Saloni Desai

Manager, Corporate Sustainability at ERM

Saloni Desai’s time in the online MBA program from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School helped shift her career trajectory.

Saloni, who was an entrepreneur in the conscious interior design and responsible manufacturing space, initially chose MBA@UNC for the program’s flexibility, which afforded her the opportunity to continue thriving in her career and apply the education to her businesses in real time. That career, however, would soon change course.

An Inspired Career Shift

As Saloni worked through the first year of her program, she started talking to individuals in UNC’s Ackerman Center for Excellence in Sustainability (ACES) about the intersection of manufacturing/supply chain and sustainability. These conversations sparked important discussions within her MBA program. Following an introduction to an alum who made a major career switch to sustainability, Saloni was eventually offered a part-time position with a boutique sustainability consulting firm during her second year.

“I wanted to have a real impact on how we utilize our resources. Having the opportunity to translate this passion into work experience helped me stand out as a candidate for the career pivot post-graduation.”

Saloni’s undergraduate degree was in industrial engineering, so while she was well-versed in specialized mathematics, and social and physical sciences, she didn’t get much academic exposure to business principles or sustainability strategies. Working with UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty, Saloni focused on these topics in her elective year of the program. The coursework gave her the foundational knowledge to analyze complex sustainability challenges through a strategic business lens.

“Working in the sustainability consulting field is more than just understanding the sustainability challenges of a specific industry; it’s about helping clients across diverse sectors navigate shared sustainability objectives and commitments that influence both their business and the broader global ecosystem. Having an MBA helps me effectively communicate these concepts to clients and think of outside-the-box solutions.”

Faculty Support and Numerous Resources

UNC faculty directly contributed to Saloni’s professional development. In addition to her conversations with staff members at ACES, she took advantage of her professors’ “open-door” policy to engage beyond classroom topics. These discussions helped her to refine her career goals.

“I was going into the sustainability field as a novice and didn’t know where to start. These conversations helped me become more intentional and detailed in my approach to examining my goals.”

Additionally, Saloni worked with a dedicated career coach from the Career & Leadership team to perfect her profile for job applications, master the LinkedIn algorithm, prepare for interviews, and negotiate job offers. Now that she’s completed the program, her career coach continues to mentor her.

Saloni combined the support of faculty and advisors with extracurricular opportunities to make her time in the MBA@UNC program a well-rounded experience. She served as a student advisory board member and student ambassador, and joined prominent UNC initiatives such as Net Impact Club and the 100 Women initiative.

“If anyone wants to get involved with the school’s extracurriculars, all they have to do is ask—there are so many options available to all students based on their interests.”

Immersive Experiences

Saloni was also involved in several of the MBA program’s immersive in-person experiences, including international exchange programs and on-campus courses at UNC Kenan-Flagler. For example, she participated in three Doing Business In (DBI) courses, which give students the opportunity to study abroad at one of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s exchange partner schools.

During her two years in the online MBA program, she traveled to Finland, Italy, and the UK as part of the DBI experience.

One of Saloni’s favorite experiences was in Rome, where she and her cohort worked with Prada to ideate the future of a sustainable supply chain and customer-focused retail experiences. They visited the Prada production facility, talked to key executives, and explored how the company can better align its branding by emphasizing circular economy efforts, redefining the omnichannel retail approach, evolving the customer-driven brand space, and reiterating Prada Group’s sustainability efforts as a luxury retailer.

“The overall experience facilitated a deeper understanding of global business dynamics and cultural diversity, which I’m very passionate about. I came home from each DBI inspired about innovation, sustainability, and entrepreneurship.”

Lasting Connections

Saloni didn’t just take advantage of the in-person networking opportunities in other countries—she helped organize some closer to home. After graduating, she teamed up with a group of MBA alums and organized a reunion in Chicago to stay in touch. They’re hoping to make it an annual event open to all alumni from different cohorts to come together and expand their network.

“What surprised me most were the lifelong friendships I made through the MBA program. Some of my former classmates are my closest friends now who have stood by me through thick and thin, sharing countless memories and supporting each other in every phase of life.”

Saloni added that these friendships were (and still are) deeply fulfilling—on a personal and professional level. These connections fostered a dynamic learning environment in and out of the classroom and encouraged her to pursue all her life passions.

“The conversations I’ve had with classmates were crucial in helping me figure out where I wanted to go in my career. I was collaborating on a daily basis with insightful individuals from various professional backgrounds, which gave me a really fresh perspective. I’m proud to be a UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA graduate. Go Heels!”

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