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Career Notes- Sita Sonty: Global growth, experience, and leadership.

Join us for our first career notes episode where we learn about Sita Sonty's incredible career from diplomat to space consultant.





Our guest is S. Sita Sonty, Partner, Associate Director and Global Space Lead for Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Sita joins us to discuss her career trajectory from her global experiences.

You can follow Sita on LinkedIn and at Boston Consulting Group’s website.

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>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Career Notes. In the space industry, there is space for everyone, no matter their background. On Career Notes, we explore what a career in the industry can be. And if you want more of this sort of content, please send us a message at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in our show notes to let us know what you think. We would love to hear from you. Now today on Career Notes, we hear from Sita Sonty, former executive of Human Spaceflight at SpaceX and partner at the Boston Consulting Group. Mother, leader, entrepreneur. Enjoy.

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>> Sita Sonty: This is Sita Sonty, partner and associate director and global commercial space lead for Boston Consulting Group. I wanted to be a journalist. And born in the US in Boston, my sister and I were born at this hospital called St. Margaret's, which doesn't exist anymore. But it's in Dorchester, in south. And my father, actually, he and my mother had immigrated from India in '75. And then when I was in grade school, my family moved to India to Hyderabad. And, you know, Hyderabad was second hometown for us in a way. And so I actually went to grade school and part of middle school in India and then we came back to the Chicago area. I think a lot of travel and a lot of overseas living and kind of having early experiences as an expat, particularly during education, made me see the world sort of through many different lenses, right. Like as a kid, if you see what I would describe as the full scope of economic development or economic well-being on an individual and family-by-family basis, if you experience it yourself -- so, for example, the kind of housing that we had in the US was fundamentally different from the kind of housing that we had in the early '90s in India. Interestingly, my parents were very smart to invest in a really strong cultural education. Meaning performing arts and sort of a deep understanding of world history. You know, it meant we went to a Catholic school in the burbs of Chicago. We went to an all-girls all-Muslim school, even though we're Hindu, in Hyderabad. And then we came back to Chicago public school system. But all along the way, there was a strong investment in studying classical music and classical dance, both Western and India. And the history of performing arts in India is not only so rich, but it goes back literally centuries. You know, I think that investment was certainly a great interest to the degree that, when I was graduating college, I'd already had a number of years as a professional South India classical dancer under my belt as a child. And so I could just move back to India and gone to an academy and taught and performed at festivals worldwide, or I could have gone into foreign policy. I try to tell people to demystify things a bit. Because I find quite often when people talk about their careers, they talk about, you know, yes, we had great opportunities, but some of it is really luck. And in my case, it was. I had applied to six master's degree programs at the top international relations schools in the world. I got rejected by five of them. And that's when I was facing this binary choice, where, okay, if I don't get into the sixth school, then I'm going to move back to India and I'm going to perform for the ostensible future. And I got admitted to the Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies. So I was able in that phase and that university environment here in DC, actually, to really have a blend of the humanities, the writing, the research, and kind of grounding in foreign policy tools both from a United States but really from a global perspective. Concurrent with absolutely challenging, immense analytical rigor, highly-demanding, quantitative curricula on the economics and finance side at Hopkins. One of the real benefits of and challenges in a good way of, you know, leading commercial space as a topic globally for Boston Consulting Group means that our client base and our stakeholders and our network and really our thought partners in the aerospace and defense domain are all around the world. I'm, you know, interfacing with our contacts, colleagues, and clients in Europe or the Middle East early, early morning hours, before I get up and get the kids to their respective schools, and/or engaging with clients throughout the day or actually, you know, face to face when it's on site, largely remotely depending upon what travel requirements are necessary for that given week. And then at the end of the day, same thing, pick up life but then also evening engagements. One observation I'll offer is, you know, business has really come back to not only the usual, but I would almost say above and beyond. How it applies I think to the space economy is, you know, the space economy saw a real uptake in investment from about two years ago. And that uptick in investment has sort of, let's say, gently plateaued in certain segments. But the curiosity and the interest in what some of the longer-term plays can be in the space economy is still there. That is what I think inspires a lot of the strategy questions that are being asked by a lot of our stakeholders from finance to government agencies and to the actual providers themselves. I'm the beneficiary of my first boss, the late, great former Secretary of State, Colin Powell. And at a time in the Foreign Service where he had just started the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative (or DRI). That wasn't just a method of amplifying and deepening the workforce. But part of our instantiation into the diplomatic corps was also the most rigorous leadership training ever. Because, as you can imagine as a diplomat, it's situational leadership to the nth power. You're not only being expected to demonstrate excellent communication skills, intellectual skills, interpersonal skills, substantive knowledge, analytical skills, with a diverse group of your own cohort, but you're also expected to do that in a foreign language, in a foreign country, maybe far away from your family, maybe where your phone line is routinely cut off. Which was the case for me in Libya. There was enough of those pressures, which again, demand a heightened level of situational leadership and ability to apply those skills in real time. I'd say a lot of the interesting observations I've had within the aerospace industry in terms of how different generations are working. The ability to lead different generations based on their sort of dominant norms of workplace behavior is essentially a central tenet of situational leadership. And I'm not saying I'm good at it. I will say I've been really well-educated, and I try to learn those principles as often as I can. There are certain situations where you can have adversity in your immediate workplace, you can have adversity in your general environment, right. On a professional level, I think it means always identifying who is in that inner circle of trust and really cultivating that trust among people who make it there. On a personal level, I practice yoga regularly. I've been an ashtanga yoga practitioner for decades, actually. In India, that's actually what you might call here in America "PE." And so a combination of the yoga practice and, you know, just cuddling with my kids can often be a really ideal method of addressing adversity. So I say these things just to ground us in reality, because we're all human. 3 Be prepared, be agile, be fast. And by agile, I mean develop some acumen to not only analyze information that's put before you, both quantitative and qualitative, quickly, but also be prepared to make some decisions quickly. Because the commercial space industry moves fast. Even though the actual timeline to hit milestones along the technology readiness levels of space manufacturing hardware and software, etcetera, can be longer-term time frames, the decision-making requirements are pretty agile. And that's what I think has set a new norm for, you know, commercial space providers but also the thought partners to them. I think having a strong sense of ethics or a strong sense of what humanistic values I bring to this industry is really important. Because I find quite often, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by, again, the analysis required, the engineering required, the financial investment required, the time investment required, to be a successful leader in the domain. But if you can ground it in some kind of personal values and, as I said, ethics, then you'll always have an inner compass. I would be remiss if I didn't state how important that has been for me throughout the various stages of my career, especially going from government to industry and through the various segments of space industry. Because Lord knows it's not often talked about, you know, how important ethics are. Identify what problem you want to solve, but then develop a way to talk about why you're solving that problem for a community that's different than you. So there's sort of a diversity component to this, but it's more than just saying, think diversely. It's actually, exercise critical thinking to the degree that whatever problem you're trying to solve as a leader in commercial space, try to solve a problem that's greater than you and what the people you know and the world that you're used to. Because if you apply that critical thinking, it actually can engender some of that global perspective that I lean on so much, where I'm so glad that I was exposed to the real-life problems of not having water, of not having food, of not having shelter, of not having access to broadband Internet so that I can have an effective education, of not having access to real-time data transmission so that if there is a medical emergency in a remote location in an underdeveloped economy, you may actually lose lives as a consequence of that lack of resourcing, right. People in commercial space today talk so much about, well, what are the use cases; what's the commercial use cases for which I could develop this technology and generate more revenue? And that's great and it's valid. But if you can anchor those use cases in real-life examples of people who are so unlike you, then it is incredibly powerful when you actually want to talk about delivering a solution that helps a diverse community. My number one job is actually being a single mom to two teenagers. And it is by far the hardest and the most rewarding job. So everything else pales in comparison. And yet, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge how much impact the ones whom I trust and really stayed with me throughout mean to me as part of that journey. Because it's enabled me to actually be a better mother. And so I sort of leave behind this idea of ambition is great and having a really successful and rewarding career is great. It's great to have that aspiration. But if our roles and our professional environments which engender and demand so much productivity and, you know, great analysis and great skills and all of this, if those environments are actually enabling us to be better to ourselves and our families, then you know that you've hit the jackpot.

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