Jeff MacGuidwin spent five years in the oilfields of Saudi Arabia before relocating to Australia for his MBA.
As an oil and gas engineer, he worked in extreme conditions, managing a team of specialists, driving innovation in technology and securing millions of dollars in revenue for multinational oilfield services company Schlumberger.
Despite his experience, Jeff wants to drive change in the energy industry; to shift the focus away from oil and gas towards nuclear power and sources of renewable energy.
After an MBA from Sydney’s Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), he aims to go into energy consulting and influence decision-making at a corporate and government level.
First, the ambitious American wants to create a legacy at the school. And as vice president of AGSM's student society, he’s well-placed to do so.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
I'd seen the short-term direction the oil and gas industry was going and I figured tougher times were probably ahead.
Getting an MBA was always something in the back of my mind as an excellent development option, especially if I wanted to pivot within the energy field or even change industries completely.
I also needed some stability in my personal life, as maintaining long-distance relationships while working in Saudi was quite challenging to say the least!
Why did you choose to study at AGSM in particular?
The access to the region, the reputation within Australia, and the chance to live in one of the best cities in the world definitely stood out.
Most US programs take a full two years, while AGSM takes only 16 months; so there's less opportunity cost. Also, the program is quite young compared to many US and European schools, so I thought there'd be more opportunity to help create a legacy and shape the culture of the school.
What stands out from your MBA experience so far?
It's definitely been challenging, but extremely rewarding. Our full-time cohort of 61 students comes from 17 countries on 6 continents. I'm learning a ton of new skills and starting to make some connections here in the business community of Sydney.
Plus, I've been lucky enough to be elected vice president of our class, representing us to the administration and to the Sydney community as well. Opportunities to lead such a talented group don't come along too often.
How was your experience living and working in Saudi Arabia?
I could probably write a book about this, but I'll keep it simple!
It took me at least a year to really “get comfortable” there, but as I learned a bit of Arabic and started to understand the uniquely conservative culture, it became a really enjoyable experience.
I was impressed by the scale of oil and gas in Saudi. You drive a few minutes outside the towns and there's pipelines and wells everywhere. I worked in a pretty harsh environment, but with a great team of both locals and expats.
What advice do you have for MBA grads relocating to the Middle East?
Respect the culture and it'll respect you back. I've seen a lot of people get so frustrated with the lifestyle there that they quickly burn out.
Really try to get to know locals and take in as much of the experience as they can. Millennials are becoming the dominant generation in the Middle East, so you'll probably find you have more in common with people there than you think. People also have high expectations of the expat workforce, so you need to deliver.
What do you see as the future for the energy industry?
If the planet is ever serious about cutting carbon emissions, mass power production will have to come less from traditional fossil fuels and more from alternative options.
To me, nuclear seems like the solution. More will have to be done to store its waste, [but] it's carbon-free and delivers exceptional capacity for increasingly urbanized societies.
Renewables will play a large role in more rural environments. Solar power is the most viable option since its cost has dropped significantly. If battery storage capabilities increase, solar power could be more than just an intermittent power source.
What are your plans for the future?
My goal is to work as a consultant in the energy-specific wing of one of the top-tier firms here in Australia. I want to help companies and countries find their optimal energy mix: how much should come from oil and gas, nuclear, wind, or solar, and from where.
Governments need to be able to provide affordable energy to their citizens. And availability of power is so closely correlated to economic development, that it's imperative countries get the mix right.