Driving Leadership Excellence Through Sustainability

Kogod MS in sustainability management alumna Noor Coenen shares how she’s channeled her passion for people into business—and why sustainability was an ideal path to explore the global business world.

Critical issues like climate change and food insecurity have elevated sustainability as a top-of-mind practice in today’s global business world. Sustainability is now an essential part of business operations—and companies across the globe have followed suit.

A recent KPMG survey shows 80 percent of leading companies worldwide now report on sustainability, with 90 percent of executives noting the topic as necessary. Nearly one-third of Europe’s largest listed corporations have pledged to reach net zero by 2050.

Sustainability’s global and cross-sector reach is one key reason recent Kogod graduate Noor Coenen decided to pursue a master’s degree in sustainability management.

“It’s also a growing industry. If businesses haven’t looked at it yet, they’ll need to in the next couple years. Sustainability involves every single business and person within each business,” says Coenen

Coenen, a student-athlete who earned her BA in psychology at AU, was also drawn to sustainability as a way to explore the broader business world. As a global corporate practice, sustainability management allowed Coenen to examine different aspects of business—from supply chain management to finance.

Pursuing business also allowed Coenen to study one of her deepest passions: people. As a psychology major—and captain of AU’s field hockey team—she loved learning why people think and behave in certain ways. For Coenen, business is a way to apply her undergraduate studies in a professional, team-oriented setting.

“Studying business has helped hone my knowledge of psychology because everything is people-oriented,” says Coenen.

Kogod professor Mark Clark’s course, Leading High-Performance Teams, one of Coenen’s undergraduate electives, was particularly impactful. In Clark’s class, students learn leadership techniques for motivating and managing teams, then lead a hands-on project examining a real-life business team. Coenen chose to interview AU’s volleyball team coaches, evaluating the team’s values and what ultimately drives their success.

She says the course helped her translate principles from the classroom to the field, only strengthening her leadership in both business and athletics.

I'm a huge team player. I was constantly relating what I learned in class back to field hockey and asking how I could improve my team. Putting leadership principles into practice immediately was impactful.”

Field hockey was an ideal leadership training ground for Coenen. During Coenen’s tenure, the team consisted of nearly 30 girls between the ages of 18 and 24, one-third of whom were international students. As team captain, Coenen had to traverse cultural, familial, and life stage differences to motivate and unite her team around a shared vision. 

“I learned to juggle different people’s personalities and communication styles to get to our end result: winning the game,” she says.  

She draws a direct connection between leadership skills in field hockey and effective management in business—especially in identifying different team members’ strengths.

“I was always expecting the best from everyone, which I think also translates to business,” she says. “What are you good at, what am I good at, how can we work well together? Pinpointing these things on a team can be a huge asset for any company.”

Coenen graduated this May and is now laser-focused on her job hunt in DC. She’s pursuing a field outside of sustainability—Coenen wants to work in management consulting for its team-centered culture and connection to the broader business world—but is excited to apply the sustainability knowledge she gained.

“I want to use what I learned at Kogod in my work,” she says. 

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