Haas School of Business

First-Person

Melissa Stark

Melissa Stark
BS 93

Senior Executive, Accenture

A Leader in Unconventionals

When Melissa Stark, BS 93, asked Accenture to transfer her from San Francisco to London in 1994 so that she could join her Cambridge-bound husband, the newlywed analyst didn't expect to swap her Levi Strauss project for supply boats, waves, and platforms.

"My first UK project was for an offshore logistics company in Peterhead, Scotland," says Stark, now managing director of Accenture's New Energy group, which helps organizations make business decisions about alternative energy sources, transport technologies, carbon/water management, and unconventional fuel production. "In the North Sea, you could see industry–oil and gas are just so real. I'd always been very math-focused, so I loved the industry's technical and physical sides and combining them with my Haas finance foundation. I've never looked back."

Her Berkeley-Haas finance background gave her a "tremendous foundation" for the development of her career, Stark says. She had three consecutive internships with IBM in San Francisco while earning that degree, and after graduation went straight into Accenture (then Arthur Andersen).

Berkeley and its social mission have remained dear to her since her undergraduate days; today she's very actively involved with Berkeley's Blum Center, a close affiliate with the Institute for Business & Social Impact. Stark feel strongly about the center's work developing students into future industry and government leaders with a social conscience -- whatever they do later in life, she says, they'll always have the experience of field work to reflect on. She has sponsored five students to date.

After college, Stark globetrotted for Accenture's upstream (exploration and development) projects for a decade. The daughter of two engineers, she earned an honors MBA in transportation management in 1999 from Northwestern University. Accenture London sponsored that degree, made Stark a partner, and moved her to downstream (manufacturing and supply) projects afterwards.

Exploring Biofuels and Other Alternatives

"I was very fortunate to work downstream, which is central office-based; I'd had my first child by then, so travelling was difficult," says Stark, who has two sons, ages 10 and 6, and cites being a "working mom" as the most challenging aspect of her role. "I was doubly fortunate that biofuel was becoming a big issue, and biofuels led me to vehicle technology, alternative transportation fuel, electric, and more."

As her alternative energy expertise burgeoned, Stark started writing–a dozen papers in six years. "Betting on Science: Disruptive Technologies in Transport Fuels," which examined competing technologies and alternative energy activity in 10 countries, led to Stark's appointment as assistant chair of the National Petroleum Council's Future Transportation Fuels Study, commissioned by then Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Working with leading scientists across all technologies was the most exciting thing I've done in the industry," Stark says of the two-year study, "Advancing Technology for America's Transportation Future." (The study can be found on the National Petroleum Council site at http://npc.org.)

Today, Stark's top objective is to expand Accenture's global business and capabilities in unconventional resources (often called unconventionals), by developing teams and leaders locally and ensuring that investment, assets, and best practices are shared. She concentrates on the sustainable development of such unconventionals as shale gas, tight gas, and tight oil. Stark is currently studying basins like Texas' Eagle Ford Shale to see whether operator collaboration could reduce the overall cost structure of operating there.

"Eagle Ford is just one basin in the U.S.," Stark says, "but the plan is to supplement this case study with additional research and learnings from other basins. Ideally, we want to identify ways to reduce the overall cost structure or improve the environmental footprint of developing basins, for example in China, Argentina, and South Africa. We strongly believe that you can develop unconventionals sustainably. And not only is this a good thing to do, it's the right economic thing to do."

< | >