Parlaying Experience and Education into a Great Job
Tom Bregman had just completed the first half of his MBA in Sustainability program when he was offered a job he couldn’t refuse. That didn’t mean he had to quit the program; it will just take him a little longer to get to commencement.
Meanwhile, Tom has been building an innovative program from the ground up. He is director of Energize New York, a program for homeowners in Westchester County, New York, that uses community-based marketing, social media, face-to-face education and innovative financing to help residents make their homes more energy efficient. The three-year effort is funded by $2.6 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act competitive grants from the Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
Launched in January 2011 as Energize Northern Westchester, the pilot was based in Bedford, New York. Now the program is expanding throughout the fourteen municipalities of the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium.
“As we realized the potential for large- scale transformation of the residential energy-efficiency market, we expanded our horizons and rebranded the program Energize New York to match our wider ambitions for the program,” Tom said. “We’re now looking to take the lessons learned, education and outreach tools and institutional knowledge throughout the mid-Hudson Valley region and eventually the state.”
“Homeowners in New York can save 30 percent or more on their energy bills when they upgrade their homes to make them energy efficient. In fact, many New Yorkers will save over one thousand dollars a year and get a more comfortable home, too,” Tom said. “The savings, when paired with low-cost financing and state rebates, translate into positive cash flows and zero out-of-pocket costs for New York State homeowners.”
A Diverse Resume
Tom’s varied experience, including his studies in the MBA program, made him a prime candidate for the job. A native New Yorker, he had spent two decades working as a programmer, software designer and business analyst in start-up businesses and large-scale corporate technology companies. In the early 1990s, at City University of New York, he used a beta version of the original web browser, Mosaic, to create a campus-wide intranet.
“That was my first experience with the potential power of the Internet,” he said. “It got me so interested in the possibilities of the Web that I left a very secure university post and moved to an Internet start-up company.” He spent the next decade in product management and marketing in the high tech and telecommunication world.
Tom has long been active in grass-roots environmental and political campaigns at the local level. In 2006, he jumped at the chance to work on the successful congressional campaign of U.S. Rep. John Hall (D-NY). That experience, along with his background in high-tech marketing, led to a job building the sales and marketing team for a political data company based in Washington, D.C. The company created a national voter file with cutting-edge analytics tools for electoral campaigns and progressive advocacy organizations. One of the company’s largest clients was the Obama for America campaign.
After the 2008 election Tom hoped to find work in the administration. “But the line was long and I couldn’t wait for the right position to open up,” he said. While he was waiting, the financial and economic crisis deepened. “So the idea of pursuing sustainability and business in a different way was tremendously appealing,” he said. “I had no formal business training. I was looking for a program that integrated graduate-level business training with what was very important to me: leveraging the power of business to help create a more sustainable society, while improving the odds of making businesses themselves more sustainable.”
‘Better Than I Imagined’
Tom explored several MBA programs that focused on sustainability, but AUNE seemed like a great fit because he was living in New York and liked the systems based approach. A visiting day trip cemented his feelings, and he entered the weekend MBA program in the fall of 2009.
He wasn’t disappointed. “I had been out of school for over twenty years, but it was better than I imagined,” he said. “It’s a lively and interesting mix of people in various stages of their careers, from people fresh out of college in their twenties to very seasoned professionals in their fifties and sixties. I think it really strengthens the cohort, that broad range of life and professional experience. You make strong connections and bonds with people. ”
“The work is very challenging; the group work is exciting, and very powerful and useful in translating to the work I do now.”
After two semesters and a summer session of full-time schoolwork, he got the Energize New York position in summer 2010 and since then has been taking one class a semester. He expects to graduate in May 2013.
“I often use my Antioch training as director of Energize NY, especially in the areas of systems thinking, group dynamics, stakeholder engagement and community-based marketing. The very fact that I was in the MBA program not only helped me secure this important job, it’s clearly made me a better leader,” he said.
He’s also very pleased that, in a difficult economy, Energize New York has grown and added staff positions. And he finds it especially rewarding that he has been able to bring on people who, like him, were at turning points in their careers. “I’ve hired several people with strong work histories who were caught in the economic downturn. They were having real trouble getting back on a professional track, but I was able to help key board members understand their value to the organization as all important ‘human capital.’”
“I love what I do,” he said. “We’re working very hard every single day to make energy efficiency the social norm. Just as the act of smoking and not wearing seatbelts changed radically in a single generation, in the coming years we will see energy-efficient homes as the rule rather than the exception.”