Q&A with former WBC Fellow Rachana Sharma, KPMG
Nominated by their employers, Fellows work at WBC and lead initiatives to drive growth throughout the region
Rachana Sharma participated in World Business Chicago’s (WBC) Fellowship program from October 2014 – March 2015. During her Fellowship, she led initiatives to strengthen Chicago’s position as an advanced manufacturing hub. She acquired significant grant funding, expanded workforce training programs, and contributed to the structure of the 1000 Jobs Campaign. Rachana brought more than 10 years of experience working in various strategic roles within the Advisory Management Consulting Practice of KPMG. Rachana has a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
WBC’s Fellowship program offers professional development opportunities for prominent mid-level executives. Nominated by their employers, Fellows work at WBC for 4-6 months and lead initiatives to drive growth throughout the region. Fellows contribute to initiatives that align with their experience and areas of interest, build lasting relationships with leaders in the public and private sectors, and directly impact Chicago’s future. After their time at WBC, Fellows join the Fellow Alumni Network, a group dedicated to Chicago’s continued economic growth.To date, WBC has hosted 44 Fellows from 28 companies.
WBC is currently accepting applications for the next round of Fellows. For more information, visit worldbusinesschicago.com/fellowships/.
QUESTION: How did you benefit from your WBC Fellowship experience?
ANSWER: My Fellowship gave me an opportunity to observe experienced leaders such as Jeff Malehorn, Michael Sacks, Glenn Tilton and Steve Koch up close as they defined key issues, collected facts and data, and made informed decisions.
Q: How did your company benefit from your affiliation with WBC?
A: KPMG hosted multiple WBC events which brought awareness of various services that KPMG offers in advisory, tax and audit. One such event was the Manufacturing Advisory Council where KPMG got an opportunity to showcase our research and point of view on global manufacturing trends.
Q: Describe your experience overall all while in the program including non-project work like VIP meet & greets, outings, and networking opportunities.
A: As a Fellow, I had the opportunity to meet with various leaders in the economic development space like Deb DeHaas from Deloitte, David Vitale from Chicago Public Schools, Zach Kaplan from Inventables as well as leaders from the manufacturing industry like Steve Kase, Jim Nelson and Steve Kersten. Listening to leaders talk about their journey, their failures, and their successes was very inspiring to say the least. It helped bring clarity of thought as I charted my own path forward not just from a professional standpoint but also from a personal perspective. I was able to understand the importance of being a well-rounded leader who is recognized for their impact to the public and private enterprise.
Q: What were your main responsibilities while working on The Plan for Economic Growth & Jobs initiatives during your Fellowship?
A: My Fellowship project included a six month long program within the manufacturing strategy, where I worked with city volunteers, not-for-profit community based organizations and government-run workforce organizations to create employment opportunities and cultivate strategic talent to boost manufacturing jobs in Chicago.
Q: How do you feel you made a difference? What were your biggest accomplishments while at WBC?
A: I was able to bring my consulting experience in Talent Management and Project Management to help organize and structure the 1000 Jobs program. In partnership with the WBC manufacturing strategy team, I wrote grant proposals which led to the WBC team’s obtainment of multiple grants. These funds help train community-based organizations and connect Chicagoans to careers in manufacturing.
I also put forth a proposal to start an Auxiliary Board at WBC, which is currently under consideration.
Q: How did your experience impact your professional development? (Including what were your biggest challenges and what did you learn from them?)
A: One of my biggest challenges was speaking on the phone and introducing myself to people I had never met before. My Fellowship project pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and interact with different stakeholders and bring them together to work towards a common goal.
My Fellowship made me confident leader and helped me recognize my abilities to adapt to changing situations and influence diverse groups of stakeholders to align their efforts.
Q: What was a surprise for you?
A: I had a brief opportunity to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and introduce myself to him. In my introduction I mentioned I was a fellow at World Business Chicago and was working on the 1000 Jobs campaign. Mayor Emanuel recognized the program I was working on and further inquired about the program’s progress. I was surprised to know that the Mayor was so well informed regarding WBC’s programs and progress. I realized the impact WBC is making on the economic development of Chicago and how important it was to the City.
Q: What are your observations on Chicago’s collaborative culture after working at WBC?
A: Interacting with various leaders in Chicago made me realize that to be a leader in the city of Chicago you have to be well rounded and give back to the city and community. Most of the leaders in the city are well-versed and involved in various economic development initiatives across the city. As a city, we are very diverse in our economic investments and the leaders – even though competitors in their industries- come together and collaborate to invest in Chicago.
Q: What type of individual would most benefit from this Fellowship program?
A: A person with a high level of creativity, flexibility and overall leadership with an ability to assert influence to bring diverse stakeholders together for a common cause. To make the most of the WBC Fellowship, you have to be driven, passionate and patient and heavily rely on collaboration and teamwork from various organizations with diverse interests and priorities.
Q: Any advice to future Fellows?
A: If you are passionate about making a difference and influencing the economic development of your city, I strongly encourage you to apply for the WBC Fellowship. Even though there are challenges, you get an opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds and build lasting friendships.
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