Jimmy Soni is having a bit of a thrill ride. Then again, Jimmy Soni has had a lot of thrill rides. The twenty-six-year-old alumnus was recently named the new managing editor of The Huffington Post, and he couldn’t have done it without Duke.
Coming off of a year-long stint in the Washington mayor’s office, Soni could sense he was ready for a new adventure. In April 2011, a Duke alum had tipped Soni off that Arianna Huffington was looking for a new chief of staff. Two weeks later, Soni headed to New York and The Huffington Post, and within a year, he was named managing editor. “It’s like being chief of staff for the entire organization—you help people do their work,” Soni says. “If someone wants an extra intern, you help them get that. If someone has an issue or needs more funding, you help them figure that out. And The Huffington Post is expanding internationally, adding new sections, and investing in new tech and innovation, so it’s a fantastic time to help steward those things along. I’m just a small piece of all of that.”
It’s tempting to say that getting there wasn’t easy, but Soni is the kind of person who eats milestone challenges for breakfast and is still hungry. At Duke, Soni managed a robust extracurricular life, chairing the Honor Council, writing for The Chronicle, creating the Duke Political Union, and serving as the vice president of academic affairs for Duke Student Government. Academically, Soni created a Program II curriculum in ethics under the advisement of former director of the Hart Leadership Program Bruce Payne, drawing together history, philosophy, public policy, and economics. “I threw myself into life at Duke,” Soni says. “I used to say, it’s one big buffet, why would I limit myself to the salad bar?”
By the time Soni was ready for dessert, his post-graduation options were already expanding. Soni won a prestigious Mitchell Scholarship and completed an M.A. in politics at Ireland’s University College Cork, before joining McKinsey & Company for two years, where he claims he was “a run-of-the-mill consultant.” Nevertheless, he worked on two particularly exciting projects—the first, a six-month research position with the McKinsey Global Institute in Washington, where he got to see “a 30,000-foot view of the economy,” and the second, a two-month intensive education reform project in Bahrain.
After consulting, Soni moved to D.C., where a debate partner, Rob Goodman ’05, was working in the office of the House majority leader. They had been working on a book on Cato the Younger, Julius Caesar’s arch nemesis, and wanted to know whether it was a viable project. Through the Duke alumni database, Soni and Goodman found Laura Yorke ’85, a publishing agent, and sent her a sample of their work. Yorke liked it so much she decided to represent the book herself. With jobs in American government fueling the pair by day, and Roman government inspiring them by night, the book was completed within a year and a half. “It was one of the happiest periods of my life,” Soni says.
Despite his location change, Soni carries his sunny outlook wherever he goes. As a student at Duke, he worked closely with Judith Ruderman Ph.D. ’76, then vice provost for academic and administrative services, who offered him the most important advice on being a successful leader. “The best of them have a very keen sense of humor,” Soni recalls her telling him. “In a high-stress environment, keep people around you laughing.”