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Search Case Study: District Energy & Power Generation Vice Presidents

Search Case Study: District Energy & Power Generation Vice Presidents

Helbling has partnered with this privately held civil and utility construction and construction management firm for multiple executive searches. The firm builds for a broad range of high-end customers across the sectors of: education, healthcare, district energy and power generation, infrastructure, gas transmission and distribution, and electric transmission and distribution. After conducting an extensive market study through a management consulting firm, our client confirmed that the power and energy sector provided an opportunity to expand the company's footprint. A component of the strategy devised by the consulting firm was to secure a business unit leader to grow this market. As the search progressed, Helbling presented two final candidates who exceeded our client's original expectations of how they were going to structure the role. It was decided to hire both professionals and elevate the titles to Vice President - District Energy, and Vice President - Power Generation.


Vice President - District Energy

Vice President - Power Generation

Our client had been involved in the power and energy sector for decades with it assuming these types of projects when existing customers requested/required them or when projects were within the company's geographic reach. Its portfolio consists of significant work in the Northeastern region that includes plant construction (boiler, chiller, and cogeneration) along with utility distribution systems.  

When the U.S. energy market began drastically changing in 2015, our client retained a management consulting firm that specializes in the construction industry to conduct a comprehensive study of the power and energy construction market’s viability.  Our client’s instincts were confirmed.  There was a tremendous amount of potential business in the sector, and the company wanted to capitalize on it, develop a market niche, and build a team that would be dedicated solely to power and energy projects. To address our client's initiatives, the management consulting firm recommended that the company create a Business Unit Leader position.  

The Business Unit Leader role is responsible for the leadership, management, and development of the company’s power and energy strategy with a particular focus on district energy related projects throughout New England and potentially beyond. This position is responsible for the forward planning, project development, group leadership, and profitability of the operation and implementing the strategic plan to grow the company’s future power and energy business particularly in the area of district energy plants.

The position works in collaboration with the business unit leaders within all of the company’s sectors as well as the support services of estimating, business development, marketing, preconstruction, MEP management, virtual design and construction, safety, QA/QC and risk management. This individual is responsible for the successful development of projects across the broader regional territory of the firm. He/she is also responsible for guiding the firm and providing management and oversight, either directly or indirectly, to help the company successfully pursue project opportunities that may include feasibility studies, design build (D/B) or engineer procure construct (EPC) delivery methods.

Our client was seeking a candidate with strong leadership and execution skills who was an expert in the power and energy market, particularly with district energy projects. The candidate needed to possess strategic and market-based knowledge of the sector and be able to work closely with the Vice President of Risk Management in managing projects and in guiding potential feasibility and design responsibilities (which most likely will be outsourced to third-party firms). Additionally, he/she would have strong, regional industry relationships; a proven track record of securing accounts and projects, and building strong teams; and experience with the general management of a business unit because he/she would manage profit/loss the company's power and energy division.

In addition to all of these qualifications, it was imperative that the professional have the personal traits to work collaboratively within the company's existing culture.

Our Strategy:

Helbling worked closely with our client’s Vice President, Estimating and Business Development, Civil & Utility Division for this search. The talent pool was extremely limited because our client wanted a true seller/doer. Working with them on multiple prior searches, we understood their needs and objectives, as well as the intangible traits they sought in candidates for a strong cultural fit. 

To begin the search effectively, we researched general contracting, construction management firms, engineering firms that work in the power generation and district energy sectors, and energy service companies all within the Northeastern region. We identified professionals who had experience leading construction projects in district energy and/or power generation and also had experience developing business in those sectors.  

We enhanced our research by networking with industry contacts for referrals and direct recruitment of candidates. 

Search Results:

As expected from having worked with this client previously, the search was conducted in partnership and progressed smoothly. The company was engaged in the process and representatives were accessible.  

We presented multiple candidates who had diverse backgrounds and the hiring team finalized their list to two individuals. The consensus of the team was that both candidates would add tremendous value to the company and it was nearly impossible to choose one over the other. Additionally, since one of the finalists spent more of his career in the district energy space while the other had similar experience in the power generation sector, parlayed with the fact that there are tremendous opportunities in each market, the company was able to justify having two separate leaders. Therefore, it was decided to hire both finalists and split the Business Unit Leader role into two Vice President roles. 

Vice President - District Energy. This professional was most recently the Associate Vice President – District Energy/Power & Thermal Generation within the manufacturing and energy division of a consulting engineering firm. He was responsible for developing clients, new leads, proposal writing, and overall top-line growth in the U.S. The professional is a licensed Professional Engineer with more than 25 years of experience in maintenance, operations, engineering, planning, and project management in support of thermal energy, power, and fuel delivery systems.   

In follow-up conversations with our client, they describe this professional as being highly collaborative, adaptable, and resilient to working under pressure. He has strong knowledge of cogeneration plants and has garnered deep respect by effectively managing and motivating internal and external teams.

Vice President - Power Generation. The selected professional has more than 25 years of experience as a civil/structural lead engineer, senior project engineer, senior technical resource engineer, and regional chief engineer/office manager in the power, environmental, transportation, industrial, and construction industries. His expertise includes project engineering management, project scope development, project cost estimating, specification development, analysis and design of various types of structural systems, and construction activity monitoring. 

Our client describes this new Vice President as a hands-on, empowering, and inspirational leader who doesn’t micromanage. He fosters and maintains strong relationships with clients and is a self-starter who needs little direction to be successful.  

Together, the secured professionals have made an immediate impact on the company. The Vice President - District Energy significantly contributed to the company’s successful pursuit of a $100M district energy project. The Vice President - Power Generation has done an excellent job of positioning the company to obtain several potential customers in the power generation space, in which projects tend to be large and have long lead times.  

At the time of developing this case study, the Vice Presidents recently completed business plans for their new roles and are assisting the company in creating its overall long-term plan. The company has again expressed how impressed it is with each of the Vice Presidents’ technical and leaderships skills and how well they both fit in with its corporate culture.