For the last 20 years, the global energy industry has been unpredictable. Its products and pricing have been constantly contorted by events, including deregulation in the United States, the revival of oil and gas production here and in Iraq, the rise of renewables, and the growing energy demands of emerging markets.
But through those volatile years, those in the production and trading of energy have had a steadfast source for the knowledge and skills needed to stay on top, in the form of firms led by Clara Lippert Glenn, such as Princeton Energy Programme and PrincetonLive.com. Lippert Glenn, pictured at right, a liberal arts language major, has parlayed her love of other cultures into a long, successful career in learning and development for energy professionals all over the world.
“It never gets old. Every day is new. I love it. It comes from being in such a dynamic industry as energy,” said Lippert Glenn, president and CEO of the Oxford Princeton Programme.
TOPP was founded in 2000, when the Princeton Energy Group, founded by Lippert Glenn in 1992, merged with the College of Petroleum and Energy Studies in Oxford, UK. Today TOPP runs more than 200 public courses in dozens of international locations, as well as extensive web-based instruction.
TOPP curricula cover finance, trading, derivatives, hedging, risk management, and of course the energy industries, including oil, biofuels, and natural gas. Classes range from basics, such as “Introduction to the Power Industry,” to highly specific seminars in commodity trading and operations such as “Liquidity and Counterparty Risk Management,” and “The Dry Bulk Carrier Market, Ownership and Chartering.”
“We have courses that would go all the way down to new hires, people who are just coming in at an analyst level. Accountants, auditors, paralegals, executive assistants, all the way up through people who are full-fledged supply and trading managers, refinery managers, all the way up to anybody at the ‘C’ level,” Lippert Glenn said.
TOPP’s public classes are held in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. “Oxford is where we hold most of our courses, and it’s such a beautiful city. Just like Princeton, it’s a center for learning,” she said.
Lippert Glenn said in addition to public classes, TOPP also does a booming business in private classes in Central America, the Middle East, and the former Soviet Union. “Those clients contract us to come in and educate their employees. And one reason they might do that is that they want something that’s highly tailored just for their business,” she said.
Establishing a training resource for energy professionals was Lippert Glenn’s response to the lack of instruction she confronted in a commodity-trading job she landed after completing her MBA.
“My inspiration came from my being a newcomer to the energy industry,” Lippert Glenn said. “I was a language major who then went on and mastered in business, but I didn’t know much at all about energy. And I was thrown into a really great job, a fabulous opportunity, but I had to educate myself. And that was costly for my employer, even though they didn’t realize it.”
In addition to helping newcomers navigate the evolving energy landscape, TOPP is also well positioned to aid energy-related companies still suffering the effects of the recession of 2009. Firms forced to slash personnel have turned to TOPP for help equipping their leaner workforces with proper training and skill development.
“Recessions make companies very cautious with their discretionary dollars, and training can unfortunately be a discretionary item. It shouldn’t be, but it often is,” Lippert Glenn said.
Leading an international company means Lippert Glenn spends plenty of time traveling, including trips to Oxford every month and to Singapore twice a year. When Lippert Glenn is not traveling in person, she is traveling virtually. “I’m everywhere mostly, because truly most of my day is spent on the phone with people. So I’d like to say that in a typical day I’m literally working remotely in four different global offices,” she said.
“If someone had to define my job in a nutshell, I’d have to say it is putting together the best team and the best product for what I view is the best market out there, and that’s the energy market. A leader is only as good as the team beneath them,” Lippert Glenn said.
“We do it as a team. Different aspects of our organization focus on different areas. One whole team just focuses on social media and they do such a great job of not only staying to the forefront of it but also educating the rest of the company, all of us, on what’s happening. And it’s the same thing with different learning methods. We’re always looking for feedback from our clients and internally from staff on what makes it possible for us to offer the best programs. It’s a team effort. There’s no one person leading the charge.”
How has Lippert Glenn — with the help of her team, of course — managed to succeed in the male-dominated world of energy production and commodity trading? One possibility is that she may have been born for it.
Lippert Glenn’s mother spent her career as a registered nurse, while Lippert Glenn’s father had various positions in the oil refining sector, including starting a company that manufactured additives for use in refineries’ catalytic conversion units.
“I was a product of two very different parents,” Lippert Glenn said. “One in healthcare, there to do no harm, and the other one at the forefront of refining as it came of age.”
Lippert Glenn’s formula for success included grit, determination, and not permitting gender to become an issue. She had started along another path entirely, studying French, Spanish, and Russian at Pennsylvania’s Villanova University.
“I always loved foreign languages,” Lippert Glenn said. “I loved learning not just about languages but about other cultures. And actually, my major language was Russian. This was at the height of the Cold War and I had this dream of graduating and going to the UN and helping to singlehandedly stop the Cold War. That was my dream. Reagan beat me to it,” she said.
“I came out of school and no one really wanted a Russian-speaking liberal arts major, so I ended up talking with somebody who said ‘You know all of these foreign languages, you should be in business, because international business is the up and coming thing.’ And I thought, ‘Well, okay, if you say so!’”
After taking a few business courses, Lippert Glenn attended the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, and earned her master’s degree in international management. After graduation, she joined Amerada Hess and later France’s Total CFP (now Total S.A.), one of the world’s six largest oil companies.
Lippert Glenn said that being immersed in a man’s world, “forced me to tap an inner confidence that I did not originally have. So it made me dig deeper than I probably would have, had I not been faced with being in a more male industry. But I’m so glad it forced me to do that. And it’s never been a hindrance. I have to say all the men I’ve worked with have always been incredibly welcoming and always very eager to share the knowledge they have. The only drawback was my own lack of self-confidence perhaps, initially, and it really forced me to develop that because you had to step up to the plate and know what you were doing and show that you knew it in order to compete in that man’s world.”
Today three of TOPP’s four executive positions are held by women, and more women are joining the worldwide faculty. “We do seem to be upping the average of women that we’re adding, which I think is great,” Lippert Glenn said.
Today the one-time languages major may have forgotten much of her French, allowed her Russian to get rusty and let her Spanish slide, but she is fluent in the international terminology of energy power, where words such as LNG, GARP, LPG, and RFS2 are commonplace and what seems familiar, such as “aromatics,” means something entirely different (in this case, products derived from the primary distillation of coal tar).
“I have to say it’s such a fascinating industry. And this from someone who has no engineering background. But I now absolutely love engineering and science concepts behind gasoline; what goes into the gasoline in everybody’s car; it’s fascinating to me. I wish everybody could learn about it.”
The Oxford Princeton Programme, 101 Morgan Lane, Suite 203 A, Plainsboro 08536; 609-520-9099; fax, 609-524-1120. www.oxfordprinceton.com.