The Energy Initiatives at the McCombs School of Business

Energy Initiatives

The United States is a leader in the production and supply of energy. It’s also one of the world’s largest energy consumers. And as the world’s population grows and the industrialization of the underdeveloped world continues, energy demand is expected to surge. In fact, 50 percent of U.S. capital expenditures in the coming years are expected to be energy related: power plants, transmission, oil and gas rigs, pipelines, etc.

The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business is leading the charge to prepare business leaders to navigate these challenges and energy initiatives.

McCombs Energy Initiatives and Resources

As a global leader in energy research, the University of Texas at Austin is well positioned to cover topics like the valuation, financing and hedging of energy initiatives, particularly as they’re related to accounting, marketing and risk management. For MBA students, this energy focus is reflected in the McCombs curriculum and in a variety of energy initiatives. A few of those initiatives include:

  • The Energy Management and Innovation Center (EMIC) promotes energy-related research and instruction. The Center offers a core energy-specific business curriculum in accounting, finance, marketing, financial and commodity risk management and economics, and geopolitical risk. It also provides students with opportunities for experiential learning through practicum projects, workshops, lectures, and conferences.
  • The UT Austin Energy Institute provides guidance in the pursuit of a new energy paradigm that is viable and sustainable.
  • The ATI Clean Energy Incubator is one of the longest-established clean energy incubators in the U.S.

Recently, John C. Butler—the academic director of the Energy Management and Innovation Center, associate director of the Center for Energy Finance Education and Research and a Clinical Associate Professor of Finance—discussed the various energy initiatives and trends happening at McCombs in, Focus on Energy: John C. Butler on Energy Offerings at McCombs.

He explained how McCombs is addressing sustainability by launching a new, yet-to-be-named initiative. The goal will be to work with that new center to provide a clear message to students and external constituents that you can’t think about sustainability without energy and vice-versa. He also commented on the new Energy and Earth Resources grad program at the Jackson School of Geosciences, as well the development of new courses including the Valuation of Energy Investments and Law, Finance and Science of Global Energy Transactions.

“Classes are an iterative process largely driven by industry and then faculty who shape them as the students react,” he explained on the blog. “For example, we’ve added solar projects in class because solar is becoming cheaper and cheaper over the last four years. It’s much more viable now.”

To delve more deeply into the various energy education opportunities that the McCombs School of Business offers its MBA students, we reached out to John C. Butler with some questions.

  • What can a McCombs MBA student do to “dip their toes” into energy if they’re unsure about a career in the industry?

Given our proximity to Houston, a number of energy firms come to Austin to recruit students, and many of their presentations are open to any business school student. There is also a weekly energy seminar that any student at UT can attend that spans all facets of the energy space.

Finally, McCombs offers students the opportunities to do a “Plus Project” where they serve as a consultant for a company on a realistic project. Students submit their resumes for the projects that they are most interested in and the companies choose the students they prefer—a bidding process makes the final matches. These projects provide a great way for a student to get to know a particular company as well as an aspect of the energy industry.

  • What unique energy-related opportunities are available to McCombs MBAs?

One of the important things to remember about an MBA is that they are designed to be broad programs of study focusing on all aspects of business and are not typically industry specific. That said, a student interested in energy could easily take 4 – 6 classes directly focused on the industry. We offer opportunities in traditional topics like Energy Finance, Energy Law and Policy, Energy Technology and Policy, Oil and Gas Accounting and Energy Law. However, we also offer some unique experiences.

One is a Global Connections trip where students spend eight weeks learning about energy and then spend ten days in China visiting various companies and facilities that are attempting to provide energy to this growing economy. One year, these students got to tour a functioning nuclear plant, which is a very rare experience.

We also offer two unique interdisciplinary courses in energy that provide a realistic energy workplace experience. The first combines students from McCombs, the Law School, and the LBJ School of Public Policy and Electrical Engineering. Students serve as the business expert on a team that is developing a plan to provide greener electricity to the city of Austin. The team must work together to build a portfolio of natural gas, solar, and wind generation that passes the (hypothetical) investment committee of their private equity fund.

The other class offers a similar experience in oil and gas. Business, law and geology students choose a portfolio of Kurdistan blocks to develop and present their plans to their (hypothetical) company board of directors and then negotiate with the host country.

Both classes give McCombs students a chance to teach students from other disciplines about finance and business plan creation, as well as opportunities to learn how the other parts of the team approach the problem.

McCombs students are also given the opportunity to serve on the organizing committee of a national energy finance case competition and a weeklong, campus-wide energy conference. Both offer great ways to network with energy professionals and other students interested in energy. 

  • What are you doing to draw more students toward the energy industry?

I remind students them that while people continue to debate the feasibility of various energy sources—both fossil fuels and renewables—to meet long-term future energy needs, there is no argument about the continued importance of energy to our economy, security, and standard of living.

For example, there are more than a billion people on the planet without access to electricity and I suspect they would all welcome it. How we deliver that unmet demand will be one of the critical issues that we face as a society. A highly-trained cadre of business professionals from all disciplines is needed to meet the energy challenges of the future.

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