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Key Practice Area - Leadership Development - Ten Lessons from a Career in EHS
Key Practice Area: Leadership Development

Ten Lessons from a Career in EHS

April 2011

Starting out in your career and looking for advice from an experienced source? Learn which attributes you should cultivate with this article by Mario Varela, Director of Corporate EHS for APP Pharmaceuticals.


In this article, Mario Varela, Director of Corporate EHS for APP Pharmaceuticals, shares his experiences and advice for rising EHS professionals


Ten Lessons from a Career in EHS

By Mario Varela

When I was a teenager, my dad used to say to me: "I wish I knew what I know now when I was your age.”I remember I questioned him about why he said that the first time I heard it. He replied, "because had I known it, I would never have made the mistakes I’ve made.”

He then explained that when we’re young, we feel invincible and all-knowing. And despite the best advice of our elders, we often discount their experiences because we sometimes feel as though they’re old-fashioned and stuck in the past. Instead, we prefer to learn by trial and error.

At the risk of sounding like my dad, I would like to share with young professionals my career advice as they enter the working world, based on what I’ve learned from my own experiences.

  1. Never stop learning because the minute you do so you will be left behind so quickly that you may not even realize what happened. The business world is like a runaway train, fast-paced and moving full-speed ahead, including during harsh economic times like our current recession. And although we can’t ever get be the "true know-it-alls,” we have to give it our best effort to stay current and develop our knowledge to stay abreast. The EHS field is too broad, there is ample opportunity to learn something new almost every day. Look for professional development opportunities.
  2. What you learned in theory in college and what you’ll find in practice in the real world are more than likely two very different things. Thus, keep an open mind and don’t take anything or anyone for granted. Seek advice and to learn from others who are more experienced, at all levels.
  3. Get involved with professional organizations like NAEM, ASSE, and the like. You will meet terrific people, find new friends, and will network with, and learn from others who have been in your shoes already.
  4. Stay true to yourself and your core beliefs. I am a firm believer that "it is not what you say but how you say it” that will make the difference for you in what you are trying to achieve. You will encounter difficult people in your career with whom you will have to work: Respect them and give them the forum to express their ideas, opinions and beliefs. If they are wrong, then it is up to you to win them over, but do it with kindness and integrity – show them the right way, offer plausible solutions; don’t just focus on a problem and issue ultimatums, or worse yet, don’t threat or provide senseless words or citations from a book. You would be surprised how smart people are, regardless of their position within the company, from the shop floor level up. This is necessary at any level in your career but especially when you are in a position of authority, you do not have to demean or threaten people in order to gain their support, approval, or get them to act in a certain way. Kindness, respect, trust, and integrity will gain you the credibility to win them over.
  5. Be a team player, even if you’re in a role as an individual contributor. At the end of the day, everyone in your company is on the same boat as you are.
  6. Be loyal to your company, its employees, and your immediate colleagues. Be open, honest, share information for the greater good of the team, and don’t work with hidden agendas. When you help others succeed, you succeed too, and it shows your leadership, camaraderie and confidence.
  7. Be helpful and serviceable to others; remember that everyone that comes to your doorstep is your customer. Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something, just reassure the inquiring party that you will research the issue and get back to them with an answer. This buys you credibility and makes you more approachable in the eyes of others. Remember that still today many people outside of EHS see us as cops, nerds, alarmists or that we think we walk on water and know it all. These are opportunities to change that misconception at all levels.
  8. Learn the business language of dollars and cents so you can justify your plans and projects not only from an EHS "nice to do,” "the right thing to do”, or regulatory compliance standpoint, but also from a business standpoint (return on investment, Payback, economic analysis, pros and cons, etc.).
  9. Be down to earth, personable and humble.
  10. Be truthful and trustworthy – don’t play political games to get on others’ good graces, and never step on other people to get to where you want, earn it with hard work and dedication instead.

About the Author
Mario A. Varela is the Director of Corporate EHS for APP Pharmaceuticals, LLC, a company of the Fresenius Kabi Group. Prior to APP, Mario worked for the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. for more than 12 years in operations and corporate levels, domestically and internationally.

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