Sustainable energy is an ever-growing field with multiple opportunities – maybe too many. When Weatherhead alumnus Ben Cooper, MBA ’15, looked to build his business skills in this area, he credits his time as a fellow in Weatherhead’s Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit as key to defining his next steps. Cooper is the Vice President of Utilities, Power & Alternative Energy at KeyBank, where he negotiates bank loans in the power industry.
“Where I found the Fowler Center useful was in thinking about what is important to me in terms of sustainability,” says Cooper. “There are a lot of different viewpoints out there about what sustainability means, what you should do and what you should focus on. And talking to people there and getting their viewpoints, helped me think a little more clearly about what is important and why.”
Cooper’s passion for renewable energy started when he worked in project finance on some of the largest renewable energy financings in the country, and continued during his time at Weatherhead. In addition to helping him define his views on sustainability, Cooper’s education at Weatherhead has been useful to his job in a number of ways, from Greg Jonas’s accounting class to Scott Fine’s class on financial evaluation. “Weatherhead was useful in teaching me specific skills but it also taught me how to look at a problem and tackle it. I use my critical thinking skills on a daily basis here. Those classes specifically helped with that.”
At KeyBank, Cooper says he spends roughly three quarters of his time on the renewables industry —solar and wind, almost entirely. “A colleague of mine did a very back-of-the-envelope calculation to project sea level rise associated with carbon being dumped into the atmosphere by coal plants,” says Cooper. “He figured he had financed so many units of solar power and had therefore thwarted a specific amount of sea level rise. And it was a surprising amount. Overall it’s still really tiny, but the fact that it was measurable at all—and these are very broad assumptions—was really cool actually.”
However, perhaps the most important gain from Weatherhead was the connection Cooper made with Fine, professor of banking and finance at Weatherhead. “Late in my second year I was just poking around the KeyBank website and found this position,” explains Cooper. “I talked to Scott because I knew he was involved and pretty well connected, and he happened to know exactly the right person at KeyBank to talk to.” Fine wrote Cooper a recommendation, which got Cooper’s foot in the door and ultimately resulted in a job. “I have so much to thank him for that,” he says. “I still owe him a drink.”
Cooper and his wife are now here to stay, and he’s a bit surprised he was able to land a job working with renewable energy in Cleveland. “I feel like I lucked out. It’s been great,” he says. “And frankly, I did not expect to wind up where I did.”
Learn more about Weatherhead’s MBA program.