Money With Purpose

issue 01 | spring 2021
Jonathan Fairbanks ’88

Share your career journey after graduating from Denison in 1988.

"I couldn't understand why we were using tired equipment from the '70s, so I started my first company..."

After a bank training program in New York, I went to work for a Greek oil tanker owner in London. I enjoyed learning the dynamism of international trade, but discovered that moving commodities in a commoditized manner was hugely volatile. Having been introduced to the global energy business, I moved on to the energy capital of Houston to work in offshore drilling, an industry centered in Texas. The globe-spanning nature of oil-and-gas exploration and development allowed me to spend a fair amount of time in places like Dubai, Brazil, Singapore, and Norway. In the late ’90s I could not understand why we were using tired equipment from the ’70s, so I started my first company to design, build, and operate new generation offshore drilling rigs. I took that company public and used it as a model to start a series of energy equipment and service companies—including in offshore wind—over the next decade. All of those companies were backed by private equity investors as they grew, so I eventually decided to start GEC in 2008 as a growth energy investment firm.

To someone new to growth energy investing, how do you explain what GEC does?

We raise patient capital from university endowments and insurance companies which seek to outperform public equities, then we deploy that capital alongside world-class entrepreneurs to scale up their companies.

Are there any implications of climate change in your line of work?

Europe is more than a decade ahead of us in transitioning to increased use of wind and solar. I saw this firsthand 15 years ago when we invested in the formation of one of the first offshore wind companies, based in the UK. The U.S. and the rest of the world are now trying to incorporate the lessons learned in how Europe scaled those industries and continues to transform their utilities, infrastructure, and all facets of living supported by energy consumption. GEC has dialed up our investments in clean energy technologies to meet the increased demand.

What advice do you have for readers when it comes to the future of clean energy and how can they do their part from the comfort of their own home?

By all means, install solar batteries at home to form your own microgrid. Incorporate renewable energy advances into your personal and business decisions. But recognize that decarbonizing our lives will not be quick or painless, and it will be hugely expensive—but we all have a role to play in doing it thoughtfully.

Published August 2021
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