by Jon Tang-Kong, MBA ’17
Why choose SGE? Jon Tang-Kong relates how his SGE Immersion experience gave him the necessary confidence and expertise to navigate tough problems and even tougher CEOs.
During the first week at Johnson, every student asks each other the same few questions. One of them is: “What immersion are you doing?” I, however, didn’t get asked that question very often — everyone assumed that I would do SGE. It made sense. Before attending Johnson, I had worked at a conservation non-profit, I love the outdoors, and I wear brightly colored outdoor clothing (find me with the bright yellow backpack).
And yes, I ended up choosing the SGE immersion, but not because I fit the perception of a professional tree hugger. I did the SGE Immersion because I wanted to make a difference through sustainability, because I knew that working in sustainability would be difficult, and because I wanted to be prepared. Someone once mentioned to me that SGE is really a strategy immersion and the most challenging. This sentiment turned out to be true. The SGE Immersion also turned out to be the best preparation possible for my internship in renewable energy.
Immersion – Lessons learned
SGE’s semester-long consulting project will teach you more lessons than reading any number of Harvard Business Review cases. You will learn:
- To find the real question buried in a tangle of nebulous business issues
- To be flexible
- To keep moving in the face of adversity
- To over-prepare
- To have conviction in your findings
My team’s immersion client was a natural gas utility looking for growth. They came to us with a bunch of semi-related questions regarding competitors’ actions, new green technologies, and the financial market’s response to innovation. We boiled all of that down to one question of: how does your company make investment decisions. We answered this question with targeted investment decision tools and processes, and the client produced sudden scope changes and last minute requests. We rolled with the punches and provided new research and insights; faculty, entrepreneurs, TA’s and second-years critiqued our report and deck; and we utilized their feedback to improve our recommendations. And finally, when the final presentation came and the clients asked tough questions, we were ready with reason and evidence-backed responses.
The SGE consulting project, which allows engagement with real clients and the opportunity to tackle difficult sustainability problems, is the best preparation for your internship, hands down.
Internship – Lessons Applied
I interned at Vestas, a manufacturer of wind turbines.
I learned throughout my internship that sustainability jobs are hard. Renewable energy companies have to fight for favorable policy; they have to fight impeding fossil fuel interests; they have to fight not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) reactions. For my project, I interviewed two internal sustainability managers at conventional companies who have to fight to make their voices heard. Because of these challenges, sustainability needs tough people. So don’t expect a feel-good, easy ride when you get there.
Let’s fast forward three weeks into my internship and 5 minutes into my interim presentation:
“YOU ARE FEEDING ME GARBAGE RIGHT NOW! ARE YOU PURPOSEFULLY FEEDING ME GARBAGE?!” challenged the company’s CEO.
Luckily, I didn’t freak out. I kept moving in the face of it. I held firm on some points. I was flexible and noted constructive criticism on others. At the end of the hour long presentation, which had been scheduled for only 30 minutes, Chris turned to the other twenty people in the room and said “I’m tearing this apart because I expect excellence from everyone, even interns. That’s what it takes for us to win.”
I relied on my SGE experience to get through the presentation and I relied on it to get me through the following seven weeks. I took an unformed project prompt asking for an examination of a new customer segment and delivered a market size, segmentation, and recommendation. I utilized criticism to benefit my work. I adapted to unforeseen circumstances. And by the end of the summer, I was confident in my findings and confident in their ability to help my renewable energy company win. Do the SGE immersion and you will be, too.