For Earl Cummings, the root of his success can be described by one word: relationships.
A longtime entrepreneur with decades of experience in niche business development, Cummings’ route to impacting the industry could be considered unique. However, the 1991 University of Houston graduate doesn’t see it that way.
“My story probably mirrors the story of a lot of people who end up at UH,” he said.
Cummings moved to Houston from Mississippi in the 1980s. After graduating from UH with a degree in management information systems, Cummings began his career in network administration for the Texas Children’s Hospital.
Eventually, Cummings started his own IT staffing and consulting business (The BTS Team), and entered into the world of energy.
“Having Houston as your base means that you will end up serving the energy sector,” he said in a nod to Houston’s position as the Energy Capital of the World.
As his firm grew to provide services nationwide, the business relationships that he formed in the industry led to opportunities to serve on the boards of various companies, including Halliburton, CenterPoint Energy and the Energy Advisory Board. If nothing else, Cummings said, students aspiring to enter the industry must always take the time to bond with the people who’ll impact the world alongside them.
“You’re sitting in the classroom with 20 or 30 other young people who are going to go on to do something relevant in life … to leave the university with no relationships is sort of a tragedy,” he said. “I tell people all the time that there are a bunch of people that went to school with Barack Obama who didn’t think that he would be president. And I’m sure they sat in class with him and didn’t bother to know him.”
While the art of building connections is a foundational piece of Cummings’ success, he also believes that the next generation of energy leaders has to be prepared to meet the organization where the culture of the organization is.
I think it’s important for the next generation to understand how large organizations thrive on reproducing culture,” he said. “Culture is created when you can get people together and you can get people aligned and get people believing in the same thing and working for each other as a team. It’s no longer an industry that you only go to work in; it’s now also an industry that you go to think in.”
However, Cummings said, there is still a lot of innovative thinking to be done.
“The task of the energy transition is a tough one because we are asking corporations to reduce CO2 emissions and use alternative sources of fuel or energy when the truth is that the alternative isn’t currently able to meet the demand that the commercial, industrial, and consumer markets have for energy,” he said. “Everybody is racing to find ways that businesses can get to producing clean energy on the scale they need it.”
For Cummings, the race to clean energy is where UH shines. He credits the institution for leading the way forward with innovative solutions that address every facet of energy needs and adds that UH’s growth into a global power hasn’t prevented it from keeping an eye on its roots.
“What I like about UH is that it’s a competitive university that is still affordable and still serves the community,” he said. “When I went to the University of Houston, it wasn’t the same university. I never imagined that the school would have a program just for entrepreneurship, a medical school, and large-scale research in energy. It now has professors who are published in just about every discipline, along with a president known around the country for her leadership and fundraising. After all this, you have an athletic program that is transitioning into the Big 12 (conference). I’m proud to have watched UH become a powerhouse in so many fields.”