At the Intersection of Finance and Sustainability

by Gregory Allen, MBA 2013 and EFII Fellow Candidate (10/3/12)

Gregory Allen, MBA 2013 and EFII Fellow Candidate

Making a career switch into a new industry and new function at the same time is not easy.  However, gaining hands-on work experience through a summer internship has been an invaluable stepping stone to making it happen.

Making a career-switch into a new industry and new function at the same time is not easy. Of course, that is one of the benefits of obtaining an MBA from a premier institution – the ability to change one’s career path completely. Having served in the military and then as a Financial Advisor, I knew I wanted to both stay in finance and, concurrently, continue to have a positive impact on people’s lives. However, I also knew that I was done working for big banks and financial institutions.

With many Immersions to choose from at Johnson, I was quickly able to narrow down my options to the Managerial Finance Immersion (MFI) and Sustainable Global Enterprise (SGE).  I realized that out of all the typical post-MBA professions, managerial finance was the most appealing to me. At the same time, when trying to determine which industry suited me best, I was drawn to energy – both renewable and traditional –as well as infrastructure and other industries I consider base to the economy. Economic growth and development obviously depend on good infrastructure and a plentiful supply of affordable energy, yet at the same time the negative environmental impacts of development must be mitigated.

I was thrilled to learn about the Environmental Finance and Impact Investing Fellows (EFII) Program which combined by dual interests. Becoming an EFII Fellow is an amazing opportunity to further develop financial expertise while gaining a deeper appreciation for the breadth and depth of complex sustainability issues. I find it invigorating to be so focused on a range of topics - including finance and analytics, markets and regulation, science and technology, and economic and political analysis – that place me firmly at the intersection of finance and sustainability.

During my internship search last year, I was very focused on getting a managerial finance position in one of the “base” industries mentioned above, ideally at a Fortune 500 company with the requisite resources to make large, positive impacts on society. After a long search and many interviews, I accepted an offer from Air Products, a supplier of atmospheric, specialty and industrial gases. Industrial gases may not sound all that sustainable, but they are. For example, including oxygen in a gasoline refinery’s operations can increase energy efficiency by 15%, reducing expenses for the refinery while reducing emissions at the same time; a classic win-win. Air Products has also taken advantage of its industry-leading position in the hydrogen market to set up infrastructure that supports hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Additionally, Air Products is building and will operate the world's largest renewable power plant using advanced gasification energy-from-waste technology. It is no wonder Air Products has been included as a component of the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index.

Air Products’ lists sustainability as one of its core values, specifically to “help make the world more productive, energy efficient and sustainable.” Yet to be a Fortune 500 company, one must be more than lofty in its values, one must be intensely committed to efficiency and productivity. My main project during my summer internship focused on operating efficiencies. Specifically, I created a model to easily generate plant-level profit-and-loss statements and measure return on investment (ROI), a key financial metric, for each plant in one of Air Products’ divisions. To do this I had to consult with others in the finance organization as well as supply chain and logistics specialists, business and product managers and accountants, not to mention the countless hours spent in front of my computer doing the actual spreadsheet modeling.

It was a fantastic opportunity to spend my summer working on a project I knew was going to have a significant impact on the organization. The outputs of my model will be used, at a minimum, to trend performance over time and implement asset improvement plans for the various plants. The end results should be more cost efficient and profitable plants that are generating higher returns on investment.

As a career-switcher, gaining this type of hands-on work experience has been invaluable, both as confirmation of my chosen career path and in terms of its educational value. Coming from a completely different field, I faced a very steep learning curve at the start of my internship. I had to learn new computer systems in order to obtain much of the information I needed; network with dozens of colleagues to fill in the many gaps; and learn advanced spreadsheet modeling techniques in order to integrate all that knowledge to produce easily understandable model outputs. As critical as my first year MBA education was in relation to being successful in my internship, nothing could have been more valuable than the real-life experience gained during my summer internship.