Carl Liggio Jr. Interview
One of the best things about working in the Office of Alumni Relations is getting to converse with so many truly exceptional alumni like Carl Liggio, Jr., a brilliant, articulate, and well connected alumnus within the energy community who is successful businessman in his own right. We were recently able to catch up with him and ask him how he got into the energy industry, how he’s helping develop energy community among Hopkins alumni, and the trends he’s seeing in the energy industry.
JHAA: When and what did you study at Johns Hopkins?
CL: I earned a BS in civil engineering in 1996, then an MS and a PhD in the same field in 2000. I also received a MS in Systems Analysis and Economics for Public Decision Making (a combination of applied math and economics towards policy analysis) in what was then the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering (DoGEE).
JHAA: How did you get into the energy industry?
CL: When I was getting my MS at DoGEE, I took an energy modeling class that really piqued my curiosity. I realized that was the area I wanted to pursue professionally. Constellation had come to campus to interview. I interviewed for their risk analysis group and was rejected in the first round. So I went to my professor, Ben Hobbs, who taught the energy modeling class, and asked to go through his Rolodex. He put me in touch with the head of quantitative analysis at Orion Power Holdings, a start-up energy company based in Baltimore that was owned by Constellation Energy and Goldmand Sachs.. They owned power plants in Pittsburgh and one third of the generation in New York City. All purchased at the beginning of energy deregulation in the northeast.
I started as an intern there while I was finishing my PhD, and after graduating, I became a quantitative analyst for them. It was the perfect first job as I got an opportunity to wear many different hats in a startup environment and provided experience I probably could not have gotten anywhere else. . We went public shortly after I came on fulltime, and not long after that, we were purchased by Houston-based Reliant Energy.
I really enjoyed the start-up nature of working at Orion. When it was rumored to be purchased by Reliant I started to think about starting a waste-to-energy company using some new and emerging technologies with a few of my colleagues. It was to leverage our experience in the newly deregulated electricity industry and also some connections we had in the waste sector. I was a full-time employee with Reliant through the acquisition and then went off on my own to consult such that I had the free time to learn about waste and pursue starting the company. We knew it would be an uphill battle. What we were proposing required significant capital, a municipality to provide waste and also had potential technology risk. Needless to say it did not go very far. In 2005 Reliant Energy sold their New York City power plants that they purchased from Orion to US Power Generating Company a private equity backed startup in New York City. I was then hired to start their asset management desk.
While at USPowerGen, I hired a programmer—a former teammate of mine on the Johns Hopkins fencing team—to build a software system to help me and our asset management team manage our power plants. It allowed us to track our power plants in real-time from our Blackberry. A year and a half later, he and I thought it was time for a change and we decided to take the concept we’d developed to market. That led to where I am today.
JHAA: What are you doing now?
CL: After leaving USPowerGen, my former teammate and I started Pharos Enterprise Intelligence, a software consulting firm to provide real-time intelligence and analysis to power plant owners and energy managers. We wanted to cater to private-equity-backed energy companies that need to have high visibility into their assets but do not want to hire and manage the resources necessary to develop it in-house. We provide a low-cost highly capable solution. Essentially we were our first client. Everything I wanted when I was managing power plants we built into our system. We took the concept far further than what we had at USPowerGen.
From a consulting perspective I advise energy companies in the three northeast energy markets on how to how to commercially manage their power plants.
A key part of my business is networking and connections. As I mentioned above, I found my first job by networking through my Professor Ben Hobbs and his contacts. When you work at one energy company over time your colleagues spread out through the industry. Now today, I’m either one or two degrees of separation from just about every energy company I’d need to do business with. I’m deeply involved in building the Hopkins network both at the university level and in energy.
JHAA: What kind of network is available for Hopkins alumni who are, or want to be, in energy?
CL: About 2 years ago, I met a SAIS alum named Jonathan McLelland (SAIS ’06). He’d been organizing SAIS alums in energy. But there wasn’t anything organized for the Johns Hopkins community at large. Gradually, we started to find out that we actually have a lot of alumni in energy. That’s when we decided to do something to get the community together.
I’m convinced that the best approach to networking is through referrals. I’d rather people contact people each other through common contacts. In an effort to build the Hopkins network generally and the Hopkins network for energy workers in particular, Jonathan and I started a very focused LinkedIn group, Johns Hopkins University Alumni in Energy.
I think Hopkins graduates benefit most when we’re able to merge Hopkins and non-Hopkins energy-related groups. So, for example, we keep the Hopkins alumni in New York aware of New York Energy Drinks events (which Jonathan actually started) and we get quite a few Hopkins grads attending and benefiting from these events.
JHAA: Tell us about the events and activities you’ve had in the alumni in energy group?
CL: We’ve had two Hopkins energy-related dinners in the past two years—basically meet-and-greets where people can get to know other Hopkins grads who are in energy. In the Hopkins community, most are early- to mid-level in their careers. It’s been a good exercise in introducing different levels of people to one another. At our Hopkins events, we invite some non-Hopkins people to help expand the network. As I’ve already mentioned, integrating the Hopkins energy community and the energy community at large has been beneficial for all involved.
The Hopkins energy group in New York is also a support group that people can attend for job opportunities and advice. We’ve already done a very good job of placing recent grads in energy-related jobs in the New York City area. We have recent grads working at ConEd, the energy policy group for the City, and a current student interning in New Jersey. The key to these successes is that we’ve been using our networks. Right now our emphasis is on further building the network to help find jobs for our current students
JHAA: Where is this group going? What’s your vision in the next 2-3 years for this group?
CL: First, we want every one to have a network that they can tap into. I’d like to show each graduate in energy—in fact every graduate of Hopkins regardless of their field— that there’s a network to plug into. I’d like them to be able to say that their Hopkins degrees continues to work for them once they graduate. What gives me the most pleasure is when I introduce two people in related fields and they go off and do business together. I want people to have that experience and then think back and say, “That’s because of Hopkins. Hopkins provided the infrastructure that made these connections possible.”
Second, I want our students to find jobs. I work with career office. Every year, we have students looking to break into the energy industry. It’s getting easier to get people interviews.. The energy industry is so specialized that the career office may not have access to the opportunities that we alumni in the industry do. I’ve already had the career office send me students that I’ve made introductions for and who have gotten good positions as a result of the network we have in the Hopkins energy community.
Third, we want to create expectation that the students we help will come back to Hopkins to help the next generation of students and their fellow alumni..
JHAA: When people think of energy, they may not think of Hopkins, or vice versa. Tell us a bit about the Hopkins energy community and what Hopkins alumni bring to the field.
CL: Turns out there’s a lot going on in energy at Hopkins that lots of people don’t know about. We have an energy modeling group, we have people who are looking into wind-turbines and biofuels, and we have people who focus on energy policy in SAIS. You can definitely get an energy education at Hopkins.
What do Hopkins students bring? You don’t go to business school to get a MBA in energy. In fact, there’s not really an energy curriculum anywhere out there. Your education can help direct you to the specific area of energy you want to get into. Do you want to be an analyst, an engineer, marketing or finance? What Hopkins gave me was a vast and diverse analytical toolbox that made me a better all-around analyst. Hopkins grads tend to make great analysts.
One of our goals in the Hopkins energy community is to make our students more marketable. That way, when they have the opportunity to apply to a job in the energy industry, they have a leg up on their competition.
JHAA: What careers are available in energy?
CL: Energy jobs are few and far between these days. Uncovering the opportunities that do exist is hard to do. Lots of the jobs students would like to have are not well advertised, so you need to have the right connections to get to where you want to go. That’s where the alumni community comes in.
Here are the types of jobs that Hopkins students have been requesting:
· Renewables – Is perhaps the most popular field our students want to get involved.
· Working with biofuels—we have a few chemical engineers that are interested in biofuel production
· Energy policy
· Energy Trading
· Power plant management.
· Energy efficiency
Hopkins alumni are in just about every energy-related area. One area where I can’t find an alum is biofuels. We have several alumni who have gone through intensive coursework in biofuels but they can’t find jobs. We’re hoping that when they do find jobs, they will help help us further develop that network . If you’re reading this and you’re in biofuels, please contact the career office! I work very closely with them.
JHAA: What role do you see middle and senior management playing in the Hopkins energy community? What benefit can they derive from the community?
CL: The first and foremost is to develop our network and the potential for collaboration.among each other. These are the decision makers who have the ability to determine where they do business or who they hire. Having a network whether it is a Hopkins network or not is very important. Our network can help connect them to talented Hopkins students and alumni. The main role we see with our young alumni is in helping them find jobs.
A significant roll they can play is in mentoring students and young alumni.. It is a very rewarding way to give back to the University and each other. The mentoring process helps develop strong bonds between us and better places our alumni in the field.
In the Society of Engineering Alumni (SEA), we started micro events and affinity groups a few years ago with the goal of trying to get people to meet who wouldn’t normally have opportunity to meet each other—for example for the person just starting out to meet a mid-level manager and for the mid-level manager to meet a CEO. We are looking for our more established members in the energy industry to help participate and organize these events.
JHAA: Tell readers about the energy-related intersession class you and some others are teaching and what the results have been.
CL: Together with Jonathan McClelland and David Yaffe (AS 74). We teach a 3-day intersession course titled “Energy 101: Introduction to the Business and Policy of the US Energy Industry.” We created the class to provide a more a more applied education in energy for our students. We wanted to help them see how interesting and vast the industry is and to instill an interest in pursuing the field.
We know we have had an impact when students come up to us after the class thanking us for teaching and asking for help in pursuing a career in the industry. Every year we get one or two students who said they had not considered energy until taking our class. It is very rewarding for us.
Every year we have taught the class we have had our students find jobs in the industry. We have been lucky to help one land his dream job. We only hope we can do that every year. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
What’s great is the students we’ve helped over the years in this class and outside of our class are now helping us with the class in helping place our students.
The number of students we’ve mentored or touched is increasing all the time. We’re getting closer to developing a community that will reach critical mass in a lot of areas. We anticipate our community being able to create some real value not long from now.
JHAA: Finally, share with us your thoughts on the future of energy and the energy industry.
CL: That’s a good question. I don’t know. This is actually a concern that many of my colleagues and I have. We don’t know the best place to be in energy these days.
Here’s why. From a fundamentals perspective, natural gas prices are very cheap. In fact, no matter what your fuel source is—whether it’s coal, gas, oil, alternative fuels, or even alternative sources of traditional fuels—opportunities are slim. This is particularly true domestically. A lot of students want to get into renewables. But right now, renewables are simply not economical unless they’re getting significant government subsidy, and I don’t see government subsidies being available much longer.
So, as to where the best place is in the industry today? It’s very difficult to say. But one thing is for certain: there is constant change. If we further strengthen our networks we better position ourselves to adapt to the changing industry.