Puja Verma

Rice MBA Full Time Class of 2012

Puja Verma ’12 has worked in a range of industries: consulting, investment banking, and most recently, food service and hospitality. While managing Kiran’s, her family’s restaurant, she felt that business school was necessary to decide the next step in her career. The ability to attend business school while continuing to help her family grow the business in Houston was important to Puja, and the Rice MBA was a good fit. “What I want to do for the restaurant, I can most likely accomplish without being there full time, yet still have a meaningful and significant impact for the business,” says Puja, who plans to help her mother, the executive chef of Kiran’s, publish a cookbook, bottle her soups and sauces, and become a judge on Top Chef.

Before she began her Rice MBA journey, she had nurtured another interest: politics. Puja was inspired by the momentum and energy of President Obama’s campaign. Her admiration grew when she heard that the Obamas encouraged everyone to think of the White House as the people’s White House. “That was exciting to hear,” says Puja. “I admired how open-minded he was.” Could there be a way for Puja to work with the Obama administration while pursuing her MBA?

The Career Management Center at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business encourages Rice MBA candidates to think early about the internship positions for which they will apply. “I didn’t know what to consider,” says Puja. “I knew I had only one summer to do something different.” She began searching whitehouse.gov for opportunities, and applied for two internships, one as a White House intern, and also for the Council on Environmental Quality; she was awarded an internship with the latter. The Council on Environmental Quality advises President Obama on sustainable initiatives and works with other federal offices that coordinate policy for environmental impact. Puja will research and draft policy in the Office for Sustainability in Federal Government, which looks at how the administration is implementing its own environmental efforts, such as installing solar panels in the roof of the White House.

Puja is no stranger to D.C. While in college at UT Austin, she took a class there to fulfill a government course requirement, and obtained an internship with former Congressman Bill Archer, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. It was during this internship that Puja began to see government in a different light. She was impressed by the strategy involved for each event, and she became aware of the level of support that legislative assistants offer to create a bill. She also saw firsthand how responsive the representatives are to their constituents.

Although working in finance is what she enjoys the most, Puja is open to taking what she has learned about sustainability initiatives and forging new opportunities back home in Houston, the energy capital of the world. “I’m very interested in helping businesses understand why it makes financial sense to have environmentally sensitive policies,” Puja says.

“The Rice MBA has been incredibly fulfilling,” says Puja. She has been impressed with the level of diversity among her classmates, whom she sees as lifelong friends. She names Utpal Dholakia (marketing), Brian Rountree (accounting), and Kim Kimmey (communications) as some of the faculty who have greatly inspired her.

Puja notes that taking part in all the extras, like club activities and international class trips, adds immeasurable value to the Rice MBA experience. She recently traveled to South America over the winter break with other Rice MBAs, stopping in Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. She describes the experience as mind-blowing. “I really enjoyed the class visits [to South American business schools]. The faculty was awesome.” Her favorite part of the trip? “There was a certain energy in Rio de Janeiro that overwhelms you; it’s very intriguing and exciting,” says Puja. “Everyone was walking around in swimsuits in December! What’s not to love?” Puja states that the entire city seemed to be on the same page when it came to energy conservation. For example, in the hotel, she noticed that the lights on the floor are activated when people step off the elevator, and the lights in the rooms turn off based on the card reader. “That’s something that could be implemented here,” says Puja. “This so-called emerging market had much better environmental initiatives than we do.”

What’s next for Puja? The White House internship this summer will give her an idea of which path to pursue. After receiving her Rice MBA, will she go back to the family business, or investment banking, her true passion? Will she work on Obama’s reelection campaign? Puja’s future is bright with possibility.