A little off topic today for this blog, but I’ve been getting a lot of requests recently to talk about energy-focused MBA programs and thought I would share some of the research I’ve done. The following is by no means 100% comprehensive, and I would welcome other opinions on this data or approach, but I think it’s a good start for anyone interested in how a graduate business degree can be of use in the energy world.
Projects or Products?
When I talk to prospective and new MBA students about their career plans, I try to deemphasize the breach between renewables and traditional energy sources. While that may come as a surprise to many readers of this blog, from a functional job standpoint the difference between the two industries is not that relevant. Energy is a commodity business, and the business is generating electrons or BTU’s that provide revenue for the generator. Period. You might argue that energy efficiency companies create savings with value or that lots of MBAs go on to work in policy or for utilities where the difference between renewables and traditional energy is substantive. Or maybe you’re highly mission driven and want to get into energy because you want to be part of a clean energy movement. Those are all valid points, but if you’re thinking about a graduate education and a future career, the renewables/hydrocarbon debate is less salient on the front-end.
Instead, I encourage students to think about the following as a jumping off point: Are you more turned on by projects or products? Maybe that distinction doesn’t seem clear, but here’s some questions to help:
- Do you enjoy managing multidisciplinary teams and potentially being the only MBA in the room?
- Do you have a science background and enjoy the technical development process?
- Do you have a finance/strategy background and enjoy working with markets?
- Would you prefer project cycles in the 6-12 month range or over multiple years?
- Are you interested in working internationally?
Depending on your answers to those questions, you may start to feel like your settling more on product development, which tends to involve more technical interaction, long development cycles and marketing (not Market) skills. That type of role is often found in start-ups, venture capital or energy tech companies like Siemens, where the focus is on getting a product to market. On the other hand, if you have a finance background, enjoy working on multiple projects or shorter timelines and are interested in international opportunities, you might find that the project world is a better fit. Focusing on this division first allows students to consider what functional expertise (eg. finance, marketing, strategy, business development, general management) would be most beneficial as part of an MBA curriculum.
Full disclosure: I’m an MBA at Berkeley Haas, but I’ve also interacted with numerous other energy-focussed MBAs and have tried to present a balanced analysis below.
While business schools like UT Austin and Rice have developed a reputation over many years for placing a high percentage of graduates in traditional energy companies, the new wave of energy technologies and young professionals interested in renewables has spurred on increasing interest in MBA energy careers. The following table shows some of the key metrics across schools (data taken from school reports). In addition to the usual compensation figures shown on MBA websites (as always, skewed by geography and the percentage of graduates receiving equity instead of cash), some of the important metrics to consider are the employers recruiting at the school and how big the energy student community is. In my experience, schools with larger pools of students interested in a subject are better positioned to maintain employer relationships.
Another important factor to consider is curriculum. UT Austin, for example, is well known for having both an energy finance curriculum and a Venture Fellows group that creates programming and connects students to investors. Similarly, MIT Sloan is very strong in energy innovation and has a large annual conference and a course called Energy Ventures. Several other schools, including University of Michigan, Yale and Dartmouth have also been admitting more students interested in energy technology in recent cycles.
Lastly, Berkeley-Haas has made some heavy strides toward claiming energy as one of its primary specializations. While there is no official certificate in energy, Haas students have access to dedicated business curriculum like Cleantech-to-Market and Energy and Environmental Markets. Moreover, Berkeley can claim unique company among schools like MIT, Stanford and Michigan that have world-class technical research and top 20 business schools. The interaction among science, engineering, law and business schools should be a critical question for any prospective MBA student interested in energy. At Berkeley-Haas, most of that cross-departmental interaction occurs through the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative (BERC), the largest student energy club in the country.