Turning Ideas into Actionable Results. One of my business and professional strengths has always been the ability to see through the details of a problem to focus on the Big Picture. Combined with my collateral talent of conceptualizing and summarizing those big picture ideas I have made a good living as the builder of recurring revenue information products then putting them to use as a strategy adviser throughout my career.
I combined my years of front-line energy domain expertise with new technologies that help our TCLABZ partners leverage their products capabilities for the energy future. I applied lessons learned from years of M&A that saw Henwood Energy Services grow with a dozen acquisitions, roll-ups and flips into Ventyx, now an ABB company.
The energy future is not like Thomas Edison’s dream—it’s better, faster, more dynamic blurring the lines between energy and technology.
It’s breaking down the barriers to entry and democratizing the grid with renewable energy, microgrids, demand response, customer aggregation, distribution automation and the power not only of machine-to-machine (M2M) but artificial intelligence to teach the old grid new tricks of predictive analytics, self-defense, self healing, and continuous learning.
The Principles of Product Leadership.
I credit my teachers and my first boss for teaching me the principles of leadership which I was able to successfully apply to the products I built for my customers.
Bear with me for a moment as I tell you a quick series of stories to set the stage for this broader discussion of product leadership and why assembling the right team of people with the vision, passion, and skills will make all the difference in your success.
Billows, Reed & Tedards. These were the teachers with the most profound impact on my life not the name of a law firm. Mr Billows taught Civics and History, Miss Reed taught Latin and the Classics, and Mrs Tedards was my Speech teacher. Each saw something in me that I was only discovering for myself. No, it was not just that I was a wise guy! Separately, I don’t know whether they would have had the same impact, but unwittingly having all three during my formative years made a big difference.
- Mr Billows loved history and stories of the formation of our country. He told them passionately, made them interesting and sent us on detective assignments passed off as homework to force us to figure out not just “what” was decided but “why” and “how” it affected the future of America. It was this quest for why and so what does it mean that shaped my mind to see beyond the tree to the forest.
- Miss Reed fit all your stereotypes for a Latin and Greek language teacher. Stern, no nonsense, and relentless about keeping up our assignments. She had a ruthlessly effective way of enforcing those rules. In her Latin class, we read aloud—in Latin, of course—in turn until everyone in the class demonstrated they had studied their lessons long enough to read and translate them for the rest of us. Talk about pressure. But the discipline and precision and importance of deadlines and results it taught us has served me well my entire career.
- Mrs Tedards was our speech teacher, debate coach and it turns out our self-confidence builder extraordinaire. Her class routine was to use current events to teach us to get the facts, boil it down to its essence and stand up in front of the class and tell the story persuasively while our peers evaluated us. Time, Newsweek and US News & World Report provided the pages ripped from magazines that she would hand us each day in class. “You have 15 minutes to read these and prepare a three minute improvised speech,” I can still hear her saying. But while getting the story straight might have satisfied Mr Billows and Miss Reed, Mrs T wanted it told with style, presence, confidence and passion. This daily torment is the stuff every business executive needs to stand up before a crowd and deliver his pitch, sell his product, and convince the skeptic. Get it right and it feels wonderful. Get it wrong and you’re back to square one or out on the curb. These are the core competencies so many young people today still need to succeed in their careers. But what I learned from these teachers I often had to teach to my new employees before they could live into their full potential.
This is the first lesson of product leadership. Put together a high performance team with both the big picture strategic thinking skills to imagine new products from the ideas of clients and staff, to ask “why” and “so what” until you understand the business problem that must be solved and the pain points that will get your customer to buy the product. Then you need the technical skills and precision to deliver what you promise, on time and budget, every time.
- Larry Rice. I finished my master’s degree courses at the University of Kansas, but to graduate required that an internship in addition to a thesis. Larry Rice was a graduate of my alma mater and hired “interns” from the program every few years. The University helped place interns sending resumes to the alumni and others in the market for interns connecting with candidates and their faculty adviser. Being on good terms with your professors in grad school is a lesson in networking every student learns fast. I got a call from Larry Rice one afternoon asking me if I was interested in being his intern. Of course I was but I had not yet applied for Larry’s opening. ” I know” he said, “but I already talked to Dr. Edwin Stene about you and he thinks we’d be perfect together, so how about it? Do you want to come to Oregon and work with me?” I worked for Larry Rice in Albany, Oregon for three years and from him I learned that integrity was the gold standard by which professionals are measured. If you have integrity and treat people honestly, respectfully they will work hard to be part of your team. Larry also taught me another important lesson. Sometimes you have to disrupt things if you are going to solve the problem. The third lesson I learned from Larry was the “art” of leadership. When he’d give me assignments he would not only tell me what he wanted accomplished but “WHY” and the “SO WHAT” result he wanted accomplished when I finished the task. I still remember how it made me feel. He trusts me—and he is counting on me to deliver for him. He’s giving me direction and coaches me but lets me do it myself. He asks me questions and offers helpful suggestions. I worked hard to please him because I respected him and understood the goal to be achieved. I was part of the solution. Give your staff that same sense of purpose, alignment and respect and they will work hard for you too.
This is the second lesson of product leadership. You must infect your team with your vision of the product and the ‘why’ and ‘so what’ that will come from building it. Your job is to empower them as a team and as individual professionals to act for you. They must know that you believe in them! You are counting on them! You have confidence in their skill and judgment and you will back them up. You must not only give them the task but help them to understand the importance of precision and care so that they bring the product in on specification, on time and on budget every time—and make it work to solve the intended business problem because—that is the way we do things here—-we do it right the first time and we solve our customer’s problem.
- Vision and teamwork built a generation of new industry leaders. Over my career in the software and information services business I have built many fine products. I didn’t build them myself. I hired people who wanted to be part of great teams and grow as professionals. I gave them great mentors and the best tools. I promised them that if they would come work with me for three to five years that I would give them more experience in the driving force issues shaping the industry using the best analytics tools available than they would get going to work for one company in an entire career. And when they were ready to move up I would help them however I could to be competitive with the best companies in our industry.
I tell you candidly that of all the success I have had in my professional career, none is more satisfying to me than the success of the great teams and leaders who called themselves Global Energy Advisors at Ventyx. Their long term impact on our industry is my most lasting professional accomplishment. I congratulate and celebrate and give thanks for each of them and the work they are still doing today to improve the lives of their customers.
Today those skilled professionals are leaders in companies around the world training new generations of talent about “why” and “so what” and the discipline of delivering on time, on spec, and on budget every time.
Here are some of the products we built and the teams that made them possible.
Renewable Energy: The Bottom Line Global Energy Decisions, 2005
Authors: Gary Hunt, George Given, Hind Farag
Analysis of market potential for 9 renewable energy technologies across 12 markets was one of the first done consistently across power markets and validated wind as leading renewable resource. It was a benchmark used by credit rating agencies and investment banks to assess the risk potential of early renewable energy projects consistently.
Putting Competitive Power Markets to the Test Global Energy Decisions, 2005
Authors: Gary Hunt, Doug Buresh, Kathy Anderson
Independent analysis of the impact of wholesale competition in the performance of power generation plants before and after divestiture included in testimony before FERC’s Electric Energy Markets Competition Task Force in Docket No. AD05-17-000
Can Coal Deliver? Global Energy Decisions, 2006
Authors: Gary Hunt, Hans Daniels, Larry Metzroth
Critical independent analysis of North America’s coal potential, coal productive capacity and the implications of changes in regulations, technology and other factors in the use of coal for power generation.
Power Market Advisory Service, Global Energy Decisions, 2000-2008
Authors: Gary Hunt, Wade Schauer, George Given, Mark Griffith, Richard Lauckhart, Benson Jo, Bryan Swann, Hind Farag
From 2000 to 2008 I was the vision and practice leader for the Global Energy Decisions regional energy forecast services for North America and Europe. These long term expected price forecast products provided fundamental analysis of energy supply and demand across 76 price zones covering every regional market in North America and Western Europe. A monthly update of fuel demand for power generation was produced for a rolling 24-month outlook period and embedded in the Velocity Suite.
This “reference case” product line became a multi-million dollar business line of its own and was leveraged as an applications platform for EnerPrise (PROSYM) software clients providing a high quality starting point for analysis for users. The Reference case also was the common starting point for every simulation analysis consulting engagement and offered an independent, transparent, consistent view of markets and expected prices for Global Energy Decisions.
Authors: Gary Hunt, Devrim Albuz, Mark Griffith
The Power Generation BlueBook was the market leading benchmark of the cash flow at risk for more than 6000 electric power generation plants across North America from 2002 to 2008. It served as a very cost effective benchmark of changing asset valuation because we derived it from the underlying reference case and updated it twice yearly. The BlueBook became the common starting point for every asset valuation market opinion produced by Global Energy Decisions and won broad acceptance by the investment banking, credit rating agencies and investors for its independence and consistency.
Global Energy Horizons/Horizons Interactive, Global Energy Decision, 2003-2008
Authors: Gary Hunt, Doug Buresh, Kathy Anderson
Electric Power Horizons and its successor Global Energy Horizons provides simulation analysis of alternative scenarios for the electric power industry future as an independent benchmark and starting point for integrated resource planning by investor owned utilities. Global Energy Horizons is noteworthy for several things:
- It competed directly with Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) scenarios but because our scenarios lived on an active modeling platform we could offer the clients something CERA could not—we made the scenarios actionable!
- Horizons was our first “crowdsourced” product. We produced the scenarios with the active participation of more than 60 clients in workshops held round the country followed up with reaction and input from our regional market outlook workshop participants. This made the Horizons product very “sticky” because we used the scenarios in the regional market forecasts enabling clients to assess the potential for a given technology or asset across scenarios across regions.
- Horizons Interactive was the first Global Energy Decisions Software as a Service (SaaS) product in 2006. Producing scenarios on the STRATEGIC PLANNING software platform (formerly Midas Gold) we developed a user friendly front end to enable clients to change key variables and easily re-simulate implications across scenarios using our underlying reference case assumptions. The product lived on Global Energy Decisions servers and quickly became a powerful screening tool for investors. It also was used in Missouri by the Public Service Commission to enable PSC Staff to play “what if” across scenarios in analysis of jurisdictional utility filings.
Global Energy Fuels Advisor Global Energy Decisions 2000-2008
Authors: Gary Hunt, George Given, Hans Daniels, Mike Donnelly, Ann Donnelly
Integrated simulation modeling framework to assess fuel demand for power generation and the expected prices of input fuel options including coal, natural gas, oil, uranium and renewable energy alternatives. You can’t tell the story of power fundamentals until you tell the story of each of the fuels that compete for a place in the supply stack.
Our Global Energy Fuels Advisor product integrated our natural gas reference case, coal reference case, a uranium price and supply forecast, global oil model, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction forecast with our fuel demand for power generation forecast bundled together in a complete package.