understanding of very different fields within sustainability can go a long way.
What do you think are the most critical skills needed as an MBA entering the sustainability field?
The most important attribute is curiosity. Everything we do in sustainability – whether in consulting or in-house – is about solving a problem. If the problems were easy, there would already be a solution, so you have to look for new ways to think about things, and get excited about digging into a company or industry that you might not know much about and becoming an expert quickly.
What has been the most rewarding part of your job so far?
That’s a hard question. I think the most rewarding thing about consulting is when a client tells you that they’ve learned something. It’s a lot like teaching that way!
What global issues do you have your eye on right now?
I am starting to have a lot of conversations about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and science-based emissions targets. In the wake of COP21 [climate talks held in Paris in December 2015], companies are embracing the leadership role that they can play in creating a more sustainable economy. But there is a lot of uncertainty. The SDGs can help provide a roadmap and view of what global priorities are, but these are massive challenges we face. Companies want to contribute to solving them, but are unsure of exactly how to do it. Likewise, COP21 really enhanced the conversation about setting science-based greenhouse gas emissions targets that can help companies contribute to the global commitment to limit climate change, but there is still debate over how to go about doing that. There’s a real opportunity to use these to set the bar high for where the economy needs to go.
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