Marvin and students

Professor Arthur van Benthem is passionate about empowering future energy leaders. As a Wharton Business School assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), he teaches hundreds of students – both MBA students and undergraduates – about the complex dynamics surrounding energy in all of its forms. While there are many ways we can look at energy markets, he wants his students to analyze them from an economist’s perspective.

Van Benthem said his students have a unique opportunity to enter an industry that’s increasingly turbulent but one that desperately needs significant creativity and new ways of thinking more than ever before.

Benthem, who worked on Shell’s Scenarios Team for two years, has taught at Wharton since 2012 and developed an energy-focused curriculum soon after he arrived.

He teaches a popular energy markets and policy course that focuses on market power, scarcity, energy prices, the impact of deregulation on electricity and fossil fuel markets, uncertainty and geopolitical risk in hydrocarbon investments, the environmental impact and policies related to the energy sector, cap-and-trade markets, the economics and finance of renewable energy, etc.

Marvin and audience

Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum comes to campus

Van Benthem brings in numerous guest speakers, and yesterday he invited Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum to speak to his class and share his insights on the energy transition, leadership styles, how he makes complex business decisions and advice for soon-to-be MBA grads.

Following the class lecture, Odum spoke at a public forum at UPenn’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy. The Center opened in mid-2014, and this marks the first time a senior leader of an international oil company has spoken at this venue. Following a few brief remarks, van Benthem moderated extensive Q&A between the students and Odum.

The Kleinman Center aims to serve as an unbiased place for debate and discussion on energy solutions and issues. Deputy Director Cornelia Colijn said the Center cultivates energy policy innovation and promotes its application by creating opportunities for students, researchers and practitioners to explore and develop agendas for action.

She strongly believes academia has a unique opportunity to play a crucial role in the future of energy policy – and the forum provides the perfect setting for a candid conversation between an industry leader (such as Odum) and members of the next generation of energy leaders.

Sneha Aleti, a first-year MBA student at UPenn, said the biggest takeaway from Odum was the critical need to communicate clearly and authentically with groups who may not always share the same views or beliefs.

Students say O&G leaders must collaborate to create positive change

During the public forum, Odum said, “There’s an opportunity here – particularly for companies like Shell – to co-create a solution with somebody who’s deeply into this business and clearly understands energy markets, what a transition might look like and what the barriers are to that change taking place.”

Sasha Klebnikov, a UPenn senior studying mechanical engineering, agreed. He completed an internship at Shell’s Technology Center in Houston last summer and will intern at Shell’s Deer Park, Texas refinery this summer. He also serves as the editor-in-chief of the student-run Penn Sustainability Review.

Klebnikov said energy is “fascinating since every single discussion requires numerous disciplines to sit at the table. Shell can play a powerful role in the energy transition; we can't improve society without partnerships from all the major players.”

He said leaders like Odum have a tough job as they make complex business investment decisions in an unpredictable regulatory environment and in the midst of climate change.

“With increasing pressure on all forms of emissions, how does that factor into decisions on what to invest in and the long-term strategy of various companies around the globe?” he said. “It’s not a cut and dry or black and white process.”

Jeremy Semble, a second-year MBA student at UPenn and the co-president of the Wharton Energy Club, said he “hopes oil and gas leaders embrace change and innovation even if it comes at the expense of traditional business models. Don’t be afraid to shake things up. You’ll attract the best talent that way as well.”

Marvin sitting on a chair

Time to challenge the status quo

“These markets are all changing fairly rapidly due to a whole host of circumstances. Companies can continue to resist change and continue operating as they have, or they can be a positive force for change – that’s where strong, influential leaders like Marvin come in,” said van Benthem.

What is van Benthem’s advice for students before they leave his class?

“Many of you will become successful business leaders. No matter how busy or stressed you are at any point in your career, don’t forget about society or the environment. Make decisions that align with your personal values and put people first.”

He paused before adding, “Most important, take your power seriously and act when you have the opportunity to do so – don’t wait to write about it in your autobiography once you’ve retired. By then, it’s too late. The future of energy is happening now.”

 

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