Understanding finance from an investor’s perspective
As well as providing a more detailed understanding of the energy sector, the program also fulfilled the brief when it came to learning about finance.
When he enrolled in the Full-Time MBA Program at UNC Kenan-Flagler, MacAree knew the view from one side of the negotiation table: that of a sustainable organization seeking funding.
“I knew what I would care about from a startup’s perspective, for example, but I didn’t know what the other side of the table cared about,” he says. “That’s much more obvious now.”
Through his finance courses, MacAree gained an understanding of how private equity and investment works and, importantly, the priorities that investors have when walking into negotiations. This was one of the most valuable things he gained from his MBA experience.
Another valuable asset is his understanding of accounting.
“I am very bad at accounting,” MacAree says. “I am not an accounting person – I didn’t even know what a debit was before I joined the MBA program.”
And yet, he found himself enjoying his accounting classes, thanks in large part to the compassionate teaching style of his accounting professors.
“I wasn’t punished for asking dumb questions, which I have loads of, whereas in the rest of the business world you can’t make mistakes on the job like you can in accounting classes without being fired,” he says. “At UNC Kenan-Flagler, they teach you to an incredibly high level with remarkable patience.”
For MacAree, this approach worked.
By being given the freedom to make mistakes, he progressed quickly, gaining a stronger understanding of fundamental accounting concepts like tax equity. This has proven exceedingly useful in his post-graduate career, as wind farms in the U.S. are funded almost entirely through tax implications.
Connecting to a greater whole
MacAree threw himself into additional learning opportunities. He didn’t just study energy. He also earned concentrations in Sustainable Enterprise and Consulting. He was a Vetter Dean’s Fellow and project leader for his STAR team project.
Case competitions were a new experience and one he embraced fully.
“I didn’t realize what case competitions were before I joined the business program, but basically if you win you’re getting paid to be a big nerd about specific questions you’re interested in,” he says.
Joining a team of his classmates to compete against other schools, MacAree sharpened his research and presentation abilities and learned more about the energy space, all while connecting with classmates and students from other schools. He was part of teams that won first-place in the 2021 UCLA Challenges in Energy Case Competition and third place in the Kellogg School of Management Energy and Sustainability Case Competition.
“It connects you to a greater whole,” he says. “I know people from other schools through these competitions who I would never have met otherwise, and I still talk to a couple of them on LinkedIn.”
Another extracurricular experience that made an impact on him was his time as vice president of the Energy Club. MacAree recommends all students, no matter their specializations, seize opportunities like this.
“You’re trying to build a network,” he says. “It makes no sense to go through a business program without joining a sector-specific extracurricular.”
Financial knowledge is a differentiator
When asked for his guidance when it comes to standing out to recruiters in the sustainability sector, MacAree’s advice is simple.
“No one accidentally falls into being an ESG manager – everyone who joins a sustainability program does so because they’re passionate,” he says.
“That doesn’t necessarily differentiate you, especially if you’re competing for high stakes. Having a passion for it is expected.”
So then, what can professionals in this area do?
“Knowing the ins and outs of finance is a differentiator in this field,” he says. “Sustainability doesn’t naturally attract people who know how to read a balance sheet or why that’s important.”
His advice is to take every sustainability course that UNC has to offer, but also to take the finance courses, especially ones focusing on investment and mergers and acquisitions.
Beyond that, take advantage of the network and perspective that a school like UNC Kenan-Flagler can provide.
“The main thing that’s different about UNC Kenan-Flagler is that the School encourages collaboration for everyone,” MacAree says.
“You’re constantly given opportunities to join new teams and meet new people, to understand that you’re not the lone-wolf killer in your organization. You’re a member of a team – you can be a leader, you can be a follower, you can be the finance person, you can be the spokesperson, it does not matter. Use that. Be collaborative. Talk to everyone.”