How the HEC Paris EMBA Helped Me Launch My Own Energy Consultancy

Rui Retagi, EMBA ’20, is, first and foremost, an energy enthusiast.

The Mozambique-born consultant, polyglot, and entrepreneur is a 19-year veteran of energy and mining firms around the world. After breaking into the mining industry in Brazil and the United States, he made the leap— both in industry and in geography—to oil and gas in his native Mozambique and in South Africa.

The 360-degree understanding he developed of both the mining and conventional energy industries led him to the next natural transition: renewables.

“What triggered me to get into renewables was that I wanted to understand the energy sector in general. There are lots of things that are related to oil and gas. The difference, however, lies in regulation,” he says.

Deeply versed in all three sectors, a colleague’s offhanded yet astute observation that his profound transversal skills in all three planted the seed of an idea in his head. An EMBA from HEC Paris later, Guthumba Consultancy Services, a bespoke advisory firm in sustainable energy that helps small- to midsize developers bring their assets to life, was born.

He sat down with us to trace the through line of his career.

“The program’s global perspective gives the opportunity to connect with people from different parts of the world.”

Summarize your career up to the point where you decided to pursue the EMBA at HEC Paris.

I am a civil engineer by training. The first 6 years of my career were spent working in public infrastructure development projects between Brazil (where I graduated university), Mozambique (my home country) and the US (where I finished by master’s degree and learned how to become the professional I am today). At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, public spending was cut globally. I was offered the opportunity to enter the energy sector through the mining industry in my home country. So, I went to work as project engineer; shortly thereafter I was promoted to Project Manager, leading multi million-dollar contracts at the age of 28. This allowed me to continue within the industry in senior roles. I ended up working in more than 15 countries whilst shifting towards oil, gas, and renewables, while delivering state-of-the-art assets worth more than $3bn worldwide.

Why did you decide to pursue an EMBA in the first place? How did HEC Paris differentiate itself in the decision-making process?

Between late 2017 and early 2018, I felt I was beginning to plateau in terms of professional development. I would either need to make a change to update my experience and skills if I wanted to aspire to higher goals. At the time, my biggest goal was to climb the ladder forward into more executive roles. As I had already worked and lived in US, I decided to search for European schools that could foster my aspirations. I quickly realized HEC Paris had the perfect program as it aligned with my professional life; I selected the January English Modular track as my option. Furthermore, it had specializations that were of my interest, with Shape the Future of Energy being very superbly detailed and attending to my professional needs. Lastly, I had worked in Francophone Africa for years thus I wanted to leverage the networking opportunities out of it. Concisely, HEC Paris had the necessary ingredients for my needs.

What is the most important lesson you have taken from your time at HEC Executive MBA?

“I think the defining piece of the value added by the amazing content was to establish and create long-lasting relationships with the people I have met. The fact that you get to sit in a classroom with people form diverse backgrounds, experiences, and ways of thinking resonated with me.”

Debating while actively solving a business case for example­—when you get to hear different perspectives for the same problem—results were often mind-blowing. You can see how much “diversity” as an added value in businesses reflects in the P&L (profits and loss) of organizations. Plus, business is all about relationships, and the development of trustworthy relationships is what you get when you are in an environment like the HEC Executive MBA. Those relationships are solidified away from the classes and during informal conversations, as we get to know the person beyond the professional in front of you. For Instance, from a cohort of 54 we had more than 40 nationalities; that means 40 times more opportunities for increasing your network depending over the sector you may be in. That does not mean you will bond with all of them, but you can maximize your reach if you are open to get to know more of them. HEC has a global network of 68,000 alumni worldwide.

What is an example of a lesson from the EMBA that you put to immediate professional use?

I could point out the Leadership component that assisted me with my own self-awareness. My Specialization, Shape the Future of Energy was, however, the best component. It started with the amazing content and the pertinent visits provided by Professor Jean Michel Gauthier and Andrea Masini. I had chosen this specialization because I wanted to know how new business models are fostering the energy transition and how they could be leveraged for the emerging markets, especially in Africa. The content was exactly what I needed, and I used it right away at work. I would say that it is responsible for more 60 percent of my current business development and strategy.

What would be your go-to piece or pieces of advice to leaders in corporate world?  Did you come across any of these pieces of advice during your time at HEC Paris?

I think that being resilient and adaptable are essential. HEC Paris will give you a lot, even beyond the content and theoretical component that comes with it. But living through those moments can be incredibly challenging— especially with the world we are living in today. In class, we saw business cases and heard speeches on how we should position ourselves, but when faced with the impact created, we usually fall short. In today’s world, last week’s information is obsolete. The pandemic has highlighted that it doesn’t matter how prepared one may be; you should always find means to adapt to deliver value from the strategies you create. Professor Jeremy Ghez’s book “The Architects of Change” talks about how the noise of one’s surroundings impact the decision-making process, and how well should we adapt. That process of adaptation comes with resilience, as you go through successful pivots until you reach the desired strategy/format for your business and for yourself.

How did the program best serve as a bridge between conventional energy and renewables?

The program’s global perspective gives the opportunity to connect with people from different parts of the world. Above all, the program makes you reconsider your life, not only professionally but also personally. It can be life changing. When I entered the program, I thought I had a clear career path, and that the program would only validate it, but the result was completely different.

For example, new business models being introduced to foster the energy transition and the sustainable impact created in emerging markets paved the way for Guthumba Consultancy Services. In effect, I created my own practice targeting part of the emerging markets that I am quite familiar with thanks in many ways to the learnings from the program.

Having knowledge of the full value chain for the mining, oil and gas, and renewables sectors for the past 20 years, I realized that I could provide unique support to small- to midsize developers, government institutions, cooperatives, individual investors operating within the emerging markets in Africa, in navigating the energy transformation journey. This idea came out of a conversation with one of my cohort colleagues. This goes to show the importance of creating long-lasting relationships within the cohort.

Once the idea was there to be seen, others started to reach out to find other means to collaborate and to co-create; today I find myself with a mindset far beyond what I had thought possible. The perspectives are huge with collaborations in Africa, in Europe and prospects in Asia. This is due to the network. When I started at HEC Paris, I was an executive, and I was okay with it— I wanted to carry on as an executive within the sector I was in. When I left, I the seed of an entrepreneur was growing within me.

More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris offers the best EMBA program in the world; click here to learn more.

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