While there is a dire need for infrastructural development, there is an even greater need to ensure that environmental concerns are addressed along the path of economic growth !

Sushant Ghargi, our next pathbreaker, works as Lead Consultant at Ramboll, a Global Engineering, Design and Consultancy firm with a strategic focus on creating sustainable cities and societies.

Sushant talks to  Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his work on a range of exciting projects, from studying the impact of sewer rehabilitation on water quality of reservoirs to environmental impact assessment of mega-projects !

For students, there is no greater satisfaction than helping clients in developing their ESG and decarbonization strategies in order to close the gap to build a sustainable world.

Sushant, Your background?

I spent most of my early years in Dharwad located in the foothills of western ghats in northern Karnataka. I was fortunate to grow up in a city like Dharwad for it offered all the comforts of urban lifestyle while giving ample opportunities to be close to nature. Most of my childhood memories are of biking around the hills and lakes across the town with my friends. 

My parents are serial entrepreneurs with business interests ranging from farming to tool and die making and everything in between! Our household was always bustling with activities, and I learned the importance of rolling up my sleeves and getting down to work in managing successful businesses. Our family’s farming activities gave me the rare insight of being at the mercy of nature’s forces and I saw firsthand the impact of climate change with prolonged dry spells and short durations of intensive rains wreaking havoc all around. That prompted me to explore a career in developing drought resistant crops and I aspired to pursue a career in biotechnology. 

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

When I was looking for undergraduate (UG) programs, none of the established universities offered UG programs in biotechnology and I ended up studying Chemical Engineering at National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK). At that point of time, I was just happy to get into this premier engineering school and I did not dwell too much into what Chemical Engineering entailed. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my time studying chemical engineering as it built on applied physics, mathematics and chemistry, and provided a perfect platform to pursue biotechnology for higher studies. During my pre-final year at NITK, the modules on pollution control fascinated me. It was the early years of India having ratified the Kyoto Protocol and few Indian companies were making headlines by turning eco-friendly initiatives into financially lucrative projects. I was drawn to this fascinating world of doing good for the environment while gaining monetary benefits and I decided to pursue higher studies in environmental engineering. During my final year at NITK, I applied and got accepted into the Singapore Stanford Partnership’s (SSP) master’s program in Environmental Engineering. This program took me to Stanford University in the US and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and provided me with a perfect platform to pursue a career in environmental engineering. 

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

The module on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) during my master’s program was an eye-opening experience for me as it showed me the path for development without compromising on nature and environment. I understood the dire need for infrastructure development in Asia and I wanted to be part of this development cycle while ensuring the environmental concerns are addressed. I must thank the faculty of this module for involving industry leading professionals from across the region in workshops which exposed us to real-world examples of how the EIA process was helping communities across the region in ensuring balanced development and I aspired to be an environmental consultant and work on EIAs in Asia. 

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? 

I graduated during the 2008 global financial crisis and had a hard time landing an environmental consulting job immediately after graduation. After a few months of soul searching, I decided to go back to school (NTU) in a research role to strengthen my profile for environmental consulting roles. In this research role at NTU, I worked with a research group developing a hydraulic model for water catchment and the water quality model for the marina catchment reservoir in Singapore. My research work in this role helped me build my network within academics and the industry and I finally landed a consulting role after 2 years of research work through a friend’s reference. 

In my first consulting role at WSP I got to work on a range of exciting projects varying from studying the impact of sewer rehabilitation on water quality of reservoirs to environmental impact assessments. Apart from technical skills, I also honed my project management and people management skills where I managed contractors with contract values ranging SGD 600,000 to SGD 8 million. 

After close to 8 years at WSP, I joined Surbana Jurong where I focused on environmental impact assessment studies for public infrastructure projects ranging from mass rapid transit (MRT) networks to airports. These projects provide me a rare insight into the level of planning and foresight required in executing multi-billion dollar projects with development timeline of 10 to 20 years between feasibility studies to actual operations.

During my early consulting years, I learned the importance of communicating complex technical topics in layman terms to make an impact with your clients. I continued to work on a variety of projects that helped me build my competencies in different fields. Apart from technical skills, I also focused on building my soft skills and participated in mentorship and career development programs for early career professionals. I found these career development programs helpful in not only improving my soft skills but also helped me network and build friendships with colleagues from other departments and understand the importance of multidisciplinary approaches to problem solving. 

How did you get your first break?

I landed my first environmental consulting role at WSP through a referral from a friend. His firm WSP had just won a big project and they were looking to onboard some junior consultants to deliver the project. My research role had added field work experience to my profile and that was exactly what the firm was looking for and I was hired! Through this exercise, I learned the importance of networking, as companies often fill in the roles through internal references even before the roles are openly advertised on their career pages and other job listing boards. So, please network with professionals in the industry you are targeting and never hesitate from sending LinkedIn requests!

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

Challenge 1: Keeping it Simple

On my very first consulting assignment, I encountered a client from a different discipline who was not familiar with the typical technical jargon used in my field of work. Coming from an academic background until then, I had a tendency to assume my target audience was familiar with the technical terms, and my presentations were filled with jargon and acronyms. After my first presentation, I spent a considerable amount of time explaining the different terms and realized that I had lost the client in the introduction section. For the subsequent meetings, I started practicing my presentations with my housemates (who were from different disciplines) to make sure that I was explaining my findings in simple terms without diluting the message and I was happy to see that the client was engaged throughout the subsequent meetings. 

Challenge 2:  Understanding cultural contexts

Working with clients across the APAC region, I often have to work with clients and team members spread across different countries, time zones and cultural backgrounds. The working styles and styles of business communication differ from region to region and understanding these cues is important in ensuring you understand your clients’ requirements and setting a conducive working environment. Whenever I am working with clients or team members from new regions, I research the business etiquette for the region and also connect with colleagues from the region or who have past working experience in the region to understand the business etiquette. This has helped me in adapting my working and communication styles to align with the target stakeholders.

Challenge 3:  Time Management

Time management is critical for consultants as our work typically involves helping clients solve complex problems and provide advisory under tight delivery timelines. In addition, effective time management goes a long way in maintaining work-life balance which is essential for personal wellbeing and long-term success. I have found using task management applications like the Microsoft To-do very useful to help me plan my tasks for the day and week. I also use other project management tools for larger projects but Microsoft To-do is my go-to app for planning my work day / week. 

Where do you work now? 

I am presently working as a Lead Consultant with Ramboll, a global engineering, design and consultancy company with a strategic focus on creating sustainable cities and societies. 

What problems do you solve?

I help clients in identifying their environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks, assess the potential impacts and develop mitigation plans for addressing the identified risks. I also help clients in developing their ESG and decarbonization strategies and roadmaps and help them in closing the gap in building a sustainable world.

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

There are 3 primary skills for excelling in a consulting role- being inquisitive, domain expertise and technical communication. 

Being Inquisitive

Being Inquisitive is an essential trait for a consultant. It helps to uncover hidden problems, identify opportunities, and develop effective solutions. By asking the right questions and developing insights, one can build trust with their clients and deliver exceptional deliverables. I am inquisitive by nature and always try to put myself in the client’s shoes when I am thinking of potential solutions when a client approaches me with a problem. This also allows me to dig deeper and ask the right questions to understand the challenges faced by the client rather than limiting myself to the problem statement provided by the client. 

Domain Expertise

Clients look for consultants for advisory on a range of topics and as a consultant you need to demonstrate domain knowledge expertise. I follow thought leadership articles, white papers, podcasts etc. published by industry leaders to keep abreast of the latest happenings in the industry. I also pursue professional certification courses to build my technical expertise; and memberships to professional institutions to network with other professionals from the industry, share best practices and learn from each other’s experiences.    

Technical Communication

As consultants, we are often required to present complex information in a clear and concise manner to senior management. While the client’s working level group may be familiar with technical jargon, the decision makers either do not have the time or the bandwidth to go through the details of the study and we are often required to present a high-level summary of our study to such stakeholders. I often practice such presentations with my senior team members who are not involved in the study to gauge the effectiveness of my presentation and preempt the questions that could be raised and prepare my responses. 

What’s a typical day like?

On a typical day, I spend between 50% to 60% of my time on project deliverables, which includes research and analysis, report writing, attending internal and external meetings and the rest of the time on business development which includes responding to requests for proposals, pitching to potential clients and identifying partners for collaboration.    

What is it you love about this job? 

I like to research about the latest developments in ESG and sustainability, and my job not only keeps me updated on the latest developments but also allows me to help identify pain points, implement remedial measures, and identify best practices for clients across different industries. Another thing that I love about my job is that there is never a dull day at work and I am always learning new things.

How does your work benefit society? 

The United Nations Brundtland Commission defines Sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” As a company, Ramboll is all in on sustainability and our company’s strategy is perfectly aligned with my personal aspirations of contributing to building a sustainable world. As a young parent and an environmental professional, I cannot think of a better fit for my aspirations than my present role with Ramboll.  

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

I am presently part of a team that is developing the Lim Chu Kang Masterplan which is being designed to house the farms and associated infrastructure required to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutrition needs by 2030. It is immensely satisfying to contribute to the food security of Singapore through this landmark project.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

Cultivate critical thinking – Challenge yourself to think critically about everything you read, consider multiple perspectives and potential consequences before you arrive at a conclusion. In the professional world, you will encounter conflicting information and opinions on a regular basis and your ability to process this information and arrive at a solution quickly will differentiate you from your peers. 

Develop your soft skills – While technical skills are important, soft skills such as technical communication and public speaking are critical in the professional world. Join Toastmasters club, debate clubs etc. to develop your public speaking skills and contribute to your university newsletters, blogs etc. to develop your writing skills.

Build your network – Connect with entry level professionals from your target industry and explore internship opportunities as internships will not only add much needed work experience to your CVs but also give you a preview of working styles in the industry before you start looking for full-time roles.

Future Plans?

I am enjoying my present role in Ramboll and see myself continuing helping clients across different industries build a sustainable world for our future generations.