Recognizing Military Veterans Across Utilities: Bill Hartman Discusses the Military Advantage of Veterans in the Utility Workforce - [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

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Journalist, Freelance Journalist

I am a New York-based freelance journalist interested in energy markets. I write about energy policy, trading markets, and energy management topics. You can see more of my writing...

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  • Nov 11, 2022

To celebrate Veterans Day this upcoming Friday, November 11th, the Energy Central Community Team will be shining a light on the many outstanding utility professionals in our network who also spent time in the military.  This week, we'll be featuring interviews with these veterans sharing how they found their way into the industry. We will also highlight their unique perspectives of the industry and how they are influencing the utility space.  

All the interviews will be collected at this special Veterans Day 2022 topic tag.

To all the veterans in the Energy Central Community, we want to say thank you for your service and we wish you a Happy Veterans Day. 

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Bill Hartman has had a long career in the U.S. Navy and outside it.

It started with education at the U.S. Naval Academy and six years as an active-duty officer. He shifted tracks after that. “I liked being in the Navy and serving my country but didn’t like being away from home,” he explains. So, he fashioned a compromise by serving 16 years in the Naval Reserves. During that time, he completed an MBA degree from the University of Rochester and worked in senior management roles across industries.

Hartman’s introduction to the energy industry occurred way back. He grew up in the southwestern part of New Mexico – an area that is fertile drilling ground for oil and natural gas companies. His friends worked in these companies but lost their jobs when demand fell. “One of the things I learned about, early on, was the cyclicality of the oil & gas industry,” he says.

So, he sought to make a career in the then upcoming technology industry. The roster of companies in Hartman’s resume spans many industries and includes entities that he has founded or led through reorganization. A common factor among them is that they are all related to technology.

But life turned full circle for him two years ago, when he began working as chief executive officer at Atargis – an ocean wave energy startup. Unlike that earlier time, when cyclicality in energy seemed the norm, the industry is characterized by dynamic changes this time around.

And Hartman is dipping into his formative experiences in the military to make sense of it and lead his organization.


Formulating A Theory of Leadership

Over the years of his working across various companies, Hartman has read many books on leadership. That education was complemented with his professional experience as a senior executive, and in his current position as a CEO, tasked with developing a robust and productive company culture.

But it is his experience in the military that has proved invaluable in formulating a leadership theory. He says it all came together when he was Commanding Officer (CO) of a Naval Reserve unit with 150 to 200 people.

As he relates it: One day, when I was 40 or 45 years old, I woke up thinking I knew all about company culture…Maybe, it was because I was far enough along in age…I realized that I already had the tools, that I did not have to find another nugget of wisdom in a book.

Hartman says the tools in his arsenal – integrity, communication, and accountability –  were all imbibed during his days in the military.

“It all starts with trust and accountability,” he says. That trust is engendered through servant leadership, in his case. “You work for the people who work for you,” he explains. In practical terms, this means that he does not dictate orders to his reports and helps team members or employees find their purpose in doing the job. 

The free-flowing culture of startups, where roles and duties are less defined, can be a fount of innovation for many. But Hartman, who has had extensive experience working in startups, thinks the disorder should be balanced with order. He speaks at length about the benefits of a good hierarchy in the relative freedom of a startup culture.

According to him, a clear chain of command – a necessity in the military’s style of functioning – can help clarify and ensure efficient execution of a task in a chaotic startup environment. “There is flexibility [in the military], not complete, but enough to get the work done,” he explains. The results of this approach, when applied to corporate settings, can be fantastic, he says, and likens the experience to inspiring leadership provided by the commanding officer of a ship that ‘really hums’ with purpose and mission.


The Advantages of Military Experience

Hartman has spent decades dealing with successful executives and employees across industries. Based on this experience, he says veterans have an advantage over others. “They don’t know how strong their background is for any industry,” he says.

According to him, that advantage stems from the values and experiences instilled into them at a formative age. “There is a level of responsibility and accountability you get very quickly [in the military] and a very strong mission focus as well,” says Hartman. That mission is complemented by the endeavor’s gravity. “A military professional goes into the field knowing very well that they could see serious combat [at a very young age].”  

In Hartman’s opinion, these values and experiences are more important than technical mastery of a subject or technology. “Technically, you can also have very smart [military] people. But I am a big believer in trust, accountability, and a sense of mission,” he says. A sense of mission is especially important in an industry like energy, where cultivating employees devoted to saving the planet is essential, he adds. 

Initiative is also important, he says. Veterans seeking to make a career in the energy industry should be aggressive “not like a jerk but aggressive as in making it happen”, he says. His naval career – during which he worked on two ships at the same time and took up a position teaching officers at Naval School while pursuing a part-time MBA – exemplifies this approach. 

Career resources at bases can be excellent sources of information about options available to Veterans, says Hartman.

Another tactic is to connect with professionals in an industry located close to the base. For example, Veterans near Fort Hood in Texas can set up meetings with professionals in Austin or Houston to investigate career opportunities in the technology and energy industries.

“It [networking] is a hard thing to do, if you haven’t done it before,” he says. But there are many resources available to ease the process. Hartman, himself, is a mentor on Veterati – a professional networking app for veterans. Such apps can be good resources to connect with mentors and professionals and learn more about available opportunities.


Future of Energy Industry 

Global leaders may be hastening their country’s transition towards clean energy but Hartman says it will be a long time before fossil fuels, notable oil & gas, will go away from the world’s energy mix. “There is no simple game plan to move away from them [fossil fuels],” he says, adding that it will require a transition from both capital and company standpoints.

Indeed, the experience of Blackrock, the world’s biggest investment firm, is proof of the many levers that need to be considered while making the transition. The firm, which attempted to hold corporates to account through ‘stakeholder capitalism’, is under fire from both climate change activists and their opposition. The former accuse it of not divesting quickly enough from polluting industries and companies while the latter have begun removing it from their list of potential investments due to its unfriendly stance towards fossil fuels.

Hartman likens the transition to a complex chess puzzle. “More meeting of minds is needed,” he says.

But there is one form one form of energy that he is enthusiastic about: Wave Energy. He predicts that it will account for between 20% to 25% of the overall global energy mix by 2050 because it cheaper than wind and solar – the most popular forms of renewable energy today – and is available in abundance. His company, Atargis, develops systems that convert energy waves into cost effective utility-scale energy.  

For veterans, the changing dynamics of the energy industry is good news, says Hartman, because it provides them with more opportunities. “They should come into the industry knowing that what they are getting into will change and not being shy about that,” he advises.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 12, 2022

In Hartman’s opinion, these values and experiences are more important than technical mastery of a subject or technology. “Technically, you can also have very smart [military] people. But I am a big believer in trust, accountability, and a sense of mission,” he says. 

A really interesting perspective on what can be taught on the job vs. what's an inherent characteristic. Shows the value of hiring Veterans, even if they have less experience in the given job but they have the intangibles that you can't teach. 

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