What are the risks and rewards of guaranteed energy savings contracts for state and local government projects? Ask Graham Lewis of Schneider Electric. He knows.
Graham Lewis is the Performance Contracting Sales Representative for Schneider Electric’s western North Carolina region. His day-to-day work involves calling on potential customers with energy and water savings project opportunities, working through the paperwork and regulations involving state and local government projects, and participating in industry growth initiatives that help advance the industry and his career.
Graham was recruited by Schneider Electric as a Senior at NC State University in Raleigh and has been with the company for almost three years. In this time, Graham has spent a wealth of time on job sites learning building performance firsthand, has presented at industry conferences and has received sales and relationship management training through Schneider Electric, which consistently ranks in the world’s top firms for most-admired, ethical and sustainable.
Below, Graham answers questions from NCBPA about his career pathway, advice he has for students looking to enter the workforce and addresses common misconceptions that young professionals may have about their first position out of school
Describe your current role at Schneider Electric.
I am a performance contracting sales representative for the Western half of North Carolina. I call on K-12 school districts, counties, cities, community colleges, and universities. I am responsible for creating demand for performance contracting and then guiding the governmental entity all the way through the state process.
What is performance contracting?
Performance contracting is a type of design/build construction with an energy focus. In North Carolina, there is enabling legislation (GS 143-64.17) that allows governmental entities to participate in the program. Energy services companies, like Schneider Electric, install facility improvements that are guaranteed to save a certain amount of utility, operations, and maintenance costs each year over a 15-20 year period of time. The savings must cover 100% of the cost of the facility improvements and all associated costs. Therefore, it is a self-funding financial vehicle for governmental entities to improve their facilities, reduce their utility costs, and receive guaranteed performance long-term.
Why were you interested in getting into the performance contracting market?
I’ve always known I wanted to get into high-tech sales, and throughout college I became very interested in government and energy. Performance contracting is a perfect combination of the two, and it is a no-brainer for both sides of the aisle. It saves energy and reduces emissions while eliminating taxpayer dollars that are currently being wasted on unnecessary utility costs.
How did you find your current role at Schneider Electric?
I was contacted during the Fall of my senior year at NC State, because Schneider Electric was conducting interviews on campus for the position. They had found my resume on ePack, the university’s career portal, and it matched what they were looking for in candidates. I highly recommend to all college students to get your resume posted onto as many sites as possible, both at your college and online job boards.
What skills does Schneider Electric look for in students they recruit for your position?
It’s important to Schneider that candidates have excellent interpersonal skills when applying for a sales position or any other customer-facing role. Trust between a customer and their contractor/partner is extremely important in this industry and most others as well. Therefore, there is a variety of soft skills that are evaluated during the hiring process (i.e. interpersonal, communication, professionalism, etc.). When applying for a technical position, certifications, experiences, and technical knowledge is weighted much more heavily. You can never have too much training or take too many courses, because as fields become much more specialized, it becomes increasingly important to have people who can translate between organizations in a business. One thing that many technical folks in our organization have is licensure in multiple states. We have several P.E.s who are licensed in many states, which make them critically important to our business as we continue to try and expand into new geographic regions.
What part of Schneider’s business is looking to add people?
As the energy efficiency industry grows, we are growing with it. We currently need talented people in all parts of our organization: sales, building automation service techs, project managers, energy engineers, estimators, etc. With over 1,000 employees in North Carolina alone, Schneider Electric is always looking for skilled workers to grow it’s market share in the energy sector.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love building relationships with people from all around the state. Every governmental unit has their own challenges and are often looking for help to solve them. I’m in a unique position to help alleviate many of those challenges all at once. It’s exciting to look 2-3 years back and see all of the professional and personal relationships that you have built with prospective customers, government staff, and other industry professionals.
What does a typical work week look like?
There is no one typical week, which is what I love about this role. On average, I’m out on the road meeting with people about 3-4 days a week attending meetings, presentations, facility audits, conferences etc. When I’m not on the road, I get to work from home unless I have a specific need for being in the office. Although it is a good bit of travel, Schneider Electric does an excellent job of keeping a work/life balance for its employees.
What are clubs, networking groups, conferences, etc. that students should get involved in?
Try out as many as you can find! If you are interested in energy efficiency, most colleges have “Green Teams” or a sustainability club made up of other like-minded students. Once you have decided a general job description you are interested in (i.e. sales, engineering, service technician) look for organizations that expose you to that career path. I was a member of the American Marketing Association at NC State because they always brought speakers from area businesses in to talk about their company and their job. It helps you decide what you do and do not want in a job and provides a networking opportunity should you want to learn more about that company. Finally, I highly recommend attending the NC State Energy Conference to speak with employers in the energy sector and to be immersed in new technologies that are entering the market. It is held each year in late April/early May at the McKimmon Center at NC State.
What misconceptions did you have about the job before coming into this role?
I was extremely surprised to see how much of a leadership position you can have coming straight from school. In my role, I lead a governmental unit through a cumbersome state process and I lead I a team of engineers through a competitive procurement process and through a four month long design of a project. I’ve also been given opportunities to speak to 100+ people at conferences and internal meetings. Don’t think just because you are young or fresh out of school that you can’t take a leadership position in any organization.
What misconceptions did you have about the industry before coming into this role?
You always hear on the news about budget constraints for local government entities and its easy to think that everyone has those, and it isn’t too bad of a situation. However, once you get out and talk with the people who are impacted by budget constraints and you see the outcomes of the limited funding that our government has, its hard not to become passionate about finding other forms of revenue that can be generated for governmental entities.
What third party recognitions should students look for before joining a company?
There are a few lists that I always checked when applying for a position out of school. The first is the World’s Most Admired Companies, which weighs factors like innovation, equality, inclusion, and sustainability. The second list is the World’s Most Ethical Companies, because you want to make sure that you will be treated well as an employee and not pressured to act immorally should an ethical dilemma arise. Finally, since I was entering the energy space, I wanted to see if Schneider Electric was on the World’s Most Sustainable Corporations list. Since Schneider Electric made all three lists (World’s Most Admired, World’s Most Ethical, & World’s Most Sustainable), I knew it would be an excellent place to begin my career.
Want to learn more?
Connect with Graham via email at Graham.Lewis@SE.com.