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Professor Stephen Arbogast on the Business of Energy

Stephen Arbogast

News about energy – the vast business that powers the global economy – dominates the headlines and is fueling discussions in classrooms at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

A new MBA Energy Concentration and Energy Center will prepare graduates to assume leadership roles within the ranks of multinational corporations, independent producers, power generators, renewables firms, and financial and consulting firms that do business with energy-related companies.

Setting UNC Kenan-Flagler apart in this field is a comprehensive MBA curriculum taught by energy professionals with a wealth of experience and expertise, said Stephen Arbogast, the finance professor who is leading the initiative.

Arbogast brings a blend of academic and business experience to the School. He began his career with Exxon more than 30 years ago and has served in a variety of positions around the world, including treasurer of Exxon Chemical and Exxon Capital Corporation, finance manager of Esso Brasileira and finance director of Esso Standard Thailand. He started teaching in MBA programs in 1987 and has focused on international finance, project finance, ethics and the business of energy.

In the full-time MBA Energy Concentration, students will explore every aspect of the energy value chain – from oil and gas to power, petrochemicals and renewables. Courses focus on day-to-day business and economic situations unique to the energy industry and address challenges faced by specific industry segments.

Students can expect open, non-ideological conversations on all aspects of the energy business led by professionals with experience in global energy firms, finance and consulting.

“Our Energy Concentration is the only program at a business school that is taught entirely by industry veterans,” Arbogast said. “They will equip students with the technical knowledge needed to decode energy issues and apply their skill sets to the industry’s economic challenges.”

At most schools, the energy curriculum uses an amalgam of public policy, finance and energy engineering classes, he said. “Often there is not that much included about the economics and business problems of the industry. The result is that firms must train those new graduates on the business fundamentals before they are ready to be productive.”

But UNC Kenan-Flagler students will have a competitive advantage. They will receive the equivalent of the in-house training that companies give post-grad hires, Arbogast said. “Our students will be able to have very different conversations with recruiters about the business of energy – and our graduates will be ready to make an impact from day one on the job. They will be working on issues and problems they’ve already discussed and analyzed here at UNC Kenan-Flagler.”

This real-world approach is especially important in the energy business, where outcomes rarely play out nicely as they do in textbooks.

“How do you manage the risk that you could spend $100 million and find nothing? How do we mitigate and model that risk?” said Arbogast, who has written over 70 case studies and the book Resisting Corporate Corruption.

“When you’ve been in business and you’ve done a lot of deals, you become acquainted with fear and risk. I like to bring a sense of that into the classroom – it’s one reason why I got involved in writing case studies.”

The new UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Center will examine energy public policy through programs, conduct research and support students through the curriculum and their search for career opportunities. It also will be a forum for finding answers to critical energy questions. Part of the center’s work will be offering events and conferences that students will help plan. Students also will interact with UNC alumni in the energy business and undertake research in the field to gain hands-on industry experience.

Also part of energy education at the School is the MBA Energy Club, for which Arbogast serves as faculty advisor. The club organizes seminars, networking events and case competitions to aid students as they pursue careers in the energy industry.

“The energy business is highly dynamic and offers opportunity almost across the board,” said Arbogast. And the trifecta of the concentration, the center and the career club will help students discover which aspects of the business most interest them – and prepare students to pursue them.