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The Energy Industry: Opportunities Abound in Tackling Geo-Political Tensions, Environmental Distress

Whether headed to a club on Friday night, or pondering the implications of a strategic career decision, the vast majority of us want to feel that we’re making choices that will leave us looking good…no, not just good, hot. On Friday night, that choice (for ladies that is) might involve a little black dress. When it comes to a career though, what is the equivalent “can’t miss proposition”? Just how does one find a career that yields excellent stories to tell the next time you’re chatting-up that luscious lady/fellow across the coffee table?

The answer to that question brings us to the real subject of this article: the energy industry. Forget those geeks crunching numbers on Wall Street, or those consultants flitting around the country at the beck and call of people who run Fortune 500 companies. If you want sure-fire, dazzling heat, there is nothing that can touch the energy business. Let’s explore why.

First of all, we’re talking about the world’s biggest industry here, not to mention the world’s largest and most profitable companies. Throw in the fact that energy touches every human endeavor- from keeping the lights on at the hospital, to steering foreign policy, to feeding the world or saving the environment- and you have can’t-lose coffee-table material.

Of course, it would be reasonable for one to point out that the energy industry is frequently associated with the “bad” side of many of those issues: wars seem to flare up regularly in oil-producing regions; burning fossil fuels causes global warming; massive industrial farms spreading petroleum-based fertilizers displace traditional farmers every day, etc, etc. Point taken.

But that, my friends, is what makes the energy industry so darn sexy: because it represents the biggest challenges facing the world today, it cannot help but represent the biggest opportunities in the world as well. Really, can you imagine anything hotter than dropping a line such as “Remember that global warming thing, yeah, I fixed that… Why sure, I’d be happy to tell you how. But first, can I buy you a drink?”

Ok, perhaps you can imagine something hotter, but let’s face it- it likely doesn’t involve a banker or consultant either.

Which brings us to what is hopefully the second motivation of HBS students: to be leaders who make a difference in the world. Now, on this point, it is clear that the energy industry represents an unbeatable opportunity. Whether one looks at the attention lavished on Toyota’s successful introduction of the hybrid-powered Prius automobile, or the remarkable 25%-plus annual compound growth rates that the wind and solar power industries have enjoyed for the past decade, the world’s desire to see the energy industry transformed is beyond doubt.

The leaders who will drive that transformation will be people who can envision a better future; who can inspire people to create new technologies and to improve old ones; who can harness the power of massive global organizations and small entrepreneurial companies; who can finance multi-billion dollar projects and market energy-efficient consumer goods; who can navigate political pressures and strike fair bargains.

These leaders will ultimately accomplish extraordinary things: they will remove a major source of geopolitical tension; they will protect the global environment; they will ensure that families don’t have to choose between having a warm house and having enough food to eat.

It has been said that ancient Egypt was the “gift of the Nile”, meaning that the rise of advanced society at that time and place was made possible by the bounty of the river whose waters fed and moved the people of the region. Similarly, it could be argued that modern society is the “gift of cheap oil”. Well, we have certainly enjoyed that gift, and now we have the immense opportunity to be the leaders who find and deliver another such gift for the whole world to enjoy.

In addition to being a humongous leadership challenge, that’s a hot proposition!

Top 10 Reasons the Energy Sector Might Catch Your Eye:

1. World’s biggest industry.
2. World’s most profitable companies.
3. It’s neat how flying is faster than walking.
4. Your country is dependent on oil imports.
5. Your country is dependent on oil exports.
6. For some reason, filling your tank now costs $50.
7. Energy touches every human endeavor.
8. Energy use is the biggest source of global pollution.
9. Your beer budget is being spent on heating bills this winter.
10. Wasn’t some HBS guy involved with that Enron company?

For further information:

* Attend the HBS Energy Symposium on Wednesday, November 9th.
* Contact the HBS Energy Club.

November 7, 2005
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