RISK AND OPPORTUNITY IN THE CURRENT MARKET
While MBA students are facing rapid, unprecedented change in the business environment, there may be opportunities alongside the inherent challenges. “Renewable energy used to be alternative energy. But it’s not alternative anymore; it’s now the cheapest source of energy, and that market has flipped and is only going to accelerate. We’re watching a dramatic transformation of a whole sector — a sector that underlies every other sector of the economy.”
Kross explains that there is room to innovate in areas such as clean tech, clean energy, carbon tax, and corporate sustainability, voicing that businesses have the chance to be part of a solution. Vermeer echoes Kross’ thoughts, adding that by gaining an understanding of where the world is going, MBA students can then apply the right leadership, skills, and focus to create opportunities that are not only lucrative, but also needed.
“There’s an enormous opportunity for entrepreneurial ideas, mobilization and convening of big corporate players to try to figure out how to build a scale solution that responds to the current challenges,” says Vermeer. “There’s so much demand for new solutions. We’re seeing that with climate tech, carbon removal, and alternative proteins. Several industries didn’t exist five years ago that will be the big industries of the future.”
FUQUA MBA STUDENTS: FEELING HOPEFUL FOR THE FUTURE
Lazinski and Davis also feel hopeful for the way in which business can make a positive impact on social and environmental outcomes.
“What we’ve seen from the past four years is that as much as you try to dismantle green energy, it’s still here. Coal isn’t coming back; the economics prove it,” says Davis.
Lazinski further explains that these newer forms of energy are often beating the cost of coal, nuclear energy, and gas, making them more attractive for big corporate players to use. Plus, he feels encouraged with the confidence in hiring in the sustainability sector due to the recent Biden administration. He says,“We’ll have tailwinds at our back once we graduate in May. And that was not as certain last October when Trump was in office.”
Like Lazinski, Epstein is also doing an independent study with Vermeer. With plans to return to Nike following graduation to begin her role as Sustainability Manager, she’s seen an emergence of leadership and restructuring of priorities in the private sector. “Sustainability roles aren’t always the first ones on the chopping block now that these issues are being taken seriously,” she says. “This makes me hopeful for the future.”
At Fuqua, Epstein has been pleasantly surprised by the amount of students taking classes like Sustainable Business Strategies who aren’t necessarily planning on pursuing careers in green energy. Between 20-30 Fuqua MBA students in each class graduate and go into full-time roles focused on sustainability, clean tech, or social impact. In 2020, 12 students graduated with the joint MBA/MEM degree. She says,“Many students are making sure that they are well-informed on these issues in order to take their learnings into their roles, whatever they might be.”
CAREERS IN SUSTAINABILITY
Hopeful about the many high-level MBA jobs in the energy and sustainability sectors, Kross expresses the high demand for more “smart, energetic, creative, strategic thinkers.”
While some students may not approach a career specifically in sustainability or energy, Kross explains the need to apply a sustainable lens to any role. “Even if students are going into brand management, they can think about how they’re going to bring their passion for social and environmental impact to those roles. They have the chance to directly impact how a company purchases material, how it manufactures products, and how business is done,” she says. “They can have a sustainability career, even if sustainability is not in their job title.”
The old model of job security has shifted in recent years; while many people used to look for a long-term career with one company where they would climb the corporate ladder, Vermeer says that a new kind of job security is in style. “It’s now about staying focused on your north star of the world’s biggest challenges, because somebody is going to compensate you for making progress on those issues,” he says. “You may find a company that’s doing revolutionary technology, or a new business model that might take you into government, nonprofits or to other geographies. While it may look like you’re scattered, you’re actually very focused in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish in your career. That’s a different kind of security.”
Vermeer explains that even when working in a large company, it’s a great idea to think entrepreneurially. Explaining that we’re currently not working at the right scale on any of these issues, he says it’s not just a matter of taking jobs that an organization has already identified that they need, but also thinking about what work needs to be done and how to best do so. He says, “You may have to get creative in terms of finding or creating organizations, attracting resources, getting others involved, and aligning different organizations around your mission. Think about how to get the scale and the impact we need around these issues, and what the best platform is from a career standpoint to be able to advance or catalyze it.”
THE FUTURE OF MBA EDGE
Priding itself on creating more opportunities for people to align around big agendas, EDGE has been instrumental in making climate change in the business curriculum more mainstream and accessible. Not only has this been demonstrated through their MBA EDGE platform, but also through cross-university initiatives like the ClimateCAP event, Oceans at Duke, Duke Energy Conference, and the Sustainable Business and Social Impact Conference.
With plans on publishing an increasing amount of research papers to MBA EDGE, their goal is to educate all Fuqua students about how these issues are going to affect their roles in the future and eventually integrate these topics into the MBA curriculum.
Those interested in attending the 16th annual Sustainable Business & Social Impact (SBSI) Conference to explore how leaders across the public, private, and social sector are incorporating social impact and sustainability in their organizations from the ground up must register at the link above. The event is February 24.