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Presidio Graduate School Sustainable MBA Faculty Interview: Audrey Davenport

Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA is home to one of the best MBA programs in Sustainability. We are excited to have our first guest blog post from Stephen Boni at PGS, an interview with Prof. Audrey Davenport.

This week we had the opportunity to speak with Presidio Graduate School professor Audrey Davenport. Davenport comes to Presidio from some of the most well known universities and respected programs in the country; she received her B.A. from Stanford University, MEM from Yale University and her MBA also from Yale University.

One of the most notable things about Presidio professors is that they are not pure academics. They are also working professionals. For instance, Davenport has worked with companies such as Redstone Strategic Group, Google’s Green Business Team and The Nature Conservancy’s Science and Planning Team, and is currently working on the Green Returns Team at Environmental Defense Fund, heading up their partnership with private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis & Roberts.

Interviewer: What is a typical day-in-the-life for you as a sustainability professional and Presidio professor?

Audrey Davenport: Well, I work for a corporate partnership group so I end up doing a lot of different tasks as a part of this work. The reason for this is that sustainability professionals are, in a way, still “carving out” the roles that they can fill at corporations they’re working with so, as a result, I think we have a lot of tasks to perform. I might be doing data analysis one day and then I might write a press release and get on the phone with folks to talk about an expansion plan for the work another day, so there’s a lot of diversity to my responsibilities.

[As a professor] at Presidio, we have a very unique schedule in that we only see each other once a month, so it’s great to see students when we can all be together for what we call “residency” (four days of intensive onsite classroom experience and collaboration).  When we’re not at residency, we try to see each other as often as we can through office hours and I also do regular online lectures. We also spend a lot of time communicating over email and by phone in between residencies. We try to maintain good continuity of conversation in between the times we see each other.

Interviewer: How did you come across Presidio Graduate School?

AD:  Through an alum. An alum of the program happened to be an intern at EDF, and mentioned the school to me. This was while I was teaching at John Hopkins in Washington D.C., but I was looking to move to the Bay area. It was exciting to find a new program and a new school that was in the geography I was moving to, and so he introduced me to a few folks at Presidio a couple of years ago.

I: Why did you choose to teach at Presidio?

AD: It’s a thoroughly unique program and it’s exciting because we are constantly developing the curriculum and our programs to stay current with the rapid shifts we’re seeing in the business world. I went through a very traditional MBA curriculum, and while I think there is a lot of value in that, I also see a tremendous value in adding a very practical modern-day lens - the sustainability lens – as an intrinsic part of our curriculum. I am excited that the school is working hard to set the standard of what that might look like for other institutions. If it becomes part of the DNA of MBA curriculum more broadly, Presidio is really leading the way in terms of modeling future forms and sending change agents into the business community.

I: Why should students get a Presidio degree (what is the value)?

AD: I think students are really offered something very different in comparison to traditional programs. A lot of the core skills and disciplines are definitely something students walk away with, but I also think they walk away from Presidio with the opportunity to have really learned how to be practitioners when they leave. I think that is one of the strengths of the school; I think both the curriculum and the experiential learning work that students do towards the end of their time put them in the position to see things not only from an academic perspective, but also from a practical perspective, and I think that’s really valuable for students who are looking to carve out careers in this relatively new field (sustainability).

They get real hands-on experience and the fact that they have the chance to interact with a lot of professors who are genuine practitioners in the field - I think that’s an incredible strength. It sends students into the workplace with a discipline beyond the coursework.

I: What classes do you teach?

AD:  Principles of Sustainable Management and Sustainability Principles & Frameworks.

I: What is your favorite memory from your time at Presidio?

AD:  I think my favorite thing that I do with my class comes at the end of the semester. This is when my students give their final presentations to a group of Presidio alumni. We have the Presidio alumni pretend to be a mock board/trade association for the company/industries the students are presenting about, and they have to opportunity to ask the students questions and push them on their assumptions.

It’s really great; it’s wonderful to see students rise to the challenge of proposing strategies and defending those strategies to a group of alumni who are all working in the field and are also eager to connect to them, to see what they’re doing and really push them to take their learning to the next level. So it’s great at the end the semester for students to not hear from me, or others on the teaching staff, but for them to hear from their peers and alumni in the industries they are interested in going into. It’s a really nice final interaction for the semester.

I: Where do you see sustainability in 10 years?

AD: That’s a really tough question and I think that, for better or worse, the industry’s not going anywhere. We’ve got job security when it comes to working on sustainability, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. In 10 years’ time I absolutely hope we have national/federal legislation, capital carbon, something that really drives the economy forward when it comes to setting and meeting aggressive goals around carbon emissions and other environmental commitments.

I hope we see a whole new robust economy of people working on innovative solutions and tools and services and products that help us get there. But one of the fun things about this field is that we’re entrepreneurs for the most part trying to figure out how to do things differently. There’s no precedent for this type of work. There’s no right way to get it done, and that’s both really exciting that we are trying to figure it out every single day, and can also be overwhelming and frustrating at times.  It’s part of what makes it truly exciting to work in the field, but we don’t know exactly where it’s heading; it’s changing all the time.

I definitely see a broader interaction with all the sectors going forward, and I think we are already beginning to see barriers break down. The private sector and public sector are working much more closely together. Key stakeholders are much more engaged and involved. I see a kind of collectivism emerging that’s really different than 10 years ago.