OUR GREAT MINDS

Varun Soni

Varun Soni

School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, Master of Public Administration in Energy and Environment

Varun is a 2015 MPA student concentrating in Energy at Columbia University.  Previously, he worked as a Senior Associate in KPMG’s Climate Change and Sustainability practice, where his engagements included sustainable supply chain management, energy efficiency and environmental due diligence. Varun also has experience in financial services on Wall Street, where he focused on foreign exchange markets.

We asked Varun:

The OGM: As you embark on your career path, how important is the culture of the organization you choose?

Varun: Culture is extremely important to me, almost as important as my chosen field. I want to work in an organization that is collaborative and driven by a vision that I believe in.

The OGM: Describe the impact work flexibility will have on your career path.

Varun: I would like to work for an organization or supervisor that gives me freedom to do my work. I like to be given responsibility without being micro-managed. Working for the right manager, who gives me this flexibility is an important consideration.

The OGM: What does a strong cohesive, team-oriented culture at work mean to you?

Varun: A cohesive work environment is one in which everyone works towards a common goal. This reduces inefficiencies within work streams and between teams. A team oriented culture is one in which your colleagues and managers have a vested interest in your success. Team-orientated cultures are ones in which employees respect one another.

The OGM: Is a transparent work environment in regards to compensation, rewards and career development important to you? If so, why?

Varun: Yes, a transparent work environment is important to me. I have been a part of some work cultures where managers play personal favorites, and I believe this is to everyone’s detriment. Working in a meritocracy brings out the best in most people, because they are motivated by what they might achieve.

The OGM: How does technology impact your day-to-day?

Varun: Technology is embedded in every aspect of the modern workday. It is very important to constantly develop skills in the area of technology, so as to remain competitive and current in the work force.

The OGM: What does the phrase, ‘sense of community’ mean to you?

Varun: A sense of community describes those intangibles that create value beyond cents and dollars. Businesses must strive to be local in an increasingly international world. This means, that they must support the communities in which they operate. They must be good corporate citizens and make life better for those that surround them.

The OGM: Are acknowledgment and support an integral component to your career needs? If so, how?

Varun: It is always a nice feeling to be acknowledged for good work. I also believe that it helps to motivate employees to perform better.

The OGM: Tell us about a struggle you faced when transitioning into the workforce?

Varun: After selling my business, I decided to work in the consulting space. One of the struggles I faced was leveraging my non-traditional background for a position in a traditional company. Most consulting companies seem to value in-house experience far more than entrepreneurial exposure. You have to learn to translate your skills into the language they speak.

The OGM: For other students just figuring things out, what words of encouragement would you offer?

Varun: There are a lot of companies out there that are hiring a lot of people. The key is to focus on the groups of companies that fit your intended career path. This allows you to be more efficient in finding the jobs you really want. Also, seek out people who work for companies you want to work for. Take them out to coffee, or have a chat over the phone. Network, network, network and then network some more!

The OGM: Did you always know what you wanted to do?

Varun: No, I have changed careers several times and I think this has helped me understand, in a clearer manner, what I like and do not like.

The OGM: Where does/would your sense of satisfaction come from at work?

Varun: My sense of satisfaction comes from knowing that I contribute to a larger objective, one that I believe in. I currently work for the Climate Change and Sustainability practice at a large consulting firm and knowing that my work makes the world a little bit more sustainable is a sense of satisfaction.

The OGM: How important are further education and training to your career development?

Varun: I don’t think you should ever stop learning. At this time next year I will have finished my Masters degree and I believe that will be the terminal point in my formal education. I will however continue to pursue professional certifications in the field I am working in now.

The OGM: How did you differentiate yourself in the workplace as a Millennial?

Varun: As a millennial I believe I am a stakeholder in the future of the planet, since many of the problems we face will make an impact in my lifetime. I am also well placed to understand the tools and resources we have available to avert some of these issues. This gives me a unique perspective in the workplace, especially in the energy sector.

The OGM: If you could be stuck in an elevator with anybody, who would it be?

Varun: Barak Obama. He is the first president to have an energy plan that acknowledges climate change and I want to understand what opposition he faced in setting his agenda. I’d also ask him what is the single most difficult thing he has had to do during his time in office.

The OGM: Did you pursue University right after high school?

Varun: No, I took a year off. I was on the Indian Trap Shooting team and had the chance to represent my country on the international stage. I also picked up a World Cup Silver Medal that year.

The OGM: Will/Did your University program play a role in your career path? If not, why?

Varun: Yes it did.

The OGM: What are the three most important aspects you feel an organization should offer to retain a Millennial?

Varun: I think an organization must be driven by an overall vision that is clearly communicated. As a millennial, work is not just about showing up and making widgets for 9 hours a day. It has to be about more than that. The vision of the organization has to be inspiring. Secondly, the work culture must collaborative and inclusive, and one in which employees are encouraged to take on responsibility. And finally, the organization must provide growth potential.

The OGM: Describe your ideal organization, one that you could grow and develop your career in?

Varun: My ideal organization is a high growth company in the energy space. I envision myself helping them with their corporate strategy and market entry. I would like to be part of a team of somewhere between 10-15 people and report to a senior executive who shares a passion for the space.

The OGM: From a scale of 1 to 10 how important are the following: incentives and rewards, compensation, training and development, global opportunities? 1 being least important.

Varun: Incentives and rewards – 8,
Compensation – 9,
Training and development – 9,
Global opportunities – 8.

The OGM: Tell us about your most memorable achievement or milestone thus far?

Varun: My most memorable achievement is taking the leap of faith to start my own business, and turning it into a success. This included raising equity and running an operation turning over approximately $500,000. The two years during which I was involved in this project were full of some very high points and some very low points, and there was always a sense of the pressure from those who had invested in the company. In the end however, it worked out and we got a good valuation from the company that bought us out.

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Tina Olivero

Tina Olivero

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