Energy Advisory Board Spotlight - Scott Nyquist

By Janet Miranda

Scott Nyquist is a director and senior partner in the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. His work primary focuses on matters of strategy, organization, and performance improvement for companies in the energy industry. He has assisted integrated oil companies, independent exploration and production companies, national oil companies, electric utilities and industrial companies that serve the energy industry.

He has been in various positions at McKinsey, including member of the Board of Directors, McKinsey’s Global Institute, along with a member of committees that review the performance of its partners. Nyquist has published extensively on the challenges and opportunities facing global energy markets and is a regular speaker at industry conferences.

In 2007, he was co-author of the first comprehensive national assessment of the economic costs and benefits associated with potential greenhouse gas abatement measures in the US known as "Reducing US greenhouse gas emissions: How much at what cost?," for the US Greenhouse Gas Abatement Mapping Initiative's Executive Report.

A chemical engineer by trade, Nyquist graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering and then obtained an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He also is a board member of the Houston Symphony Board of Trustees, the Greater Houston Partnership Board of Directors and Rice University’s Jones School, Council of Overseers.

The following conversation has been edited for clarity.

UH Energy: How did you get involved with the EAB? What do you think you bring to your role with the board?

Scott Nyquist: I had been watching the Energy Advisory Board from afar for many years, when the university reached out and asked me if I would be interested in joining. I have been heavily involved in the Greater Houston Partnership. and in our work advising greatest partnership on what's important to get right in Houston, it became clear that the University of Houston was absolutely ke to the success of the city and the energy sector in Houston. When the opportunity came to be part of the EAB, I thought, “what a perfect thing to get involved in.”

In my role at McKinsey, we have the opportunity to see lots of different companies operate, and we also do a lot of recruiting talent into our firm. We have a view from our clients and from our own firm, to know what the needs are for talent that is a good resource for the University Houston. I'd also say that we spend a lot of time with our clients who work on innovations in the industry and thus we have a sense of where the faculty can take their research agendas that would be unique to help other companies in the energy industry in the Houston area be successful.

UHE: You’ve been consulting a variety of energy companies over the years. What trends have become visible to you over the years?

SN: There are different kinds of cycles that occur in the industry, one of the biggest issues now that we're facing is the energy transition. How do we meet the dual challenge of providing secure low-cost sources of energy, while at the same time making substantial improvements to the environment, particularly by reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

And then there are other trends, a lot, that are probably secondary to that, but important, nonetheless. There's a whole trend of moving to digital and analytics space, and how that changes how you run your energy company. It’s something UH and their students and faculty are working on.

Beyond the digital theme and the inner transition theme, there’s also the the ongoing pursuit of competitive advantage while delivering performance that every company is preoccupied with and he spent a lot of time thinking about.

UHE: You’ve co-authored works on greenhouse effects early on. What is the role technological innovation will have on reducing carbon emissions?

SN: To meet the overall ambitions that have been set by climate scientists of two degrees centigrade or even one and a half degrees centigrade, is not going to be one silver bullet is going to be many things that have to happen simultaneously over the decades had to get through effectively zero or even negative missions.

There's going to be wind and solar and efficiency that will play out in the power sector. There'll be batteries that will enable the power sector to operate at the highest levels of renewables, but also that will feed into other innovations as, for example, we see electric vehicles growing in quite significantly.

You then have a need to decarbonize industrial sector using technology such as carbon capture and storage, which is a very promising field. And I think there'll be several kinds of nature-based solutions, and even the use of biomass and power generation combined with carbon capture and storage to get into the territory of negative missions to help us meet the overall goal. There will be a wide range of initiatives.

UHE: You started out as a Chemical Engineer. How did the skills you learned in class help you succeed in your career at McKinsey?

SN: McKinsey as a firm, hires people from all types of backgrounds. I think that is not the only path that students can take, but I think it helped me because it taught me how to solve problems in a rigorous way. Chemical Engineers need to think conceptually, and then be able to translate concepts into a detailed plans. Chemical Engineering isn't the most tangible profession. It's all about your molecules and taking those ideas in your head and translating that into real action, which is a skill consultants need.

UHE: What advice would you give to college students who are thinking of joining the energy field?

SN: Students should make sure they develop a distinctive capability whether engineering, business, or other technical fields, just make sure you’re an expert in that area. Have that skill set that a firm can use in a specialized way. But also remember to work hard during your time at UH and learn to broaden your horizons to develop a deep understanding of the energy industry and what’s going on more broadly in society.

I would say to students: talk to colleagues, listen to seminars that are well outside of your area of focus. take that opportunity to broaden yourself as a person and you have a broad understanding and ability to talk and engage people in other disciplines to have a multidisciplinary approach.

And then couple that with your area of expertise or specialization, you'll have a unique set of skills to offer to the company. I would also encourage people to pursue in these team-based activities, such as competitions, where you work with people in different disciplines and learn how to problem solve. It’s a great way to keep yourself broad while learning the specialized skills of your major.