Alumni Spotlight: Mauricio Gutierrez
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Jesus J. Salazar, MS Engineering and Technology Management ‘01
CEO of Prosono
Hometown: Manassa, CO
Grad school: Colorado School of Mines, MS Engineering and Technology Management, 2001
Undergrad: Colorado School of Mines, BS Math and Computer Science, 1997 – 2000
Why did you choose Mines, and more specifically, the ETM program?
JJS: I’ve always been drawn to math and science. When my high school counselor recommended that I look at a summer minority engineering program that Mines offered, I applied and got in. I loved my experience there and was intent on going to Mines for college. After a couple of internships at large companies, I found that I didn’t really understand the mechanics of business. I was lost in non-technical meetings because I didn’t understand the vocabulary or what people were getting at. I always knew I would stay close to technology, but thought it would give me a leg up to better understand how a business actually operates. The ETM program made perfect sense for me.
Tell me about your experience at Mines. What stands out in your mind?
JJS: I loved my time at Mines. I made some great friends that I still hang out with today. I’ve always enjoyed being with smart and passionate people, and Mines has no shortage of that type of person.
Tell me about Prosono and your role there.
JJS: I am the CEO of Prosono, a company that I founded last year. There is a striking trend these days of people trying to positively impact their communities by becoming more selective in the products they purchase and companies they choose to work for. This has created new opportunities for businesses to resonate more deeply with their customers and employees. We help organizations find and take advantage of these opportunities. It is a mix of strategy, product development, innovation, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility, and software development.
Where do you most use your ETM training and how did it prepare you for this job?
JJS: Initially, project management was my go-to. However, even today I still use technology strategy. The world is moving quickly and knowing how to think in outcomes and rapid learning vs. thinking in outputs and following a detailed plan is something I still incorporate today.
What are the biggest challenges new graduates face in the marketplace in terms of building a successful career?
JJS: The biggest challenge is bringing the creativity and innovation required to keep pace in today’s world. As the fourth industrial revolution takes hold, old business models rooted in manufacturing best practices are dying and being replaced with something much more pliable and dynamic. The scientific method still applies, but its practice has become appropriate in places you never thought it would.
From a curricular perspective, identify key areas of excellence that ETM should emphasize to better prepare graduates for the workplace.
JJS: Innovation frameworks, LEAN Startup (lots of companies want their teams to behave like a small startup within their organization), how to create a culture that cherishes validated learning vs. just meeting deadlines and following instructions.
Congratulations on your recent appointment to the Mines Board of Trustees!
JJS: I’m thrilled to be a part of the Colorado School of Mines Board of Trustees. I look forward to giving back to a place that has already given me so much.
President and CEO of NRG Energy, Inc.
Grad school: MS, Petroleum Economics '99, IFP; MS, Mineral Economics, CSM
Undergrad: BS, Industrial Engineering, Universidad Panamericana.
Hometown: I was born and raised in Mexico City, where I lived and worked for number of years until I was 27, then I went to grad school. As part of the Mines dual degree program, I did a year in Paris, then a year in the Golden, then ended up in Houston for a number of years. I’ve made Princeton, NJ my hometown for the past 13 years.
I remember Golden fondly. I was there two years ago and I enjoyed the smell of Coors, which we all get accustomed to when living in Golden. It brought back great memories.
I had a chance to meet some of the Mines students at Duke and it was great to interact with them. I was pleasantly surprised that we had a contingent of Mines students in the case competition at Duke Energy Week.
Why did you choose Mines, and more specifically, the Mineral Economics program?
It’s actually a funny story. Back then, I had already been involved pretty significantly in deregulation of the natural gas market in Mexico, so I got involved in econometric models. When we finished that process, I decided to pursue a graduate degree. Very quickly, I realized my passion was energy economics or applied economics, particularly in the energy sector. I made all the arrangements and was going to enroll at the University of Colorado Boulder.
Then, I met Carol Dahl. She’s a very well respected economist in econometric modeling. She talked to me about the dual degree program. I toured Mines, looked at the academic curriculum, and I was very impressed. I was particularly impressed with level of sophistication and the applicability of program. I remember having a conversation with Graham Davis about real option theory and applying real option on asset valuations, so I immediately got hooked. And, of course, the location is not too shabby. Spending a year in Paris, then a year in Colorado is everybody’s dream.
I knew that I was going to focus on the energy industry and economics was the right complement for my undergraduate degree. Most of the people that I know went directly to an MBA program and I wanted something more focused on the energy industry, with a high level of finance and economics. I was able to achieve that at Mines.
My undergrad was industrial engineering with a heavy emphasis on finance. So for me, this was a continuation of that in terms of applied economics. But of course, in industrial engineering, you have the foundation of electrical and mechanical engineering. I felt that I needed to expand my understanding of decision analysis, real options, econometric models, applied economics.
What stands out in your mind regarding your time at Mines?
First and foremost, it was the faculty. The professors, Michael Walls, Graham Davis, Rod Eggert, Carol Dahl, I remember all their names. They were all passionate about what they were doing. Not only did they have the patience and the aptitude to teach, but they are active in their respective fields outside of school. They’re very well recognized. The faculty makes all the difference in the world. It doesn’t hurt that my classes were in beautiful Colorado and Paris, but to me, the faculty is what stood out.
Where do you most use your Mineral Economics training and how did it prepare you for this position (and previous positions in the energy industry)?
I went into the business and my first area of focus was asset valuation. I was looking at power plants as real options right out of grad school. I hit the ground running after having Graham Davis as a professor. Very quickly, I went into trading, both at Dynegy in Houston, and then at NRG. I traded power and gas for a number of years before going into the management route. I became COO, and ultimately CEO a year ago.
The area that helped me was understanding the economics of projects, being able to quantify risk, and sensitize the value of assets within an uncertain framework. That equipped me with a set of skills and abilities I was able to immediately put to work as an analyst valuing generation assets. Over time, it changes. It allows me to think about the portfolio management/optimization, the optimal composition of portfolios, it always comes in handy with the valuation of assets, or projects. In my position as CEO, one of my main responsibilities is capital allocation. I have to decide from a number of projects, and perhaps all of them are good projects, but I have a limited amount of capital to deploy, so I have to prioritize what is the risk/reward on each project. I think back on my days in Golden and it helps me put it into a much better perspective.
What is your role at NRG Energy?
As president and CEO, I’m responsible for defining the long-term strategy of the company: the vision, mission, strategic objectives that we have. Part of that is also defining the culture that you want to have in a company. Of course, we have to live within our means, so when we allocate capital, we have to make sure that we prioritize all these projects, and that we do it in an efficient way.
I’m also the spokesperson for company, both with investors and stakeholders, who can be as varied as regulators, system operators, environmental and governmental agencies, and educational institutions. I have to be able to articulate the vision of company, not only defining it, but also implementing the strategy.
I’m fortunate to be in this position during a time of significant transformation in the electric sector with the amount of renewable generation that we’re seeing installed in the country, with the amount of innovation in new generating technology – like battery storage, rooftop solar, and fuel cell energy. This transformation is also about empowering customers at individual level, to understand where their electricity comes from, how it’s produced, and how much they want to use. It’s really about empowering customers with more information, not less information. Unfortunately, that’s been the norm in our industry. You just flip the switch, pay the retail rate and don’t ask questions. You just know that there’s a utility that provides energy/electricity. We’re trying to engage with consumers so we can better inform them of their options. Perhaps they want to install a solar panel on their roof or have a backup generator because they don’t want to run out of power, or maybe they want to have a smart home with appliances that turn on and off at right time of the day. That’s what we’re trying to do.
What is your vision for the company?
Our company is going through a significant transformation, which is the result of wanting a cleaner energy future. Our vision is to create a sustainable energy future and we will do that by providing reliable and cleaner energy for our customers. We believe that if we do that, we will create value for all our stakeholders. “Sustainable” is a powerful word, it’s not only having cleaner, faster, better, more reliable generation; it’s also in the context of a business model that can withstand very different commodity price cycles. That’s the objective of the company.
Not only are we optimizing the generation we have – which today is the largest competitive power company in U.S – we’re going into the renewable sector because it’s a significant opportunity to evolve from the traditional forms of generation, to new forms of generation. We’re doing that in a way that allows us to offer that electricity to our customers, and empowering them to make better choices.
For so long, consumers have taken what the electricity company gives them. You know it’s there and you have to pay your bill, or your electricity gets cut. Today, we’re trying to make it more palpable for individuals to interact with electricity. That means installing rooftop solar, putting electric car charging stations in your home, installing a backup generator or smart thermostats, connecting your refrigerator and HVAC together in a way that lets you use energy where you want. If you want to make a statement by having 100 percent renewable energy, we can work with you. Customers want that and we’re working hard as a company to provide it.
In your opinion, what is the future of energy in the U.S.?
For the past couple years, the big priority has been to decarbonize the grid. Everyone acknowledges climate change as a threat to our generation. Decarbonization is the response to ensure that we reduce the risk of climate change, With the outcome of the election, perhaps those efforts will slow down. It’s hard to tell, but from the remarks that have been made, I would think that climate change is not in the top of the Republicans priority list. Perhaps that could potentially slow down the implementation of renewable energy in the U.S., but on the other hand, this is driven primarily by the states. We have to see what is under state jurisdiction versus what’s under federal control. If I were a betting man, I’d say renewable energy might slow down somewhat and perhaps other forms of traditional generation that have a somewhat limited life, like coal and gas, they may get an extension.
What are the biggest challenges that new graduates face in the marketplace in terms of building a successful career?
- You have to have a solid academic foundation.
- Choose the industry wisely. If it ends up being the energy or oil and gas industry, you have to have an incredible amount of passion for the industry.
- Projection. You have to be able to communicate very complex problems into something that is easy to digest so people can understand easily.
If those are the three traits that employers are looking for, they also represent some of the key challenges. I see a lot of graduates that excel in one area, but they can’t do the other two. In the energy and power industry, the big challenge is that it’s an industry that is reinventing itself, so the old skills will not be needed for the new world. Making that transition can be difficult for professionals. On the other hand, because we’re in the middle of this massive transformation, it’s fertile ground for new students because this is the perfect time to get into an industry.
From a curricular perspective, identify key areas of excellence that MEE should emphasize to better prepare graduates for the workplace.
Mines does fantastic job in terms of risk management, asset valuation, and economics. Making the connection between theory and practice always goes a long way. One thing Mines could benefit from is that soft component. The students may be incredibly smart, but if they can’t articulate, it can be very difficult. Including communications skills and classes, ways to increase self-confidence, and helping students to better communicate and manage would be very beneficial.
Meet Rosemary Ojeh, ETM alumna
Exploration & Production Planning Manager, Hess Corporation, Houston, TX
Grad school: MS '05, Engineering Technology Management, Division of Economics and Business, Colorado School of Mines
Undergrad: BS in Engineering, University of Ibadan
Why did you choose Mines, and more specifically, the ETM program?
I was interested in business, but I didn't want a traditional MBA, so I did my research and found Mines' ETM program. I wanted business knowledge to complement my engineering degree, and the ETM program was a perfect fit. I also asked my friends in the oil and gas industry, and they confirmed that Mines is an excellent school.
Tell me about your experience at Mines. What stands out in your mind?
Mines is a school where you don't play around. You have to be focused on your academics. It's a tough school but you learn a lot. People go to school for different experiences, and at Mines, you have all those experiences, plus the academics are top notch.
The quality of professors is outstanding. They don't just teach you the book, they teach you things that are useful in the real world. Many of the classes we took used case studies from the real world, which prepares you for what you actually do. I remember some of them came from the business world and taught us based on their experiences. Professors Eggert, Walls, Heeley, all of them, they were the best. In the work I do, I use a lot of the principles I learned in ETM, things you would continue to apply in real life.
I've talked to friends who got a regular MBA and I wouldn't change a thing, I'm really glad I went the Mines route. It's a top-notch school.
Tell me about your job at Hess.
At Hess, I'm the planning manager for exploration, and I lead the planning and organization for the company. I work with senior management, the CEO, and the executive leadership team to help them with strategy, planning, budgeting, and coordinating leadership interactions.
We have a variety of business teams (exploration, planning, development) and we have a presence in many different countries, so how that information comes together and goes to/from the executive leadership team, is disseminated through planning and organization.
What type of projects do you work on?
Right now, we're going through budget and plan process. Oil prices have crashed in the last two years - we went from $100/barrel to $45/barrel. Every oil company is having to do things differently. We have less money, so the question is, "How do we allocate our limited resources to the most value- added projects around the world? How do we stay afloat during this period of downturn?"
We're optimizing our portfolio, trying to figure out the best time to start or end projects to preserve cash, so that's one of the things I'm working on. We take input from businesses and talk about what projects they want to execute, we optimize it, present to senior management, look for the best scenario of strategy, then we communicate back to the business and allocate capital. In the past, when oil was at $100, we could do almost any project, as long as it was profitable. Now, we're having to turn down even profitable projects because of cash constraints. So it's a process, we've gotten very sophisticated. We call that our portfolio optimization project.
Here at Hess, we also have many, many Colorado School of Mines alumni.
How do you like Houston?
Houston is great, but it's not Colorado. I miss Colorado. However, the food is great and the people are wonderful here in Houston.
How did your ETM training prepare you for your position at Hess?
Economics, strategy, finance, we did all of that in ETM, so that helped prepare me. But it's not just what you learn in class, it's the presentations and projects. Every single class I took at Mines, we had to write a report, we had to work in teams, we had to present, and that's what you do in real life. Especially in planning, you're either presenting to senior management or you're presenting to businesses, there's a lot of interaction. We did that in every subject in the ETM program, so it really helped prepare me for this role at Hess.
The ETM program also helped to instill work ethic. In this industry, everyone is focused on delivery. The planning and organization of any oil and gas company is not a 9 to 5 job. You work long hours. It can be taxing because there's a lot to do. At Mines, I remember many nights where we studied late just to get ready for exams. That work ethic carried through; Mines prepared me for real life.
Do you have any advice for current and prospective ETM students?
Persevere. Go through the grind, the rigor, and you'll come out stronger in the end. Life is not going to be any easier as you grow older. Go to Mines, do the hard work, it will pay off in the end.