Established in 2010, the HBS Business & Environment Initiative (BEI) works to deepen understanding of the environmental challenges facing business leaders and inspire new ideas and practical, effective solutions. BEI has established a network of 5,000 alumni whose careers include managing business & environment opportunities and risks. BEI helps to connect current MBAs with these alumni for learning and careers. We recently spoke with one such alum about her career journey. 

When Heather March Takle (MBA 2006) came to HBS, the former Captain in the US Marine Corps was focused on international development and microfinance. Today, as cofounder of pathZERO Energy, she’s leading an effort to help businesses transition to cheaper, cleaner, more reliable energy solutions through improved efficiency, better data, and optimized pricing. Here, she chats about her background and the nuts-and-bolts process of transitioning to a career in renewable energy.

Tell me about your experience before coming to the MBA Program.

I enrolled in the ROTC program as an undergrad at Boston University; initially, I was attracted to the fact that I could get a full scholarship and not put the burden of paying for college on my single mother. But it was actually a great fit; I have a tendency towards structure, hierarchy, discipline, and reward, so that worked out well in the military. After college, I enlisted in the Marine Corps for five years as a logistics officer, managing transportation and distribution operations of personnel and supplies for large-scale training exercises and deployments. It was a foundational experience that ultimately drove me to HBS—I realized that I could be, and wanted to be, a leader.

What was your career plan when you arrived at HBS?

I was interested in international development and microfinance, having seen some of the Marines’ humanitarian work during my deployments to the Middle East and Africa. After HBS, I worked as a consultant to get business experience at the strategic level, but at a certain point I realized I had lost my mission, a purpose that drove me in my career. I was working on spreadsheets at 2 a.m. just helping make a random billion-dollar company a bigger profit, which wasn’t as rewarding as refueling a tank battalion at 2 a.m.

How can students best familiarize themselves with different career areas and job functions in renewables and storage while at HBS?

Getting involved with clubs is one of the best ways to meet people outside of your section and connect with people in any industry. I served as a leader for the Microfinance Club and was also involved with the Christian Fellowship and Hispanic American Club—they were all great experiences for building relationships. I know the Energy and Environment Club is very active and would obviously be a great way to make connections in the field and meet other students who are interested in renewables. 

What influenced your decision to go into clean energy?

It’s pretty cliché, but I watched Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Lionel Bony (MBA 2006), a sectionmate at HBS, was also influential. He worked with the School on its efforts to implement sustainability practices and was vocal about the connection between fossil fuels and global warming. I basically said to myself, this seems like one of the most pressing problems of our generation—if I want to have an impact on the world, this is it.

You worked at Ameresco for seven years and served as vice president at Patriot Energy Group. And now you’ve cofounded pathZERO Energy. 

Yes, pathZERO Energy is on a mission to help commercial & industrial customers get to zero net energy. From my experience in the energy industry, the commercial & industrial sector is a very hard nut to crack. Energy is a really complex world, and my cofounders and I saw the opportunity to pull all of the pieces of distributed and clean energy together for customers into an individualized, integrated solution that makes sense for them. Right now we’re in the early phases of customer discovery; we want to prove that we can deliver a solution that will work in this segment, and if that gains traction, we can go out and scale. We’re bootstrapping and taking our time. 

What were some of the most helpful career resources you tapped into while you were an MBA?

The best thing I did was be the career rep for my section—in other words, I was the liaison between my section and the career office. That gave me the inside scoop, which I used to quickly discover the path I wanted to pursue and the HBS resources I could lean on.  Plus, my “on the couch” experience with Dr. Tim Butler and other counselors helped me understand myself and my aspirations better.

How has the HBS alumni network impacted your job search?

When I decided I wanted to get into the clean energy sector, I went back to the alumni database and scoured it. I talked to around a dozen alumni in the field and that’s ultimately how I came to my role at Ameresco.  All the alumni I reached out to were exceptionally responsive and provided sage advice. Peter Wallis (MBA 1985), the alum at Ameresco, ultimately took a chance on putting me in a role that was made for an entry-level engineer, but allowed me to learn the business from the ground up.  After a year or so proving myself, the CEO was willing to put me in more of a traditional MBA strategy role for the company. 

What is the best advice you could offer to incoming MBAs interested in business and environment?

Being proactive about internships and case study or other project work while you’re still in school is definitely helpful and something I wish I’d done. But as someone coming from the military, my consulting experience was an important transitional time. If I hadn’t needed to do that, a clean energy internship would have been very helpful. And because the companies don’t necessarily recruit on campus, you have to be persistent in knowing that’s what you want to do. Finally, get out there to all of the industry events sponsored by organizations like Greentown Labs and the New England Clean Energy Council. There’s no shortage of clean energy events in Boston where you can get out and meet people, which could ultimately turn into that one door-opening opportunity.