Impact Connections: Thoughts from GSLI Alum & Dell ESG Strategy Advisor Allie Napier

Written by Madison Phelan; Edited by Sandi Ruddick

I recently spoke with McCombs alum and current advisor for ESG Strategy, Governance, & Reporting for Dell, Allison Napier. Allie was heavily involved in GSLI events and opportunities during her time as an MBA student at McCombs. She was involved with MIINT, TSIC, and LIFT, showcasing her passion and enthusiasm for learning more and exploring all that the GSLI has to offer. Now working at Dell, she shares how her experiences with the GSLI has prepared her for her career and inspired her to learn more about social impact.

Madison Phelan: Hi, Allie! Thank you so much for joining us today.

Allie Napier: Thank you for having me!

Madison Phelan: You’ve been very involved with the GSLI, and I was wondering if you can give us a little bit of an overview of what you’ve been involved with during your time at UT?

Allie Napier: Yes, I attended many of the events that were hosted by GSLI. I participated in LIFT, the TSIC competition, and I participated in the MIINT competition, as well.

Madison Phelan: That’s wonderful! Can you tell us about your LIFT experience overall and what you learned from your experience?

Allie Napier: Yes, LIFT was really insightful, and I did it in the spring of 2020 with Alamo Drafthouse and a team of students. It was an interesting experience because we were working with a business that was very acutely impacted by the COVID lockdown at that time, so what it started as ended up being something quite different in the end. But, we kind of got a peek behind the curtain to see what crisis management looks like, which we didn’t anticipate going in. I got to work with a group of students from across UT, which I thought was really cool! I did the MBA program, so it kind of got me out of my bubble and brought some unique perspectives that I wouldn’t necessarily have gotten if I had just stayed head-down inside my program.

Madison Phelan: It’s so important to pull from different perspectives! I saw that you started off at Wake Forest as a biology major and then made your way over to Texas with an MBA in McCombs. I was wondering what your path was like in order to get to McCombs and what made you ultimately get your MBA?

Allie Napier: Good question! I started as a biology major and, near the end of my undergrad experience, I realized that the only jobs that I knew of were ones that require you to wear a lab coat. I decided I didn’t want to do that, but I wasn’t entirely sure what else was out there. So, I did a one-year master’s in management program that was for people doing a fifth-year or people coming straight out of school to get some business experience. That’s where I realized–“Eureka, light bulb moment!” — that I can marry my passion for biology and for the environment with business impact. I kind of dipped my toe in the water there, and I went off into the workforce and worked in consulting for food and beverage and manufacturing companies in Atlanta. I then bounced into hospitality, working on an internal sustainability team at Intercontinental Hotels Group, before going back into consulting specifically for hospitality groups and hotel companies. After a few years there, I realized that many of the people I looked up to as mentors had their MBAs or a higher degree. At the time, all the sustainability business-specific programs were just emerging, so I think I was only a few years ahead of those becoming concrete options. I decided on going to get my MBA at school that had great sustainability-related programs and extra-curricular opportunities. I wanted to be able to go back, sharpen my skills, get a lot of input from my classmates’ different perspectives, and learn from world-class professors; that’s what I came back for.

Madison Phelan: When you came to UT, how did you come across the GSLI and its events?

Allie Napier: At orientation I met Madison Gove, and she was part of a first-day presentation stacked with maybe 20 other things that we could get involved in. I lasered in and thought, “That’s what I’m going to be involved in. That’s exactly what I want to do!” I think I walked up to Madison after that and started talking to her and, from then on, I was showing up to everything I could. It definitely aligned perfectly with what I wanted out of my MBA experience.

Madison Phelan: That’s wonderful you found the place you were looking for! Can you tell me what your experience in TSIC was like and the overall story of how you got involved?

Allie Napier: I’ve always been a little bit intimidated by the idea of entrepreneurship and, since Austin is a startup town, I thought I would really miss out if I didn’t at least try to delve into something entrepreneur-related while I was here. I saw the TSIC program come up, and I thought that I’d get involved–I had some good ideas. I had a team put together, so we pulled together a pitch on how to begin managing supply chain systems with a focus on resilience through biodiversity. We pitched it, and we ended up winning the TSIC competition and went on to the national competition, where we earned a head nod with the Moonshot Award. It just was such a great experience — nerve-wracking — but a great experience to get up there and learn how to sell your idea and take feedback and get some insight into how that whole process works.

Allie presented in the 2020 Texas Sustainability Innovation Challenge online.

Madison Phelan: How did TSIC prepare you for that national competition and pitching in general?

Allie Napier: The program itself helped with hosting some great workshops on how to put together an idea and a pitch. I attended all of those, and it was super helpful to have that structure for a formal competition. Having accomplished local judges who would come in and take the time to give you feedback and their opinion on things; the structure and resources that were provided; and, the setup is such that you really want to perform well.

Madison Phelan: You were part of MIINT; what did it entail, and how did those experiences add to your overall experience?

Allie Napier: MIINT was a fantastic program; again, as soon as I heard about it, I knew I wanted to apply. I had been working in sustainability internally and as a consultant for so long, and I knew about stakeholders asking all these questions and wanting all this information; we’d work hard and get it to them and never knew what it was used for or if it actually impacted their investment decisions. Coming into school, I wanted to make a point of standing in the other set of shoes as an investor to see how you assess impact when you’re looking at opportunities. MIINT allowed me to do that–you are able to try on the hat of an investor without any of the risk.I got to get involved in the Austin startup community and interview all of these cool startups and organizations that are working on solving some very real problems and issues in the world. I also got to work directly with the founder of a company that is addressing the environmental issue of zebra mussels in our waterways. I got to compete at a global level with some top-notch schools, and I came away as a winner there–so it was very cool.

Madison Phelan: That’s amazing–you’re so accomplished, especially in all these programs, and you really got a lot out of all of them.

Allie Napie: I got so much out of them, and I also wanted to say, I was a part of a great team in every single one of these projects. Then you get out in the working world, and everything you do is working with people on a team collaboratively, so it’s essential.

Madison Phelan: You’re working at Dell now; I was wondering if you could tell us about your journey and what it is like working at Dell.

Allie Napier: I worked in ESG corporate sustainability before, and when I came back to school, I knew that I wanted to stay with this ESG/sustainability focus — it was my “north star”. I was looking for a new experience, and a lot of these programs helped me shop around different industries. With LIFT, I got to experience the entertainment industry and the startup world, along with a couple of other projects I did in the MBA program in travel and agriculture. I applied to a summer intern program with Dell, thinking I’ll check out the technology sector, and it just kind of stuck. I enjoyed it and had a great summer there, and then they asked me to come back. It’s a much bigger ESG team than I had ever worked in before, and it is cool to have people that are specialized in different areas. In the business, we’ve got people working really hard on our product sustainability; we’ve got people working hard on operational sustainability; and, we’ve got people working hard on diversity, inclusion, impacting the community, and so many other areas. I am sitting on the ESG management office team, which is a central office to organize and collect all the good things that we’re doing so that we can formally report on them through our own company and through all of the rater/ranker organization and frameworks that are so relevant right now.

Madison Phelan: This sounds like you’ve really found a nice sector where you can work with a lot of different kinds of people and really get to grow, especially with such a large company.

Allie Napier: Absolutely, and when I speak with students and they ask what is the most important skill that I need to get into this, I always say being able to influence without authority and work collaboratively. There are so many times where you’re working with people either in different parts of the business or, in the case of supply chain, in different companies, and it’s so important to be able to communicate the importance of what we’re doing and why and how they can start integrating it into their work. Every day I’m talking to people who aren’t directly on my team.

Madison Phelan: Do you ever find yourself noticing that you have used things you’ve learned from either TSIC, LIFT, or MIINT in the course of your job?

Allie Napier: The collaboration and the opportunities to work with people outside of UT through global competitions or through working with startups, along with the various experts that they brought in, was really eye-opening, and I do use that every day and find myself going back and thinking “Oh! I learned a tidbit about that back in the day when I went to a lecture, now I have a jumping off point to learn more.” It also taught me in many ways what I don’t know. When it comes up–because this field is constantly evolving and changing–I have at least heard it, and I can go research or talk to the right people.

Madison Phelan: This field is truly changing and growing day by day!

Allie Napier: Yes, every day.

Madison Phelan: When you look back on your experience, is there a specific moment or a favorite memory from any of your three experiences in GSLI that you can think of?

Allie Napier: There were so many great ones. I think probably my favorite is winning the MIINT competition, just because the team had started in the fall of 2019 and then worked so hard together. Then, a couple of weeks before the finish line, COVID happened and everything shut down. Now, working remotely is the new way of life; but, at the time, we were still trying to figure it out, so the fact that we were able to band together to reach that end goal–and do so successfully–felt like such a huge accomplishment. We were on Zoom celebrating, and we were able to call the startup founder that we had won for; just to see and share his excitement and joy over it was so nice. I think that’s my favorite memory, even though I was alone in my living room; in reality, it just felt like we were so together after having been forced apart by the pandemic.

Allie was a part of the 2020 MIINT team.

Madison Phelan: In terms of people who want to get into the space, is there any other advice you would like to share?

Allie Napier: I am happy to always talk to students. I had many people who were alumni and in the UT network who took the time to talk to me; from my experience, everybody is happy to give a little time to pass it on. So, reach out to your network–most people are happy to chat. This field is changing right now; there’s so much going on. If you even have a little bit of a finger on the pulse of what’s happening, you have a leg up in this space. If you get in the habit of reading up on ESG-related news, that’s super helpful habit. And finally, dive in while you’re a student and get involved in some of these programs. They give you such great experience–not just with the technical things, but also with how to manage and work and make an impact; that would be my advice.

Madison Phelan: That’s wonderful advice I know many students need to hear right now, especially with everything in the workforce changing, roles opening up, and so many different location offerings in terms of hybrid in-person or remote. Thank you so much for your time!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Global Sustainability Leadership Institute

Welcome to Impact Connections, the GSLI’s blog space! We were formerly known as the Social Innovation Initiative.