Up Close With Stan Brownell (MBA ’89)
Published on June 28, 2012
Millennium Pipeline Exec is an Energy Industry Jack-of-All-Trades
Stan Brownell, who holds an MBA in Finance from the University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business, traces his passion for learning back to his dad, an ironworker who dropped out of school in the 9th grade.
Brownell’s father taught him how to weld, how to rebuild a car engine, how to lay tile and how to do woodworking — all by the time he was in high school. One day, he asked his dad why he needed all those skills.
“He said, ‘I teach you these things because if you don’t get an education and end up like me, you will never make enough to pay someone to do it for you,’ ” Brownell recalls. “From that day I never stopped learning!”
A math wiz, Brownell attended Michigan Technological University on an academic scholarship. Just recently, he picked up a negotiation certificate from the Harvard Business School. Sandwiched in between was a 15-year stint in the Houston energy industry, a fertile period in which he earned his MBA from Bauer College and became a sought-after expert in exploration and production, marketing and trading. Recently, he was named senior vice president of commercial operations at Millennium Pipeline Company, L.L.C., a New York-based natural-gas pipeline.
But the Rhode Island native who grew up in northern Michigan has never lost touch with his father’s counsel. When called on to give presentations, Brownell often uses his old man’s salt-of-the-earth life lessons. While his dad nicknamed him “College Boy,” his boss now calls him the “Mad Scientist.” That’s probably because Brownell is a dogged and determined problem-solver. Since arriving at Millennium in 2009, he has virtually reinvented the place.
“I like working in an environment where your challenge is to be creative,” he says. “I don’t like sitting still. I like to learn. I think when you stop learning, you stagnate yourself.” We recently talked to Brownell about his time at Bauer, his career and his annual deer-hunting treks with his dad.
What was your first job after college? I went to Houston working with Western Geophysical. They called it a processing geophysicist at the time, because we actually looked at the traces for offshore drilling. My job was to analyze information and look for potential areas to drill. So that moved me into the energy industry.
Why did you want to get your MBA? I was being brought into a lot of discussions at a young age with people who were well skilled at the art of developing business and business plans. I was at Tenneco at the time. … I developed a program to look at the way they ran their system, the way they were doing their sales and such, and I did it from an engineering perspective to show that they actually had extra space that they could utilize and make sales. … And they said, ‘You know what? We need to move you into marketing and business development.’ And I was like, ‘But I don’t know anything about that.’ And they said, ‘Well you better learn because it’s going to be your new job!’ So I embarked upon a path to go to UH to learn more about business.
How did it go? What I enjoyed the most was working with other people, especially on the case studies and such. You got different perspective of how to approach business applications. That was great, especially for a person coming from a technical background.
Did your career take off even more after you got your MBA? Yes. I got into actual physical trading of gas, starting trading companies and did that for close to 10 years, and was buying and selling storage facilities, pipelines, natural gas, oil and electricity.
What keeps you interested in your work? What’s your secret? My boss calls me his Mad Scientist, because he says, ‘He’ll figure out a way. Just give him time.’ And that’s what I like. I like that challenge of trying to figure out a way. …. People may think you are nuts. But if you look at it from a nuts-and-bolts view, you can break it down into the pieces and make it work. You just find a way and keep pushing.
By Wendell Brock