UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Alumni share career paths in sustainability and energy fields


Careers in Sustainability ForumWhen Charlie Nobles (EMBA ’00) looks back at his career, he sees a convoluted path.

Nobles, marketing director at Sensus, had jumped from jobs in vehicle suspension to telecom to energy when he found himself at a crossroads.

“I found myself in the middle space between energy and technology,” said Nobles, who now works with smart grid technology.

Nobles spoke to UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA students at the 12th annual Careers in Sustainability Forum, an event that showcases professionals who work at the intersection of business and sustainability, on Nov. 1. The Center for Sustainable Enterprise, MBA Career Management Center and the MBA Net Impact Club hosted the forum.

The three-person panel — which included Rory Huntly (MBA ’11), business development manager at Duke Energy, and Justin Crawford (MBA ’12), marketing consultant for DuPont — gave students a glimpse into how today’s energy professionals came into their jobs.

For most, the path to a career in energy was anything but traditional.

“Your background doesn’t dictate where you go,” Nobles stressed.

Crawford, who majored in English and political science at Trinity College, worked as a trader and then joined the U.S. Army. When he began to search for a career opportunity with a large upside, Crawford found biofuels, which led him to a job at Butamax, a joint venture between BP and DuPont.

“The impactfulness struck me,” he said. “It just blew me away.”

Huntly majored in theater at Davidson College before he went to work at an industrial supply company. In 2008, he quit his job and moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue a career in clean energy — just months before the economy crashed. After working as an unpaid intern, Huntly realized he needed credibility, so he came to UNC Kenan-Flagler for his MBA.

Huntly was interested in entrepreneurship and renewable energy, but never imagined working for “the enemy” – a large utility company. But slowly he realized the impact he could have at a utility, and joined the Duke Energy team after he graduated. “Impact for me is going to be meaningful if we can get a lot of renewable energy on the grid,” he said.

The panelists stressed that skills from previous jobs and degrees can be unexpectedly useful working in energy.

  • “Deconstruct your skillset,” Huntly advised. When he was applying for jobs, he had to find ways to relate his theater major to the positions to which he was applying “People aren’t going to make that leap themselves.”
  • Financial skills and the ability to articulate a clear vision are important, Crawford said.  “There is great value for people who can articulate the vision for renewables.”  
  • Don’t look for opportunities, Nobles advised. “If you’re a serial entrepreneur, find problems. It’s the first step for business,” he said. “It’s got to solve a problem.”