Mike Hilgendorf (MBA ‘20) is a Leeds Alum currently working at FTI Consulting as a Director in the Power, Renewables and Energy Transition group. During his time at Leeds, he became the president of Leeds Social Impact Consultants and the Net Impact Case Competition. Mike has played an impactful role in helping develop the Clean Energy MBA Pathway, and is a frequent industry speaker at CESR events. He recently joined CESR to talk about his position and reflect on the skills and resources that led him down the path of working in energy transition consulting.
CESR: What does your day to day look like within your current role?
Mike: There is no typical day-to-day in consulting. I always tell students and people who are looking to go into consulting: if you are looking for a standard 9-5, you certainly will not find it with consulting. It is all over the place, fast-paced, and dynamic, which is exciting in a lot of ways but does not lend itself to a stable routine. In my role, I’m constantly juggling different projects with different clients, so there’s really not a day-to-day that I can speak to. That being said, in general it is working with clients, having meetings internally and externally, working through different problems, and working towards whatever deliverables that we may have on a given project.
During my MBA at Leeds, I first and foremost wanted to focus on gaining the hard skills – corporate finance skills, Excel skills, as well as general [energy] industry knowledge.
-says Mike Hilgendorf
CESR: What do you think are the main skills that make you successful as a consultant?
Mike: Specifically for FTI, the Power, Renewables, and Energy Transitions group is nestled in the Corporate Finance division. Corporate finance skills are really heavily utilized, as well as Excel and financial modeling through Excel. Other relevant skills that we use daily are related to presentations, business writing, and similar skills to communicate with clients. It is also important to have a general foundation in energy industry knowledge. Industry knowledge is critical for the work I do and part of how we screen for potential applicants.
CESR: What steps did you take to bring yourself closer to getting hired in your current position?
Mike: During my MBA at Leeds, I first and foremost wanted to focus on gaining the hard skills – corporate finance skills, Excel skills, as well as the general industry knowledge that I mentioned earlier. Outside of the classroom I had a heavy focus on extracurriculars. I was not a consultant before my MBA, so I tried to take advantage of extracurricular consulting opportunities. That includes Leeds Social Impact Consultants, or helping with the Net Impact Case Competition; involvements that can show you are interested in the industry but also help to develop the relevant skills that you need in the industry. Finally, I focused on networking, talking to industry professionals, and trying to figure out what jobs are even out there so that I could line up those classroom skills and extracurriculars to meet the job descriptions of jobs I was interested in.
"The major challenge [to transition away from fossil fuels] is intermittency and the inability for solar and wind to have a consistent supply of energy generation, because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow."
-says Mike Hilgendorf
CESR: How do you keep up with news on the energy industry and energy transition?
Mike: We have job-specific trackers that we use internally at FTI. Besides that, in my free time, I listen to a lot of energy podcasts and energy finance podcasts because that’s what I’m interested in – that’s what I do. It’s nerdy to some people but I enjoy it, so podcasts are my go-to. You can listen to them and learn from them while you’re doing something else; I like being productive in that way.
CESR: What do you see as major opportunities and challenges in energy right now?
Mike: I’ll start with a challenge in the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, because that will lead into the opportunities. The major challenge is intermittency and the inability for solar and wind to have a consistent supply of energy generation, because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. Grid operators are having a tough time balancing that intermittent generation, which is scaling up rapidly.
I think there are a couple of opportunities that arise from that, the most obvious being battery energy storage. We have made a lot of progress with that but there is a long way to go to span the duration that we need to solve the intermittence issue. The other big opportunity I see is advanced nuclear energy with small modular nuclear reactors, which is the smaller next generation of nuclear power that can provide a baseload of carbon-free electricity to the grid.
CESR: What type of work did you do before coming to Leeds?
Mike: I was actually in the legal industry – first as a paralegal, and then later as a project manager. I thought that I wanted to do environmental law and that was the way to effect change. I spent a year or two in the legal industry and quickly figured out that that was not where my skill set thrived. So, I shifted my focus more on business and finance and using those tools to propel the energy transition forward. That’s how I ended up at Leeds.
CESR: How did you use resources that were provided to you by the MBA program and CESR to help you while making a career pivot?
Mike: The underlying interest that I had was the same: propelling the energy transition. The way of effecting change is certainly different. Coming into CU, I knew I needed energy industry and finance knowledge to end up in a job that I wanted. The fact that Leeds allows you to take Masters of the Environment courses outside of the business school during your MBA was really attractive to me – that has since become its own Clean Energy Pathway. That opportunity was pivotal in my career switch.
All of the networking and extracurricular opportunities that Leeds and CESR offer were also great. I was able to do a project with RMI through Social Impact Consultants, and the Net Impact Case Competition supported by CESR was an incredible experience that helped me meet a lot of amazing people. Additionally, the different mentorship programs allowed me to meet energy industry professionals and leverage Leeds’ network, ultimately helping me navigate where in the energy industry I wanted to end up.
"At the end of the day, Leeds has a great network throughout Boulder, Denver, and the energy industry – you can have endless conversations with different Leeds Alumni."
-says Mike Hilgendorf
CESR: Do you have any advice for current students who are seeking to break into the field of energy and energy transition?
Mike: Learning about the industry academically is key. The base knowledge can put you far ahead of your peers or other job applicants. It’s also important to really focus your extracurriculars on things that are energy-industry related.
Demonstrating your devotion and eagerness to jump into the industry is going to be crucial when you start the application process for jobs and it is a real differentiator especially for people coming out of undergrad – there’s not a lot of other opportunities that you have other than your coursework and extracurriculars to set you apart.
I would also recommend networking and speaking with industry experts who have been where you are and can talk to you about what they are looking for in applicants coming out of graduate and undergraduate programs. Industry professionals can also be great to learn more about the types of jobs that are out there. One problem I had when I started my pivot from the legal side to the business side was that there are so many jobs– it seemed like the more I looked, the more different types of jobs there were. Talking to people in the industry and trying to narrow my focus based on how my skill set applies and how my preferences for a job apply to find the right fit was really beneficial. At the end of the day, Leeds has a great network throughout Boulder, Denver, and the energy industry – you can have endless conversations with different people Leeds Alumni.
Definitely take advantage of the opportunities for advancement that Leeds and CESR have to offer.
- Mike will be a part of CESR’s Careers in Sustainability: ESG Consulting panel on October 5; register to attend the panel, meet Mike, and learn more about sustainable consulting.
- Learn more about the coursework, co-curricular options and network-building opportunities offered by the Clean Energy MBA Pathway.