H@H: Ep. 34 – On this week’s episode of Here@Haas, host Ray is joined by Steven Brisley to discuss his journey from management consulting in the midwest to energy involvement at Haas. We discuss Steven’s involvement with the Berkeley Energy & Resources Collaborative (BERC), opportunities for students to get involved, formal & informal events, and “BERC”-shops. Steven then tells us about types of careers within energy & cleatech, electives that focus on energy, and his experience with recruiting and gaining an energy internship. Finally, we discuss the outlook for Steven in his 2nd year and plans for post-graduation.
On how Steven narrowed his focus on the energy sector – “There was something that was just fundamentally different about energy, how much it impacts people’s lives, and I think everyone wants to be a part of something big that’s really changing lives.”
On an overlooked challenge in the industry – “The lack of equity when it comes to, both access and the cost of energy, is something that really affects communities.”
On virtual networking and doing his MBA during COVID-19 – “It forces you to be a lot more intentional about who you’re building relationships with and sort of how you’re spending your time.”
[00:00:00] Welcome to here@haas. I’m your host, Ray Guan. And today, we’re joined by Steven Brisley, a full-time MBA student of the class of 2021. Steven is a proud Midwesterner supporting the transition to clean energy.
[00:00:22] Welcome to the podcast, Steven.
[00:00:23] Steven: Thanks, Ray, appreciate your having me.
[00:00:26] Ray: So why don’t you just tell our listeners about your path to Haas.
[00:00:31] Steven: Sure. So, my path to Haas really started maybe 10 or 12 years ago, right, as I was finishing up school. And I knew that I wanted to have a mission-driven career. That was definitely something that was important to me but didn’t really know what kind of mission I was going to find. So right out of undergrad, I ended up going into consulting which is kind of a great way to see a lot and learn a lot. And I sort of stumbled across the clean energy transition as something that would be an opportunity to dedicate my career, to fighting something that I really cared about, which is kind of the existential threat of climate change while working in a field where the work is just really interesting technology and business policy, all coming together.
[00:01:14] But getting involved in that I grew up in the Midwest and coming from there, it’s not necessarily the center of that space and they are very much is one that’s kind of Oh, leader for that for sure. So, I started looking at different ways to get more in the industry specifically, and cost it out is an amazing place to come and get more involved in that community.
[00:01:35] Ray: That’s fascinating. It seems like management consulting took you to a variety of different projects. So when you were working as a management consultant, what attracted you to the energy industry or sector versus some other sectors that you could have also made a difference on?
[00:01:53] Steven: So, yeah, there are a ton of different projects in retail and petrochemical and financial services. They all kind of have their ways. They’re interesting, right? There was something that was just fundamentally different about energy, how much it impacts people’s lives. And I think part of it, honestly, for me, the fact that there was an amazing or a major transition that’s happening right now in the energy industry worldwide. There’s something I found super interesting is I think everyone sort of wants to be a part of something big that’s really changing lives.
[00:02:24] And for me, getting involved in the industry was a good way to do that.
[00:02:29] Ray: Okay. So after working a few years as a management consultant, why did you decide to do an MBA?
[00:02:35] Steven: It’s a great question and one that I really asked myself as I was going through the process. For me, the MBA and specifically coming to Haas, stood out as a way to be able to let me kind of pick a direction and just dive into it in a million different ways.
[00:02:49] And so coming to campus, I knew I could work with some of the clean energy startups that are here in the ecosystem. I can join BERC, which is just a wonderful group on campus. Meet a bunch of other folks who are similarly trying to make their way into the industry.
[00:03:04] Ray: So, speaking of BERC, you are the president of BERC. So, I’ll give you the opportunity. Why don’t you just tell us a little bit about what is BERC, what it stand for? It seems like you’re very excited to talk about it. So, we’d love to hear about it.
[00:03:18] Steven: Absolutely. So BERC is the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative. It is the largest energy and resources-focus student organization in the country, which we’re very proud of. Was founded about 15 years ago, actually out of costs, and then kind of spread across campus. BERC’s mission is really to connect, educate, and motivate a whole mix of folks.
[00:03:40] So students, alumni, faculty, industry professionals, all in the interest of addressing some of the world’s most important energy and resource challenges. Basically, it tries to bring people together from across a bunch of different disciplines to say, here is what really makes a difference in these industries and this is what we’re going to do about it.
[00:03:58] And so I just loved being able to get involved from the standpoint of it just has such an incredible array of people who are current students or alumni who were involved in the organization.
[00:04:09] Ray: I saw that your co-president is actually a Ph.D. student studying chemistry. What are some cross-functional projects or initiatives that Haas and other schools are currently working on or have worked on in the past?
[00:04:23] Steven: Sure. There’s an opportunity for students across campus to get involved in. Actually right now called the Berkeley Innovative Solutions. And so, this is partially based out of Haas, partially based out of BERC. And it takes students from across the Berkeley community and lets them focus on it, small scale consulting type project or cleantech companies and other companies focused on even more broad sustainability topics.
[00:04:49] And so that was something I got involved right. When I move to campus last year and worked on some really interesting AI and machine learning for refrigeration tech, which is brand new to me, but it brings folks together from the business school, from policy school, and from a bunch of different technical departments, and really does some really great work for kind of organizations in the space.
[00:05:11] Ray: So then tell us what other benefits students can have as a BERC member.
[00:05:15] Steven: Sure. So, the biggest reason I joined BERC and I think some of the best value that I’ve had from the organization is actually a lot of our informal events. So I love our major events, the energy summit, and resources symposium and all these kinds of major events. But the more informal ways that we get together on different topics.
[00:05:36] So for instance, we have a happy hour that we call The Think and Drink. It’s basically just an opportunity for somebody who is interested in a topic to come and share what makes them so excited about it. I went to one of these last spring and that was on lithium-ion battery design. It was like going through slides, just trying to show exactly how you’re going to fit more kind of battery density in this little tiny pouch.
[00:05:58] And people will get so excited about some of these topics that they’re really interested in. And then there are people like myself, the people from other parts of the audience, who’ve never really studied anything about that. And you get to ask all the dumb questions that you normally wouldn’t ask a Ph.D. from Berkeley.
[00:06:13] So it’s just a really fun time to be able to meet other people and to learn a lot and kind of have an authentic way to grow your relationships and networks in the community.
[00:06:24] Ray: That’s amazing. I am curious how intelligent the conversations become after a few drinks.
[00:06:33] Steven: There are definitely diminishing returns but I like to think it gets better after a little while.
[00:06:38] Ray: Yeah, for sure. Got to have fun, you know? And then I also saw on the BERC website that you guys do a fair amount of company tracks, some case competitions, and also workshops. Uh, would you care to elaborate on those as well?
[00:06:53] Steven: Sure. I guess one of the best parts of kind of the legacy of BERC having been around for a decade and a half now is that we have some really wonderful and super involved alumni and it’s amazing how much they’re willing to try to connect current students from all over the organization to the companies that they’re working at.
[00:07:10] So these are folks that are at Tesla and NextEra and just kinds of all kinds of companies from big and small who are willing to come back and share kind of what they’re learning on the job. There’s a term that we call BERC shops. Again, we really like bird funds.
[00:07:26] Ray: I love it.
[00:07:27] Steven: Bring in folks kind of from industry who come in and talk about the different topics that they’re working on.
[00:07:32] And, it’s a great way to do that. Treks are awesome too. We’re actually currently planning something for later this fall that we’re excited about bringing the virtual Trek to, to all of our student members, which is definitely an interesting challenge in these times.
[00:07:47] Ray: No, that’s amazing.
[00:07:49] Ray: And so you mentioned that you know, BERC collaborates with several different colleges across Berkeley. What other clubs does BERC ally with in creating some of these workshops or events?
[00:08:02] Steven: Yeah, absolutely. So, one organization, it’s actually a newer organization on campus but we’ve worked with them quite a bit is the mobility club. And so, there’s a lot of overlap between the worlds of energy and the worlds of mobility, especially with electric vehicles and all that coming to the forefront. So, we work with that organization.
[00:08:20] We work with the Jacobs School of Design on a number of different projects. So, we’ve been able to hackathon this past spring that was focused on kind of bringing some of the work to life. And actually, if you drive around North Oakland, there’s the real-world result of that hackathon. It’s basically a parking spot that was re-envisioned as outdoor dining. It was delivered in a very mobile platform as part of it. So, it’s kind of a cool way to, you know, work across campus and take people from different backgrounds and the Jacobs school and some others are definitely organizations we would like to work with.
[00:08:55] Ray: Yeah, that’s interesting that you bring that up because I’m just envisioning different uses, especially here during this shelter in place where not everyone’s driving.
[00:09:05] Steven: Yeah, absolutely. I think you asked about some of the other clubs on campus, but honestly, a lot of the ways BERC works is with some of the organizations off-campus. So, like our hackathon was with the Jacobs Institute of Design, but it was also sponsored by EDF and by some of the utilities in the area or interested in some of these mobility solutions.
[00:09:25] So we really enjoyed being able to work with members of the school, people who were doing research, but also some of the folks who are kind of working in the field day to day and can help bring some of this to life.
[00:09:35] Ray: Okay. Well, now I want to kind of pivot to careers in energy and in sustainability. So in your experience here, you’re going into your second year, it seems like, Steven, you’ve been involved in the energy field for quite some time now. What types of positions are students typically seeking within the energy industry and what skills are needed for those positions?
[00:10:00] Steven: Yeah. So, there’s a wide range of ways to get involved. I think when talking about folks from Haas and coming from a business background that can often look like going to a project developer, which is essentially the companies that go and say, Hey, we need to build large scale solar or wind and we need to get these projects actually made. The ones who are figuring out where to put it, figuring out sort of how to get it, to participate in markets or to serve with a certain utility and figuring out all the negotiations and the project finance and all those pieces.
[00:10:32] So that’s a common one for sure. But, then there’s a whole other kind of set of opportunities that honestly looks a lot like working for your standard tech company. And that’s talking about things like product marketing or product management and business development and all kinds of the buzz-wordy terms that are thrown out in business school or those kinds of roles, but the best part about energy is it sort of, it really spans the gamut of all kinds of opportunities.
[00:10:59] Ray: Okay. What would you say are some recommended electives for those who are thinking about careers and energy after taking those core classes?
[00:11:07] Steven: Yeah. So, there’s a wonderful class at Haas called Energy and Environmental markets. It’s in the spring, formerly taught by professor Borenstein, most recently taught by Lucas Davis. And it’s been known for years to be just a really wonderful class at Berkeley. And I took it this spring with Lucas and it really lived up to its promise.
[00:11:26] So that’s a great one. There’s a whole bunch of kinds of classes and opportunities throughout Berkeley’s campus. One that I highly recommend for any other electric grid geeks out there is Electric Power Systems with Duncan Callaway. It’s fantastic and a great way to figure out all the physics of how the good works.
[00:11:42] And even someone like myself who hasn’t taken a science class since high school was able to make a group. So, highly recommend it.
[00:11:49] Ray: Yeah. Yeah. Is that a class at Haas or is it taught in another?
[00:11:53] Steven: It’s taught kind of across the energy engineering or the computer science and electrical engineering programs.
[00:12:01] Ray: Steven, I want to pivot next to what are some current issues that the energy industry is focused on?
[00:12:08] Steven: Yeah, so I think climate change and de-carbonization is obviously a huge one. And that’s one that resonates with quite a few of our members, both across the energy and the resources landscape. But then there’s a number of other issues. Energy access is one, kind of the lack of equity when it comes to both access and the cost of energy is something that really affects communities.
[00:12:31] And we’ve had a number of different sorts of events trying to help highlight that. And there’s some great BERC members and Berkeley students who are researching that topic. But yeah, I think looking for a way to sort of equitably make the transition to zero-carbon energy is ultimately the biggest challenge but there’s just so many smaller challenges wrapped within that.
[00:12:50] And it relates really well to the natural resources landscape but just trying to say, like, how do we make a world that more efficiently uses what we have in a way that doesn’t take away from people who are in capitalism.
[00:13:03] Ray: Right. And so, for folks like myself or others who aren’t energy fanatics, so to speak, but are interested in contributing to reducing the effects of climate change or carbonization, what are some of your recommendations to folks who are concerned about these issues but not necessarily involved in energy as a career?
[00:13:27] Steven: Yeah. So, I’ll start by saying we definitely need more smart and motivated people to dedicate their careers to energy. So huge Blackbird. You’re thinking about it on the fence, totally go for it. It’s awesome.
[00:13:38] I think one of the great things and honestly, one of the terrifying things about some of these challenges is that it affects every industry and every role and every function. So, you could be in healthcare and air pollution coming from energies. I think the fourth leading cause of death globally and is directly linked to some of these challenges.
[00:13:57] If you work for an online dating app then like trying to come up with cheap dating suggestions when the wildfires are making it impossible to go outside is a challenge you’re going to have to deal with. So maybe stretching a little bit, but I just think that there are a lot of ways in which these challenges kind of interweave and ultimately, I think the best thing that folks can do is sort of look for the specific ways in which you can make a difference in the capacity that you’re in. I think if everyone finds a way to kind of at least even just kind of consider the results of some of the actions and some of the work that they’re doing.
[00:14:33] And, it really brings us along. Cause it’s very much a team sport.
[00:14:38] Ray: Right. We’re recording this on September 15th and the last five days in the Bay area we have had like the air quality index has been horrible.
[00:14:48] One week ago today, in fact, I think the skies were orange. I don’t know if you’ve seen all the
[00:14:52] Steven: Yeah, the trip to Mars that we all took.
[00:14:54] Ray: Exactly, exactly. It was like, wait, is this really 10:00 AM? Are we sure this isn’t like another planet or, you know, later in the evening? And so, this is, actually it’s funny. This is a well-timed, podcast recording at least.
[00:15:10] Ray: Cool. Well, Steven, you are going into your second year at Haas and you did this summer internship. I actually want to ask you first about the process you went through in seeking an internship and how did you end up landing one?
[00:15:26] Steven: So, I think my internship search probably isn’t the most typical of some of these Haas students or some of my fellow students. I really started thinking about the internship from day one when I got here and that probably sounds a little over-eager, but I think one of the things that are a great opportunity at Haas is the chance to work with some really interesting organizations, even while we’re taking classes and during the school year.
[00:15:55] And so, I sort of came to campus and knew that software is a really interesting tool to be able to use for some of these challenges. And it is something where I had not had any software experience.
[00:16:07] So I came to campus and actually used Haas’s access to PitchBook, to look up some companies that were recently founded who were working on energy space, but specifically with the suburban and came across a company by the name of Camus Energy that was founded by a few ex-Google engineers who were working on a really interesting problem.
[00:16:29] And I just cold outreach to them via email and sent an email saying like, Hey, I’m a Haas student really interested in working on some of these challenges and got lucky in that they were interested in talking to me a little bit more. And so, I started working for them this past January part-time and really enjoyed it.
[00:16:48] And that eventually blossomed into an opportunity to join them full time for the summer.
[00:16:52] Ray: Wow. Sounds like you knew you were what you were looking for and was able to achieve it. Is there a typical time period for recruiting from energy companies or is that, you know, year-round?
[00:17:08] Steven: It’s really dependent upon the size of the company, which is a pretty interesting split with energy. So, there are larger utilities or project developers or kind of just tech companies that are interested in and have an energy arm. Those organizations are the ones that we’ll start recruiting in October, November, December timeframe, or the vast majority of the folks, at least at Haas that are going into energy.
[00:17:31] The recruiting really isn’t starting until spring break. So maybe mid-March and April. And that’s usually because the organizations we’re talking to are smaller companies who are still trying to figure out kind of what roles they want to fit in. And I think there’s just more of an aversion to having kind of this consistent, this is exactly kind of the role we want to fill within an industry. So, while it’s a bit of a mix, for sure, I’d say that there are quite a few folks who are really kicking off their search in earnest in the early spring.
[00:18:00] Ray: And I guess, what would you say are some of those major players that recruit earlier in the year?
[00:18:05] Steven: Sure. So, there are some of the California utilities, so Southern California, Edison, PG Nee, are ones that come early. There are some of the oil and gas majors and especially some of their new energy division. So, Shell and Chevron and… are definitely out here. There’s actually a number of utilities from Europe that have arms here that are doing some really interesting work. So now they’re an LX arm and EDF, but yeah, it’s really a lot of the larger utilities and energy organizations that are starting earlier.
[00:18:37] Ray: Awesome. Well, now you are going into your second year at Haas. We’re kind of at the beginning and I have to point out kind of the elephant that’s been in the room for a while, right, which is that we’re having classes, we’re living during this pandemic of COVID-19. So, with that in mind, what are you most looking forward to in your second year here at Haas?
[00:19:01] Steven: It’s an interesting experience stepping into this space, having had the on-person experience for roughly half my MBA and then stepping into virtual to this year. In reflecting before the year on sort of what I was eager to do and sort of how I thought things were going to change.
[00:19:19] One thing that really came to mind is that I was interested in sort of doubling down on some of the better relationships that I had built. I think there’s a tendency in business school to just have so much going on and to get involved in so many things that then all of a sudden that semester, that year is done and gone.
[00:19:39] And I know at the end of this year, I’ll be moving back to Chicago. So, I think one thing that this has sort of helped me get excited about is sort of having the core group of people who I am really excited to be able to build better relationships with and sort of focus my efforts there.
[00:19:54] Ray: What I’m hearing I guess, is kind of the quality of the relationships may be versus the quantity.
[00:19:59] Steven: Yeah, I think what it is as much as I miss the ability to have kind of the serendipity of meeting new people and having kind of those new experiences, the bar to be able to interact with folks is a lot higher. And so, it forces you to be a lot more intentional about who you’re building relationships with and sort of how you’re spending your time.
[00:20:19] And I think there’s a lot of benefits to that level of contention.
[00:20:23] Ray: Right. And I think one of the things that you said at the beginning was look, we started this program, you and I both. I’m in the evening weekend. You’re in full-time in-person right. And so, transitioning from in-person to virtual has been maybe rough is kind of an understatement on how the transition has gone, but you’re right.
[00:20:45] I feel like Zoom and other virtual networking opportunities, it’s much easier to maintain relationships than to build new ones. And I think you’re spot-on in terms of you have to be deliberate on who you want to connect with which I think in our larger sense goes to, I mean, look, Haas, we have one of the smallest MBA class sizes of those universities that are in the top 10 or the top 20.
[00:21:14] But even then, I think it’s 300 people on average per class for full-time and for EW as well. And that’s a lot of people. I mean, there are 75 people, there are 70 people in our cohort, right. And so, I think a way I thought of it coming in was like, well, out of those 70 people, if I can have great relationships or relationships that last past graduation with maybe 5 to 10 of those, that’s a huge win.
[00:21:44] Steven: Yeah. I mean, there’s only so much time that we ever are going to have, and yeah, I think that’s been something that’s been a change in just how we go about deciding how we want to spend our time.
[00:21:55] Ray: Right. And you mentioned moving back to Chicago after graduating this upcoming year from the full-time MBA program, what do you want to do after graduation?
[00:22:08] Steven: That is the grand question. I have some longer-term visions trying to get involved in this clean energy space in the Midwest. And so long as the sort of steps that I’m taking are helping me closer to the vision and trying to help build a more equitable decarbonized energy future there, then I’m happy. So still a little TBD on exactly what that looks like but I’m excited to get back to the Midwest then.
[00:22:34] Ray: All right. Well lastly, we have some lightning round questions and the first set of questions I have for you is yay or nay in terms of like, do you currently own this product which is related to energy? So, first of all, rechargeable batteries.
[00:22:59] Steven: Yay.
Ray: A solar-powered calculator
[00:23:00] Ray: LED light bulbs
Ray: Smart appliances that aren’t TVs or aren’t electronics, so, like a smart fridge or a smart smoke detector.
[00:23:12] Steven: I’d say nay. I’m still a poor grad student. So.
[00:23:15] Ray: Okay. Well, three out of five. That’s pretty good. Do you have a book or podcast recommendation?
[00:23:21] Steven: Yay.
[00:23:22] Ray: We’re done.
[00:23:23] Steven: Yeah, I do. I just finished reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, which has nothing to do with energy and everything to do with a crazy experience on Mount Everest, but it has really stuck with me. So, that’s definitely a book I really enjoyed.
[00:23:40] Ray: Is that one of your goals is to climb Mount Everest?
[00:23:43] Steven: Absolutely not. And I’m glad that this gave me a much better reason to not have that as a goal.
[00:23:48] Ray: Okay. And then what is a shelter in place hobby that you’ve adopted, good or bad?
[00:23:54] Steven: Great question. I had definitely done a lot more gym scrolling on Instagram but I don’t know if that would be a new hobby. Yeah, I don’t know.
[00:24:05] Ray: I can tell you mine. I take a daily siesta around when I don’t have meetings.
[00:24:11] Steven: Siesta is good. I currently spend a lot more time than I used to making lists and Airbnb has took places that I would like to stay.
[00:24:19] Ray: Nice. It looks like you’ve thought about where you want to go maybe after the shelter in place is lifted as well.
[00:24:27] Steven: Yup.
[00:24:28] Ray: And then what are two attributes about you that don’t make sense together?
[00:24:34] Steven: Well, the first one makes sense with the book recommendation that I gave, which is that I very much adore mountaineering. They’re kind of the sport of trying to go high up on a mountain and thrawn like crampons and the backpack and just keep walking up to it. But I am super, super, super scared of heights.
[00:24:53] So even like reading that book when I was safely in my bed at home, I was still like sweating buckets from my hands.
[00:25:02] Ray: So, are you afraid of heights or are you afraid of falling or is it just heights?
[00:25:07] Steven: I will say, yeah, I don’t know if I find necessarily if my brain sees much of a difference between heights. I’d like to think that since I’m a little on the tolerant, I’m just afraid that any balcony is going to be below waist height and I’m going to tumble to my doom but I know that’s pretty unlikely. So.
[00:25:25] Ray: Because the thing is, I always thought I was afraid of heights too because even when I went to a baseball game and I was sitting in like the top deck of the stadium and I looked down, I felt my hands sweating. But I actually did some zip-lining. This is maybe three, four years ago in like Costa Rica.
[00:25:44] And because you’re just going straight and not falling like I was fine with it. I mean, that was amazing. But then last week I actually had a friend who wanted me to go skydiving with him and I just started feeling like, I just started sweating.
[00:25:59] Steven: Like I need to, it sounds like I need to go zip lining and figure it out for myself.
[00:26:03] Ray: Exactly. Exactly. One last question before we wrap is what advice do you have for incoming or even first-year students as they’re going along this MBA process during shelter in place?
[00:26:19] Steven: I think the best advice that I would give is, I feel like coming into the program, there’s a lot of pressure to know for sure what you want to do.
[00:26:28] And if you don’t know it, then the goal is to figure it out kind of as quickly as you can. And I think in my experience, it sort of sounds like when I talk to other folks, it makes it sound like I knew exactly what I wanted to do coming in. But I think the biggest thing was just sort of like picking a hypothesis and saying, this is kind of what I think might make me happy and then just going for it and then not being afraid.
[00:26:51] If you find out that you don’t like it, that you can always just change it and you can always try something different, try something new. And so, I think that’s my big thing is kind of pick something and just go for it and never be afraid to change your mind.
[00:27:04] Ray: Yeah. And I think you talked about wanting to be involved in the energy space but you also said there are so many different positions, right? And so, like we were talking about earlier with cold emailing, with, you know, networking, there’s a lot that went on between what happened in day one versus when you secured an internship.
[00:27:26] And even looking forward, it sounds like you still have some thinking to do this upcoming year. Cool. Well, this has been a pleasure, Steven. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
[00:27:36] Steven: Awesome. Thanks, Ray.
[00:27:37] Ray: Thanks for tuning in to another episode of hear@haas. If you enjoyed the show, please tell a friend and fellow Haasi and don’t forget to leave us a rating and review for more Haas podcasts, check out our interviews with alumni on OneHaas and the OneHaas undergraduate podcast. I’m Ray Guan, and we’ll see you next time here at Haas.