We live in changing times. Today's business leaders must be ready to keep up with the curve-balls the 21st century is poised to throw at them, from shifting economic landscapes to a changing climate.
Recent grad Jamie Bohan took notice of this after ending a 20-year stint at Honeywell to manage the sustainability department of waste service company Republic Services. Strategic planning was becoming more difficult in the face of major disruptions in nearly all segments of the market, Bohan said. Her Fortune 500 clients expressed the same concerns.
Once skeptical of pursuing an MBA, Bohan ultimately decided on the Executive Master’s in Sustainability & Leadership (EMSL) program at Arizona State University, which focused on sustainability strategy and its role in business, among other things.
TriplePundit talked with Bohan to find out more about her decision to pursue a sustainability education and how it impacted her career.
TriplePundit: What made you decide to pursue a sustainability degree?
Jamie Bohan: I earned a Master’s in Sustainability Leadership (EMSL) from ASU in January of 2015.
My area of expertise is in business to business (B2B) strategy and growth, leveraging technology innovation. With broader roles, I began to notice that strategic planning and business continuity were becoming more and more difficult to manage due to massive disruption in nearly all segments of the market. My Fortune 500 clients were expressing the same concerns, and their needs were rapidly changing. This observation led me to the conclusion that something was missing from traditional strategic management tools that are in use today.
I’d been thinking about getting an MBA for several years, but I felt that I had a good grasp on the content taught in a traditional MBA through my work experience. In addition, it was the traditional MBA tools that were lacking. What I was looking for was a more integrated and broader view of the intersection of business, technology, society and the environment. I was particularly excited about the strategy elements of the EMSL degree. Sustainability brings a unique perspective to business strategy that has filled the gaps for me.
3p: What are you up to now? Briefly describe your current role and responsibilities and how long you've been on the job.
JB: I’ve been with Republic Services for almost three years, after a 20-year career at Honeywell. I currently lead the development of the sustainability program, and I manage our innovation strategy. Because we are an environmental company, sustainability is key to our overall corporate strategy. In this role, I look for ways to make our operations more effective, to grow revenue by creating new offerings, and to ensure that we can respond quickly to evolving requirements going forward.
I lean heavily on technology as a way to accomplish these goals, but sustainability provides the insights into what is happening in the market and what is driving customer behavior. Sustainability knowledge also helps to uncover a lot of hidden opportunities that would otherwise be missed.
3p: Have you found that your sustainability education was a benefit in the field?
JB: Absolutely. It helps me to guide my company toward success in a rapidly changing, complex world. Sustainability is not only about risk reduction and efficiency. The process of strategic planning and strategy formulation involves analysis of industry structure, external environment, risk assessment, scenario planning, opportunities, threats, etc. This analysis is greatly enhanced with a deep understanding of social and environmental issues – and their interdependencies with the business world.
Sustainability adds another layer to the typical economic analysis. So, I’ve woven sustainability concepts learned in this degree into the strategic planning process to open up new avenues for business growth – both organic and inorganic. It has really helped me to create competitive advantage for my company. In addition, I feel like I have a crystal ball that enables me to understand where and why technology and innovation are being applied to better protect my company from disruption and risk. More importantly, it enables me to craft a strategy that’s in line with where our customers are going.
3p: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about a sustainability degree?
JB: My advice would be to make sure that it aligns with a practical aspect of what it is that you do, or want to do. For me, this degree was a layer on top of skills and education that I already had. It adds a nuance that most other people don’t have. The degree on its own isn’t where the value lies; it’s in bringing a different way of thinking to what I was already doing that has added tremendous value for me.
3p: What's your biggest sustainability pet peeve and why? Disposable grocery bags? Trash in the compost? Cars double-parked in the bike lane? Share your thoughts!
JB: I wouldn’t characterize it as a “pet peeve," rather more of a missed opportunity. Every action is part of a larger system that often leads to unintended consequences if not thought through. When I worked at Honeywell, the CEO Dave Cote used to say, “You have to go slow to go fast.” This means you have to take the time to do the analysis first, so that execution is straightforward and drives the right results.
This could not be more true today. We need to think deeply about the system in which we are the actors, and understand the other players in the system before we can charge off with a solution. This really gets back to the value of the EMSL degree – it’s all about understanding what the solution needs to be (the strategy piece) and then knowing how to lead people in the system to get there (leadership, communications and change management). That is the challenge of sustainability from my perspective.