What do you want to be when you grow up? How many children hear this question and with palpable excitement in their eyes say, “I want to work at a UTILITY!”
I’m that kid in an adult body. The idea probably sounds ludicrous, because who wants to work at a utility? Maintaining this complex, resilient system is critical, but for the last 100 years, it has not necessarily been interesting.
But that conventional wisdom has changed dramatically. As an MBA, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) rocketed to the top of my most-desired employer list, because the utility of the past is being upended by climate change, the natural gas revolution, and renewable energy.
Renewable energy is arguably the greatest single opportunity to overcome the looming threat of climate change. But with that promise comes the kind of thorny systemic, financial and business model challenges that can light a fire under the most ambitious of MBAs. All of these challenges are connected by the grid. That’s why, when I was offered an internship at the San Francisco-based PG&E, the utility at the forefront of all these transformations, it felt like I won the recruiting lottery.
Before Fuqua, I was a Foreign Affairs Major
Fuqua has the kind of sterling reputation among the wider energy industry that lends you the credibility you need to get the attention of employers like PG&E. Before Fuqua, I’d never worked in or studied energy (I was a foreign affairs major), nor worked in an engineering, operations, or strategy function. All I really had was an unbridled passion for the subject. When I was applying for schools, I choose Fuqua because Duke’s MBA not only offered an unparalleled business education, but it was also the best energy school in the country. Unlike many schools which specialized in a single industry segment, Duke was strong across the full spectrum of energy—from oil & gas, to clean tech, to renewables—with the community and resources to help me leapfrog into interesting, impactful work.
The Amazing Energy Opportunities at Fuqua
When I arrived as a first-year student, the first thing I did was join the Fuqua Energy Club. I went to events hosted by the Duke University Energy Initiative. I took the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE) Seminar—a speaker series that covered Chevron, Opower, NextEra and Duke Energy. I signed up for an Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP) studying the market impact of the Clean Power Plan. Second-years who had interned in the industry and Duke alumni spent hours talking to me about potential employers. Fuqua provided the resources and network to build the knowledge, network, and experience I needed to get that summer internship at PG&E and begin a career in energy.
The Internship: Real World, Real Problems
While at PG&E, I was assigned a project I didn’t initially think I would like—working with the Gas Regulatory Strategy team on the Gas Safety Plan. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I had hit the goldmine. I found that I knew very little about natural gas, which is often considered a bridge fuel to a clean energy future. Since safety is the core thread that winds through all natural gas operations at PG&E, I got a crash course from nearly every manager in the gas business (also an excellent networking opportunity) and had several opportunities to present directly to the senior leadership of Gas Operations. I got the exposure I never dreamed of, learned more about natural gas in 10 weeks than I had in the last 10 years, and was able to publish a critical safety report, all during one summer.
But the best part was the MBA program—I met five friends with whom I bonded instantly. We had the opportunity to tour hydropower plants, participate in the PG&E float in the San Francisco Pride Parade, go to a Giants game together, eat pizza at Indian Rock Park watching the sunset in Berkeley, and hear from senior executives like the CFO of the company. We celebrated together when we all got offers, and I signed mine shortly after I returned to Fuqua with a great deal of excitement and anticipation.
To that little kid inside, it feels a bit like Fuqua has made it possible for me to do all these things, and to use these two years to make myself into the type of person that can achieve the things I want for my life and career.