Five years after its inception, the Energy Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler has received its first-ever endowed gift. This generous provision, intended to make the center a self-sustaining entity, comes from Stephen Arbogast, professor of the practice of finance. His initial $100,000 commitment is establishing “The UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Center Fund for Excellence.”
Arbogast is director of the Energy Center, where his passion for teaching coincides with decades of industry experience. Following a 32-year career with ExxonMobil, Professor Arbogast joined the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business as an executive professor of finance, where he developed ethics, project finance and multinational finance courses. Meanwhile, interest in energy-focused curriculum was growing at UNC Kenan-Flagler, and Arbogast was invited as a guest lecturer to teach a weekend energy project finance course.
In 2013, following the success of his weekend course, Arbogast was asked to join UNC Kenan-Flagler’s faculty team and build the School’s first energy program – he accepted, and went on to create a concentration for full-time MBA students to specialize in energy. The concentration hones in on two primary topics: the business of energy and the energy transition. All courses emphasize the keys to commercial success and how to navigate in an industry evolving towards a lower carbon future. Arbogast now teaches six courses for MBA students, including one on the energy value chain – the gateway course to the energy concentration.
Arbogast has written more than 70 case studies, as well as a popular case textbook, “Resisting Corporate Corruption,” which he uses in his core curriculum ethics course. His cases draw from his many decades of professional experience. His ExxonMobil work in multiple treasury and finance management roles took him to Brazil, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Australia, China and Europe. Additionally, subsequent consulting work for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory gave him insight into renewable energy and the coming transition. This worldwide career gives Arbogast a unique ability to teach the complete energy value chain with a global perspective.
The Energy Center at UNC Kenan-Flagler is singular among energy programs. Its mission is not to focus solely on oil, gas or renewables, but to teach the whole spectrum of the energy chain. “Even if students know they want to pursue a particular part of the value chain,” Arbogast says, “they need to understand all of it because they’ll be both cooperating and competing with those other industries.”
While many energy centers focus on policy advocacy, Arbogast emphasizes the critical connection to business education at UNC Kenan-Flagler. “We’re a business school,” he says. “Our task is to teach students how to be successful commercially. The energy transition will be more difficult and costly than many imagine—good company management and public policy will depend upon realistic appraisal of the obstacles and best options for moving forward.”
Sharing in this vision is Dan Domeracki, another professor of the practice at UNC Kenan-Flagler who joined the School after a career as an executive with Schlumberger. After attending an Energy Center conference on fracking in 2016, Domeracki was impressed with the center’s candid, inquiry-oriented approach to controversial topics. He decided to support UNC Kenan-Flagler in his role at Schlumberger by providing resources and hiring graduates. Following his retirement, Domeracki’s skill set and work experience were excellent complements to Arbogast’s, and he joined the Center as associate director.
By endowing his gift to the Energy Center, Arbogast is creating an annual resource that will directly support students, curriculum, programming and events related to energy. The gift is also a cornerstone upon which Arbogast and Domeracki plan to build. The Energy Center is entering a phase of active fundraising, with ambitious plans to raise a combined total of $2 million by 2023. Arbogast plans to match every additional endowment gift up to $500,000.
Arbogast’s generous gift and practical leadership are opening a new chapter for the UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Center, and helping to secure its position as one of the most exceptional and unique energy programs in higher education.
“Energy is a commodity business, and as such it’s subject to volatile price structures and intense applications of public policy,” Arbogast says. “It’s also strategic and we are teaching students how to succeed in that kind of world. We are teaching them the business of energy.”