Sonita Lontoh (B.S. IEOR ’99) has been recognized as one of the Influential Women in the Bay Area by the San Francisco Business Times.
SFBT Influential Women 2023, SONITA LONTOH
In 1999, Sonita Lontoh earned her Bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from UC Berkeley, kickstarting a career that has now thrived for nearly three decades. Marked by a series of notable achievements, including commendations from the White House and the U.S. State Department, her most recent accolade comes from the SF Business Times, recognizing her as one of the most influential figures in the industry. Sonita has held pivotal roles at HP, Siemens, and PG&E and currently serves as a board member at Sunrun and TrueBlue. Lontoh’s expertise in digital transformation, sustainability, cybersecurity, and more, has consistently catalyzed positive change across a wide array of sectors, and her dedication to purpose-driven technology leadership underscores her impact and influence. We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Lontoh to delve into how her time at Berkeley IEOR shaped her remarkable career journey.
Q & A with Sonita Lontoh
What were some key experiences or lessons from your time as an IEOR student at Cal that you feel had a significant impact on your career?
SL: Throughout my career, I’ve been focusing on the intersection of innovation, technology, and new business/business models. I believe my education in IEOR, which I viewed as a combination of mathematics/engineering, optimization, and business, has helped me look at new technology and innovation as a way to better manage risk and opportunity for long-term value creation.
Can you share specific examples of how your advocacy for increasing women’s representation in leadership roles has made an impact in your career or within the organizations you’ve worked for?
SL: I am most proud of my work when it has an impact on society. I’ve been both a mentor and sponsor for many young women, both formally and informally. I’m proud that many of them have gone on to become successful entrepreneurs and professionals who have not only had a an impact on businesses but also positively impacted their communities and greater society.
In your career at the intersection of innovation, technology, and new business models, what emerging trends or developments do you believe will substantially influence the field of IEOR in the coming years?
SL: I think of IEOR as a combination of math/engineering and optimization to help businesses perform better. Many applications of emerging technologies today, such as IoT and AI/ML, are best leveraged to help companies improve their operational efficiencies, better serve their customers, and create the possibilities of new business models and new revenue streams. I believe these new emerging technologies will influence the field of IEOR to not just focus on improving efficiencies and optimization but also to think outside the box of ways how to create new revenue streams from new business models that may not have been thought of previously.
What advice do you have for IEOR students looking to make their mark in the tech and business landscape?
SL: I think the biggest advice I’d give is to focus not just on your passion (what you like), but to think of how you can combine your passion (what you like), with your skills (what you’re good at), and most importantly, your purpose (focusing on areas that are contributing something to society). Over time, I’ve found that true success and happiness is at the intersection of your passion, skills, and purpose.
Could you describe a particularly challenging or pivotal moment in your career and how your IEOR background helped you navigate it successfully?
SL: I think probably early in my career, I was a bit afraid to make mistakes. I wanted to be perfect. In a way, my education at Berkeley and IEOR taught me that making mistakes is one of the essential ingredients of our learning journey. IEOR is about continuous improvements, and the journey is as important as the destination. As I progressed throughout my career, I learned that it’s OK to make mistakes as long as we reflect, learn, and improve from them. When you’re afraid of making mistakes, that means you’re not going outside your comfort zone, which can be the biggest mistake of all.
Below is an excerpt of Sonita’s interview with the San Francisco Business Times:
Influential Women 2023: Sonita Lontoh, Board Director; Advisor, Sunrun Inc., TrueBlue Inc.; Sway Ventures
By Simon Campbell – Special Projects Editor, San Francisco Business Times
Oct 6, 2023
Biggest impact on your life: As a first-generation immigrant from Indonesia, who grew up in a diverse environment with family and friends of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, and who came to the United States alone as a teenager and built a technology career in Silicon Valley, I believe my upbringing and life experiences have enabled me to develop a truly diverse and global perspective. This is especially important in today’s environment, where the ability to appreciate and engage with people from diverse backgrounds enrich the diversity of thoughts essential in enabling companies to better navigate the modern 21st century challenges and opportunities successfully.
Impact of climate change: Throughout my career in innovation, ESG, and digital technology, climate change and sustainability have always been a big part of what I focus on. For example, during my work in smart grid and digital energy at PG&E and Siemens, we focused on how the applications of new technologies to our energy infrastructure would improve energy efficiencies, enable the integration of more renewable and distributed energy resources, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. During my time at HP, we enabled the applications of new 3D printing and digital manufacturing technologies to improve supply chain sustainability through the reduction of materials waste and more efficient production methods.
A common misconception about your work: In many corporate boardrooms today, discussions around Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) are hot topics. However, there are still a lot of misconceptions about ESG. For starters, ESG is not about corporate social responsibility. Rather, ESG is about creating long-term value for shareholders while understanding the material risks and opportunities a company faces while engaging authentically with other stakeholders. Thus, the framework we should use to think about ESG should focus more on understanding the material risks and opportunities for long-term value creation. Once companies understand what ESG factors are the most material and relevant for them, it’s important for companies to integrate these factors into their overall business strategies to create long-term value for shareholders, and other stakeholders.