An interview with Russell Abber ‘82, Energy Solution Engineer at Royal Industrial Electric. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/russ-abber-180b51/ . Interview was conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig ‘18.
JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What was your senior thesis about?
RA: I majored in Chemical Engineering. During my time at Princeton, I was the Vice Chairman of the Engineering Council. I do not recall a lot of details about my senior thesis, but it was an experimental project studying some chemical reactions. After Princeton I went on to get an MS in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston. My master’s thesis was on the deposition of single crystal silicon. This led me into a long career in the semiconductor equipment Industry.
JPM: What is your current job title?
RA: My current title is Energy Solution Engineer. I am working for a large electrical distributor selling energy efficiency projects to industrial customers. This can include LED lighting, boiler/chiller optimizations, solar generation, air compressors, motors and drives, electric vehicle charging stations, etc. At first this was primarily driven by LED lighting, which has very little to do with chemical engineering. But the chemical engineering training allows me to understand many of my customers’ processes. This understanding makes it easier to explain energy efficiency projects in terms they can understand.
JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?
RA: My day to day job involves working with our account managers to identify potential customers with energy efficiency projects. Once we identify a potential customer, I visit and try to meet with senior executives. The purpose is to understand how they pay for these kinds of projects and if they are interested in efficiency projects. The goal from this initial meeting is to do a quick plant walk-through to count lights, compressors, etc. We put together a rough project size and payback calculation. Following this, we return to the customer to present an initial proposal. It they like it, we can prepare a more detailed proposal and then go back to close the deal.
JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?
RA: My career initially began on the engineering side as a process engineer. I helped to develop processes for semiconductor tools. I later moved to applications engineering and then marketing. I then moved to sales management. All of this was within the semiconductor equipment industry. I made the change from engineering to applications because I saw it as an opportunity to develop my skills, stay in the industry and spend more time with customers. The transition to marketing was a natural progression from applications, which in itself is already within the marketing realm. Sales management was a way to continue this progression. In 2008 the opportunities within the semiconductor equipment industry were exhausted, particularly for me. I was no longer able to travel the way I had been due to medical issues. So I made a transition to the LED lighting world. Although this was initially not as lucrative, it was a lot of fun to learn a whole new field. In recent years I have expanded beyond lighting and into energy efficiency.
JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?
RA: I love walking into an industrial customer and learning about their processes and explaining how we can help them save energy/money. Sometimes it is a matter of improving the lighting and reducing defects/scrap rates. Sometimes it is all about saving energy. As an aside, I am excited to be part of the work to minimize our impact on the global climate.
JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?
RA: For the most part, you do not need to be an expert in every area of energy. You need to begin as a generalist. Know a little bit about each area in an industrial plant, a commercial office building, residential etc. Over time, you may develop expertise in a few specific areas.