Future Leader Spotlight: Eshani Sharma, W.P. Carey School of Business

I like to think that my expedition into the world of business began when I joined the Girl Scouts in 4th grade: it was the most wonderful time of the year – Girl Scout cookie season – but I remember there were so many other Girl Scouts on my block that year. Even in 4th grade, I knew that there were too many cookie suppliers, and not enough cookie buyers in my small neighborhood in Colorado Springs – and I had to get some respectable sales numbers since some of the proceeds would go back to our troop. So I did what any rational 4th grade Girl Scout would do, and began scoping out the locations that didn’t have any other Girl Scouts in them. Days later, when I had to go with my mom to my brother’s soccer practices where I usually sat in the grass making daisy chains to pass the time, I realized that somehow, I was the only readily available Girl Scout amongst the siblings of my brother’s teammates. That weekend, I willingly went to my brother’s club soccer tournament, cookie form in hand, and began selling to his teammates’ parents. I sold a hundred boxes that year, and thus was the start of my cookie selling empire. I had found my market, and I was its sole Girl Scout cookie supplier. As long as my brother kept playing soccer, I had a team’s worth of loyal customers year after year.

As life went on, I could never settle on what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did know that I liked solving problems, understanding why people do the things they do, and helping others. When it came time to go to college, I found my place at Seattle University. Their mission of holistic education really resonated with me and helped open my eyes to what kinds of careers the world had to offer. I decided to pursue a degree in Marketing because it allowed me to think creatively and analytically to provide solutions. One of the most meaningful projects I worked on there was in a service learning course where my group and I created a campaign to help bring awareness and increase volunteer counts for a local non-profit that focused on providing care services for people with chronic illnesses. My time at Seattle U helped me realize that we all have a responsibility in life to utilize our skill sets to do good and help others, and this was surprisingly something that could be done with a business degree.

After graduating from Seattle University with a degree in Marketing, I started working at Liberty Mutual Insurance as a Group Markets Case Manager in Phoenix. In this role, I worked with our customers to administer their group benefit policies and roll out new coverage products. This was a high stress, and fast-moving environment, so as case managers, if our stress allowed our performance to suffer, our service levels to our customers suffered as well. I didn’t like seeing my friends and co-workers stressed out, so I began to devise ways to help my team work more efficiently and effectively. This led to a happier and less stressed team and improved our service to our customers. It was at that point I realized that I got a lot of enjoyment out of improving processes to help our business units work smarter so that we could continue to drive positive results for our customers.

This led me to my MBA journey at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business and their highly ranked supply chain program. I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in supply chain because it would allow me to look at problems within an organization from a different perspective and would give me the skills needed to optimize processes for the most desirable outcome for the business and the customer.

During my first few months of the MBA program I started looking at internships which was a task I was daunted by. Here I was, a career switcher with exactly zero years of supply chain experience trying to let companies who were looking for supply chain candidates know that I was the best person for them. For me, my ideal internship was going be at a place where my desire to learn would be fostered, and I would be able to help contribute to the needs of the business.

This led me to finding my internship at PolyOne Corporation in Cleveland, OH. PolyOne is a company that engineers polymers to create solutions for their customers (that water bottle you’re drinking out of or the ink on that t-shirt you’re wearing might just be PolyOne engineered polymers or colorants!). Through on-campus recruiting, I came across their position for an Operational Excellence intern. I chose to intern at PolyOne because during the interview, the hiring manager quite literally said he didn’t care what kind background someone came from, he just cared that they would work hard and be eager to learn.

It was evident that at PolyOne I would be able leverage the skills I had from my prior work experiences and apply them to PolyOne’s business, and utilize the summer with them to learn so much about a business I knew nothing about. I’d also have a solid support system between my mentor, my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Buddy, my Manager, and my project sponsors.

When my internship started my goal was to work on a variety of projects, so I could understand how the business works and apply the concepts we were learning in class into a real-world setting. My first week I dove deep into understanding my project in Environmental Health and Safety, and then asked for side projects from different leaders in different business units so that I could see how one unit impacts another. I volunteered myself for the quick hit projects that didn’t take much time, but still were at the bottom of someone’s to do list. Throughout this summer, I have gotten to work on meaningful projects that will actually make an impact on the business. By putting myself out there, I have been able to network with people outside of my department and have gained a vast understanding of the business and the industry, and what makes it work. With just a couple of weeks left in my internship, I can confidently say that by putting myself through situations that were outside my comfort zone, I have been able to develop skills that I can build upon when I am back at school, that will make me a more well-rounded individual in any industry I end up going into .

Finding your “ideal internship” isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of researching, applying, and risk taking. At the start of our weekly one-on-ones, my manager always asks, “Are you busy enough to be happy?” And for me, the ideal internship is just that: keeping you busy so that you are engaged, and excited and interested in learning more (At the same time, you should also utilize your summer to explore the city you’re in to see if you would like to live there full time—it’s important to work hard during your internship, but it’s equally as important to make the most of your experience and also have some fun along the way.) It’s crucial that you get a say in what you want to get out of your experience and that your goals for the summer are being supported. You should have the freedom to explore different roles and departments and meet with people outside of your team to gauge what the company is like. And finally, you should feel empowered that your intern experience will help you grow into a stronger leader so that you can succeed in all your future endeavors.

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