As the Electric Mobility sector continues to evolve, there are enormous opportunities, and the immense potential to re-invent the transportation sector with a focus on sustainability !

Charith Konda, our next pathbreaker, Head, Policy & Partnerships at eDRV, a technology start-up in the area of smart electric vehicle charging, examines public policies governing electric mobility for market and business development.

Charith talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about how public policies backed by thorough research can play an important role in driving sustainable energy adoption across the transportation sector.

For students, our transition to low carbon energy is not about technology alone but also about formulating a well thought out strategy to make the adoption process smoother !

Charith, can you talk a little bit about your background?

I was born and grew up (until the age of 23) in a small coastal town in the state of Andhra Pradesh with a population of fewer than 200 thousand people. But fortunately, I had access to English medium education from one of the few schools where the medium of instruction and assessment was in English in the town. I studied from the first standard until the final year of graduation in this town. After earning the SSC Certificate (10th Standard), I enrolled in intermediate and graduate studies in social sciences – civics, economics, and commerce/accounting. 

In hindsight, I would say what I learned in school and graduation contributed to only a portion of my overall education while the remaining came through self-learning. I’m blessed to have parents who emphasized good quality education at home and encouraged me to read high-quality journals and newspapers, such as The Economist, Time Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and the Hindu newspaper. My Dad’s library had several interesting books ranging from science and current affairs to English novels, which kindled my curiosity about international affairs. Subsequently, the arrival of satellite television and the internet opened up more channels for learning and drew my attention to international politics, trade and commerce, and economics.

My parents had simple careers – my father led human development activities and aided the development of several down-trodden communities around our town and my mother was a primary school teacher. Overall, I would say my initial education was shaped by a combination of what was taught at schools/colleges, self-learning, and the access and guidance provided by my parents. 

What did you do for graduation/post-graduation?

I chose to do a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce from Acharya Nagarjuna University as I was interested in Accounting and Economics. I selected Advanced Management Accounting and Corporate Finance as elective subjects in the final year of graduation. 

For Post-graduation, I’ve opted for a Master’s in Finance degree from ICFAI University Hyderabad campus. It was a two-year, full-time Finance program with Corporate Finance, International Finance, Investment Management, and Financial Services as focus areas. This degree helped me to build a core understanding of the international finance and business world. 

What were the influences that led you to such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?

My interest in business/economics and social sciences came naturally to me from a very young age. Growing up in a small town in the 80s and 90s did not give me many opportunities for real-world experiences, but I found these subjects to be very relevant to the world I lived in, based on what I understood from the newspapers, business magazines, and business news channels. 

My father always encouraged me to learn new things and provided me access to good-quality reading materials. More importantly, he allowed me to choose what I wanted to study for my higher education. He also saved enough to fund my college and university studies in India. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path

Although I developed a keen interest in the subjects of business/economics and social sciences very early on, I was very much confused about the kind of job I wanted to take up towards the end of my Master’s degree. I was not sure if I wanted to choose a career with banks or research organizations or any other companies/organizations. However, when our campus recruitments started and companies started interviewing candidates, I looked out for companies that offered a role in business research and writing in an international environment, purely driven by my interest/preference for these areas. That preference helped me to apply and get selected for RR Donnelley, an international knowledge process outsourcing firm based in Chennai. So, I would say focusing on my interest areas determined my career path in the early years. 

For the initial 4.5 years of my career, I worked in the area of business research supporting front-end business consultants in the U.S. (at RR Donnelley and Deloitte) and later moved to research and publishing at Datamonitor. 

At RR Donnelley I was given an opportunity to work with an alternative fuels (biodiesel, ethanol, and gas-to-liquid) company based in the U.S. This kindled my interest in the alternative energy sector and directed my work at Deloitte (in their Strategy, Research & Innovation division) toward alternative/renewable energy. This was back in 2007 when the global investor interest in the wind and solar power sectors and biofuels was increasing. I was one of the first members in this division who were staffed to work in this emerging sector and it gave me an immense opportunity to learn and gain expertise in this sector. 

Beyond sectoral knowledge, at Deloitte, I also learned client management and delivering client-ready outputs. This really helped in the publishing work at Datamonitor. 

At Datamonitor, I was hired to start an Energy team in the Business Insights practice. This team was tasked with researching and authoring in-depth reports on various sub-sectors of Energy, viz., Wind Power, Solar Power, Oil & Gas, and Power & Utilities. These reports were published globally on the Datamonitor platform accessed by clients in the academia and business worlds.    

While my interest in business research and writing partly guided my career path, it was the circumstances and the assignments in my first job that channeled my career toward the Energy and Sustainability sector. Of course, my interest in this sector also helped me in gaining expertise and finding better work opportunities in this sector. 

My first front-end client-facing work in India started at the Indian School of Business (ISB)/Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a clean energy public policy program. CPI is an analysis and advisory organization in the area of finance and policy with a specific focus on the sustainable growth of the economies of the world. CPI, which is headquartered in the U.S., started its India program in collaboration with the Indian School of Business and later became a separate entity with its India office in New Delhi. 

My work at ISB and CPI was primarily focused on examining the effectiveness of energy and climate policies around the world with a particular focus on climate finance. My work profile included working with some important central government ministries and regulators, such as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Ministry of Railways, and Central Electricity Regulatory Commission in answering some of the pressing policy questions related to renewable energy development. We also worked with several state government entities. I was the Program Manager of the India Innovation Lab for Green Finance, a unique crowd-sourcing of ideas and implementation of innovative green finance instruments platform, as my last assignment at CPI.

The exposure and experience to the international work environment and public policy helped me to get the next assignment with the Government of Andhra Pradesh in the area of investment promotion and facilitation at the AP Economic Development Board (APEDB). My role at APEDB had multiple dimensions including generating and nurturing investment leads through engagements with foreign partners, coordination with other line departments of Govt. of Andhra Pradesh for investment facilitation and handling the media and communications of APEDB. Later, I was deputed to the Chief Minister’s Office to work with the Additional Chief Secretary to assist him on the Health and Education initiatives of the Government of Andhra Pradesh. 

I moved out of the Government in November 2020 and since then have been working on various consulting assignments  – first with Megha Engineering & Infrastructure Limited and later with eDRV Inc. Further, in collaboration with my former boss in the Government of Andhra Pradesh, I started a business consultancy to assist entrepreneurs in government relations and international partnerships.  

How did you get your first break? 

I got my first job breakthrough campus placements at ICFAI University, Hyderabad campus. However, as I’ve gained experience I found job opportunities more through professional networking rather than through open job application platforms.  

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

At one point – I felt I specialized in one sector (i.e., Energy and Sustainability) very early in my career, which limited the number of job opportunities available to me. My profile was not matching with many of the opportunities that were listed on the popular job portals. So, casual job searches on the portals and “click and apply” practice did not work for me. I had to research companies of interest to me and go through their websites in order to identify work opportunities. Also, I had to connect and follow important people on LinkedIn and join groups in the Energy sector to find suitable opportunities. Job search through networking is the practice that helped me in finding interesting opportunities. However, there was one upside, as I’ve gained experience I found that the quality of job opportunities that came my way was certainly far better than what generalists could find. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I currently work at eDRV (“e-Drive”) Inc., a technology start-up (founded in Amsterdam and currently headquartered in San Francisco) in the area of smart electric vehicle charging. I mainly examine public policies governing electric mobility and develop partnerships for market and business development at eDRV. Beyond the main tasks, I also manage a few non-commercial projects and assist the founders in fundraising. 

What are the skills needed in your role? How did you acquire them?

I find project management, policy analysis, client management, and business writing to be some of the key skills required for this job. I’ve gained these skills purely from previous work experiences in various organizations.  However, new skills may be needed in the future in this job as the electric mobility sector is rapidly evolving. I’m still learning the software side of the business, as this is the first time in my career I’m working for a software technology company. The objective is to gain a functional knowledge of the software products that the company builds.   

What’s a typical day like?

One of the challenges of this job is that we (employees/staff) are all remotely placed across various continents of the world making it somewhat difficult to collaborate and develop work relationships. So, a typical day at eDRV involves planning my calendar and scheduling a day and a week ahead meticulously for a smooth workflow. A day/week involves interactions with the CEO and founders of the company and other employees based on the project at hand. It also involves external interactions with policymakers, potential clients (typically charge point operators and businesses), and other industry stakeholders (e.g., think tanks and academia). 

What do you love about your work?

Two things that I like the most about this job are the sector itself (electric mobility) and the flexibility it offers (remote working). I feel electric mobility in various use-cases has immense potential and will hold a strong position in the future of transportation globally. And, the fact that it is also a rapidly evolving industry also makes it quite interesting. Flexibility in work location and timings also help me in achieving the work-life balance that I really value at this point of my career. 

How does your work benefit society?

Over the course of history, transportation has enabled human progress by enabling people to seize opportunities and access new resources that were not previously available. I believe it would continue to hold a critical role in enabling economic growth and human development for years to come. Building expertise and experience in one of the core sectors of transportation (road transportation) would help anyone to build a strong career and the potential to play an important role in future development. 

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

At the Climate Policy Initiative, a public policy think tank focused on low-carbon development, I worked on an assignment with the Ministry of Railways, Government of India for 2.5 years for developing a Railways policy for low-carbon growth. I got a key role in developing the project scope/proposal, working with the funders, undertaking research, and presenting the findings to the Railway Board. The learning was steep but the work satisfaction I got out of the assignment was also high given the practical implications of it. The Railways Board has adopted many of our recommendations, such as the high-level or near-total electrification of the railway lines in the country and the adoption of more solar power to make the railway transport even cleaner. The project work and the opportunities it gave me to present our findings and recommendations on various public platforms make this assignment the most memorable one in my career so far. 

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My primary advice to students would be to identify their interests and strengths early in their careers and focus on nurturing them. This would certainly pay dividends in the long term. Secondly, I would advise anyone starting their career to focus on specializing in one field and gaining specific skills in that field. Specialists reap greater rewards and more recognition in the long run. However, generalists also hold a place in society with their wide array of knowledge and transferable skills. Of course, whether you want to be a specialist or a generalist boils down to an individual’s choice. Overall I would say, identify your interests, nurture your strengths, and learn and upskill continuously.  

Future Plans?

While the first decade of my work life went into building my profile (job-focused) and learning skills at the workplace, I’m eager to build a more balanced profile going forward. I would like to make my typical week a mix of work, learning, volunteering, family time, and sporting. I believe this would make me a more well-rounded individual with much more to contribute to society in my later years. I strongly believe now that one’s core job alone should not define his/her entire life.