Where are they now? Rob Whiting

Oct. 21, 2015

Rob Whiting is a former men’s cross country runner who graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and East Asian Studies. He is putting his degree to work as nine months ago he took a job in India with Waste Capital Partners as principal and director of South Asia Operations.

What exactly does your work entail with Waste Capital Partners?
Ultimately, I’m a glorified garbage man. As Principal and Director of South Asia Operations, I’m leading the strategy and operations of Waste Capital Partners’ operating company, Waste Ventures India, on the ground in Hyderabad. Finance and HR aside, what I’m really doing is building the leading environmental waste management company in Southern India. Each day varies and can be filled with anything from riding to our project sites on a dusty government bus to analyze our projects’ composting operations, to presenting to multinationals or state leadership to broker partnerships. We are fortunate to have a great team, and set aside time to keep it personal through activities like team outings or Friday drinks.

What is Waste Capital’s mission?
Waste Capital Partners, through its Indian operating company Waste Ventures India, is a for-profit social enterprise that aims to move India’s solid waste management from models that are 100 percent city-supported, lacking accountability and often corrupt, to ones that democratize responsibility to entrepreneurs and are economically sustainable through environmental waste processing and vending of byproducts.

We focus in two areas. One, small cities (100,000 – 500,000 population), in which we partner with municipalities to process the waste (recycling, composting), and, two, large megacities (currently Hyderabad) where we are currently launching an Urban Waste Management business unit to offer professional garbage services to large apartment complexes and companies as well as a recycling program that will process the waste from the Urban Waste Management service. We are in the process of signing partnership agreements with two multinationals on these.

Why did you decide to take this leap and move across the world?
As my personal goal is to soon establish my own social enterprise in an international context and given my previous time spent abroad, it was less of leap than it may seem, but it is still really hard to move away from family and friends. After nearly two years with Boston Consulting Group in Boston, I started getting this nagging feeling that I needed to be abroad in an entrepreneurial setting. I’d also accrued a lot of skills while at BCG and felt that it was the right time. By roughly the end of my third year, I found myself with a one-way ticket to India.

How challenging/different has this job been since you started?
The job has been quite different and more challenging than what I expected. In terms of differences, I wasn’t hired to lead the company, nor was our company based in Hyderabad at the time (we were in Visakhapatnam), but as it goes in startups, you have to be very flexible and able to pivot quickly. In terms of challenges, there are a lot of frustrations in working in a country that works at a quarter of the speed I’m accustomed to in a corporate US setting, which is especially aggravated when working with government. A week back I spent 9 hours, including four hours in transit, for a meeting that was twice confirmed with a politician, and ended up only getting two minutes of her time. That’s unfortunately fairly typical here.

What is the most fulfilling aspect of this job?
It has to be the livestock — even after 9 months I’m still amused when my auto has to swerve around a pack of goats or buffalo walking through downtown Hyderabad. But actually, what I enjoy the most is that every day we’re creating something, building a business, and one that positively impacts the poor and environment. When I look at career options, I seek opportunities that will let me build skills, create something, or both. BCG was invaluable for the former, and Waste Capital Partners allows me to do both.

Did your time as a student-athlete at Vanderbilt help prepare you for this job?
Certainly. As a student athlete, you learn tenacity. In balancing 20 hours of cross country on top of a full class load and involvement in several organizations as well as having some sort of social life, you have to learn how to multi-task and sometimes operate on a little less sleep. Leading my team here in India, where things always seem to take longer than you expect, there are a lot of similarities.