“The proof of the pudding was indeed in the eating, because after I finished the program I was promoted up to the corporate level, to the parent company, which was rare for someone from the chemical division at that time.”
Thomas Gieskes, EMTM’97
Thomas Gieskes, EMTM’97
Born in Indonesia and raised in the Netherlands, Thomas completed his undergraduate training in mechanical engineering at University of Twente and later, while working for Arco Chemical in England, received certificates in marketing from the Petroleum Institute at Oxford University, UK. Thomas’ work with Arco took him to Indonesia as country manager, and then to the Newtown Square, PA, office, where he was responsible for the company’s worldwide manufacturing program, auditing plants in the US, Asia and Europe in an era of increased regulation in the chemical industry. It was at that time that Thomas considered enrolling in a graduate degree program. “As a European working for a U.S. company, an MBA or similar degree was strongly recommended. I hoped to move higher up in the company and many people coaching me, including the chief operating officer, advised that I look into such a program if I wanted to do bigger and better things at Arco.”
While researching Wharton’s MBA program, Thomas stumbled onto UPenn’s EMTM. “I liked the concept of the core financial classes of a great MBA program interfacing with technology and projects.” The program allowed Thomas to stay true to his technology roots, while gaining greater competency in areas like finance, accounting and business strategy. Thomas was also impressed by the exchange between faculty and students. “The level of interaction with professors was also something very new and different for me, coming from my education in the Netherlands.” Though he was traveling more than 60 percent of the time during his first year in the program and was moved to a project in Lyon, France, during his second year, Thomas held strong to his commitment to the program and continued to commute from France every second week. “I had three kids at home, and it was a difficult time. It took hard work to get straight As, and somehow, I got so caught up in the program that anything less would have been a disappointment.”
Thomas found that his hard work and personal sacrifices paid off quickly. “The proof of the pudding was indeed in the eating, because after I finished the program I was promoted up to the corporate level, to the parent company, which was rare for someone from the chemical division at that time.” In 1997, Thomas moved to Los Angeles to work for a newly formed business development group at parent company Atlantic Richfield.
When Atlantic Richfield was bought out by BP in 1999, and Thomas’ job was eliminated, he found himself facing new challenges. At that time, he decided to leverage the entrepreneurial lessons of his EMTM education. He started a venture with other Arco colleagues, developing software for scheduling logistics in the petrochemical and oil business. “EMTM taught me how to develop a product, write a business plan, make a company work.”
He later teamed up with colleagues from the venture to form Stillwater Associates, a boutique energy and technology policy consulting firm with clients such as the California Energy Commission, the state of Hawaii and the state of Washington, and he continues to consult with the company today. Thomas then helped found Organic Fuels, one of the first and largest biodiesel producers in the country. Until April 2009, he served as its vice president for business development. Thomas is currently working on renewable energy projects in Belize and Mexico.
For all of these experiences, EMTM provided invaluable preparation. “I currently live at the intersection of finance and technology, so learning how to go out and raise money, create detailed projections and market ideas has been crucial.” Thomas also took an elective in bioengineering and his paper on algae as a source of renewable energy a topic he admittedly knew little about in 1997 which ultimately laid the groundwork for an ongoing passion and his current work in the renewable energy space.
EMTM continues to inspire Thomas today. “In retrospect, EMTM was one of the most interesting things I have done in my life, and it allowed me to go out and try some things in my career that I might never have tried. There was just an electricity in the air and the feeling that anything was possible. I really had a blast.”