I grew up in France where I studied mechanical engineering. In 2008, I moved to the US to start my engineering career and decided to settle in the DMV. Short on money during my first 6-month internship, I took on 3 part-time jobs to make ends meet: sales associate at Abercrombie & Fitch on weeknights, busboy at a French restaurant, and client manager at my uncle’s nail shop on weekends. Eventually, I was offered and took on a full-time engineering position at the Air-conditioning Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI), a leading trade association based in Arlington, VA, where I would stay for 8 years.
I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with AHRI. The job gave me the chance to hone my soft skills and branch into areas outside of engineering. My first year on the job, I focused on developing my communication skills and built the foundation for what will be a blooming management career at AHRI. I was eager to learn and driven to pursue a teenage dream: to study in the United States. So, when the opportunity arose in 2009, I took advantage of AHRI’s continuing education program and applied to the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. I must admit those were stressful times. My English wasn’t that great. GMAT studies were driving me crazy and I wasn’t sure whether I would make it to the application deadline because of paperwork issues with my previous school in France. I ultimately got accepted and started my MBA at the Carey DC Campus in January 2010 where I would stay until my graduation in May 2012.
The very first day of class, I realized that studying in the US was anything but similar to France. I was impressed by the strong emphasis on engaging students. Classes were not just 2-hour blocks where the professor would read from a textbook, but rather positive and fruitful exchanges between students who would debate different points of view and opinions. I was also struck by how “business with humanity in mind” was much more than just a tagline. During the 2 years at Carey, there was never a time when I thought the school was trying to turn me into a corporate shark. Of all the business schools out there, I really feel that Carey is different. The professors, the students, and the entire curriculum are focused on making a positive contribution to the world.
I found my calling during a Project Management class taught by Professor David A. Vargas. The class focused on teaching the basic principles of project management and prepared students to pursue project management professional certifications. I was impressed by the content of the class and the energy of Prof. Vargas. As an engineer, I was very much focused on processes. The class allowed me to finally put a framework to project management activities and organize it in a clear and consistent fashion.
During my time at Carey and after graduating, I was promoted several times at AHRI and saw my role change gradually. My focus shifted from engineering and daily operations to management and project oversight. That’s when I decided to pursue my new-found passion and take my learnings to the next level. I became a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) in 2013 and immediately studied to pass their Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. Excited with the accomplishment and craving to learn more about project management, I embarked on a journey to achieve PMI’s Program Management Professional certification (PgMP), which is reserved only to senior-level practitioners placed at the forefront of advancing organizations’ strategic goals, and which only 1,750 individuals have achieved worldwide. After months of studies, I successfully passed the exam in February 2015.
There is no doubt I owe part of my success to the rigorous and intense learning process I went through at Carey. Carey set me up for success. Throughout my 2.5 years, I had to manage my time efficiently and balance priorities to complete time sensitive assignments and constantly learn new things. What Carey triggered is an insatiable desire to learn more, which I know will continue to guide me through the rest of my career.
After 2 more years at AHRI where I was ultimately named Program Director, I decided to take a big leap: start my own consulting business focused on project management and strategic planning. Project management is one of the most underrated tools to execute big-picture business strategies. Most people think project management is limited to technology projects; the reality is that companies who fully integrate project management at the core of their business experience stronger performance. There is nothing more powerful in business than a flawless project execution that is in full alignment with a carefully crafted strategy. I saw an opportunity: by helping companies refocus on important strategic objectives and driving project alignment and execution, I could tap into the infinite potential of project management to help them improve their bottom-line.
That’s why I created NeuStrat&PM in March 2017 with a mission to help clients gain a competitive edge by delivering outstanding services and unleashing the hidden potential that exists within their projects. NeuStrat&PM is a boutique business strategy and project management consulting firm that provides expertise and comprehensive services in project and program management, project portfolio management, process improvement, strategy formulation and strategic planning.
Although fairly new to entrepreneurship, I have already noticed some stark differences when compared to my previous 9-5 engagements:
- Flexibility is a double-edged sword. Yes, you can work whenever, on whatever project, and wherever you want to. However, nobody is going to check if work is getting done or if your output is any good. You need to be self-driven and manage your time efficiently to be as productive as possible. The first days were hard because I would lose focus and get distracted. It took me a good week to find my balance and get accustomed to this new routine.
- You’re the only person in charge. If you’re working for an established company, you can enjoy the benefits of an entire structure and a team to back you up. When you start your own business, you are a one-man band. Everything falls on your lap and that one topic not falling within your area of expertise is not an excuse any longer. The upside is that you are constantly learning. It’s only been a few weeks and I already can’t tell you how many times my Google search started with “how-to.” It’s a pretty unique experience to be in charge of everything. You have to be organized, detailed-oriented, aware of deadlines, and resourceful. Most important, you need to be able to shift focus constantly. You have so many concurrently running projects that you can’t afford to focus on just one and neglect the others. This is where my project management and business school experience is paying off. Being able to not just manage multiple tasks efficiently but also have at least a little bit of background in the areas I’m diving into has been extremely helpful. Having gone through Carey’s comprehensive curriculum is a blessing. I can’t imagine what it would have been like had I dived into marketing, business development or accounting without a little bit of knowledge. Carey really covered a lot of grounds in terms of business and entrepreneurship.
- You need a vision. Not just for your long-term objectives but short-term as well. As you start your business, you will be tempted to do everything and anything. You need to be able to carefully prioritize your tasks accordingly to what you are trying to achieve that particular week and remove the activities that are not adding value. The real test is “How is this going to help me achieve my weekly goals?” Your to-do list is constantly expanding and you need to be prepared. If you’re like me and you like when everything is crossed-off, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of frustration. The key is to iron out the activities that are essential from the ones you can delay.
- Get used to the fact that most of your business development activities are unpaid. You don’t get paid for most of the work you perform and you need to get accustomed to that. Most important, you need to balance out these activities with the work that is actually billable. Sometimes, I would get so excited about developing content or networking to capture new clients that I would forget that I need to have at least some billable hours for the week to keep the lights on.
- Lastly, your network is your greatest asset. Whether it’s leads, informational conversations, referral requests, getting a second opinion, or just getting some help in areas you don’t have expertise in, your connections can make a hell of a difference. I’m so thankful for the support I’ve received, whether from friends, family, Carey alumni and staff or industry connections. People are legitimately excited about the steps I’m taking and have been extremely supportive along the way. It gives me so much strength and pushes me to do more every day.
I’m excited about the future of my company and how it can help me achieve my long-term goals. My dream is to grow NeuStrat&PM enough to be able to fund and create a non-profit that will focus on education in rural parts of Vietnam, which is where part of my family is from. I hope NeuStrat&PM will get me there so I can truly live by the Carey motto: “Business with Humanity in Mind.”
Interested in learning more? Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.