In the next installment of our Edison Plugged In Series, which shines a spotlight on the people, projects, and perspectives of the Edison Energy team, we are featuring Mark Ziolkowski. Mark has more than two decades of experience in the energy industry and serves as Edison Energy’s Director of Business Development, where he assists clients in addressing their energy needs, from front-of-meter to behind the meter.
Mark Ziolkowski hadn’t always planned on a career in energy. Instead, the New Jersey native once had his eyes on the courtroom.
“I’d served in the military and I’d gone back to school for my bachelor’s degree,” said Ziolkowski, Director of Business Development at Edison Energy. “I was going to become an attorney. I was studying for my LSATS and a couple of attorney friends told me that wasn’t the direction I needed to go in. They thought that I had some misconceptions, that I thought I was going to be the guy saying, ‘Where were you on the night of the 14th at 9 o’clock?’ That doesn’t typically happen in the legal field. They said, ‘With your personality, you’re best served in business.’”
Ziolkowski was steered in the direction of the deregulated energy market and eventually landed a job with Enron, at the time one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S.
“That’s how I got into the energy business,” Ziolkowski said. “I started selling natural gas door- to-door, walking up the street in locations that I had geographic responsibility for. I was walking into pizza shops and selling natural gas.”
Ziolkowski, who went on to earn an M.B.A. from Rutgers University, spent the next 20-plus years working for energy supply companies. But while his career was both rewarding and educational, Ziolkowski says he missed engaging personally with customers.
“Typically, I was relegated to working with brokers or consultants and advisors, and I very rarely had direct contact with the customer,” he said.
That all changed when Ziolkowski joined Edison Energy four months ago.
“After joining Edison Energy as an advisor, I recognized the value of actually helping customers directly in a meaningful way and not just getting them the best price on possibly the worst day,” he said. “What really drives me here at Edison is actually being able to engage with the client and help the client succeed in whatever their goal may be. Where in contrast it was, ‘Give me the best price. I don’t care what’s in the sausage–I just want it to taste good.’ That’s the way they would approach it. You really didn’t get very involved with the client.”
Ziolkowski, who is based out of Edison’s Asbury Park office, assists Edison’s clients across a broad spectrum of energy needs, from front-of-meter to behind the meter, driving and managing the process needed to help businesses operate efficiently, economically, and sustainably.
“Now I get to engage with the client and really get to know about their company, their business, and personally,” he said. “I’m now helping them succeed in things they may or may not have the expertise to accomplish. I’m being afforded the opportunity to work with the client and see them progress individually, but also as an organization. They’re setting RE100 goals, they’re setting their GHG emissions and carbon output reduction goals. I like to be a part of helping organizations achieve their goals, and some of those goals are very lofty.”
An integrated approach
Edison currently offers five service lines, comprised of Corporate Sustainability, Renewables Advisory, Energy Optimization, Supply Solutions and Transportation Electrification. These services are often integrated to achieve optimal energy solutions for clients.
“These service lines all have dotted lines to each other–they talk to each other,” Ziolkowski said. “Probably the biggest challenge for myself, for a lot of folks at Edison, and for customers is trying to coordinate that. They have these sustainability goals, but their energy operations guys are trying to change out some assets that they have. And their sustainability people would like to electrify those assets, but the folks on the asset side are saying, ‘Well, it’s a little expensive. We don’t want to spend money on electricity.’ You can see if one side is not talking to the other, they’re kind of fighting against each other.”
Which is where Edison comes in, educating clients and bringing stakeholders to the table to coordinate new ideas and creative solutions.
“That echoes for renewable energy, for the purchasing of the energy,” Ziolkowski said. “If you’re not in the right structure and you’re doing some energy asset optimization, you’d be leaving a lot of money on the table as far as your contract is concerned. Nowadays, with the focus being on renewable energy, sustainability, and environmental awareness, it’s imperative for companies like Edison to get involved and educate our clients on all aspects of our service lines. We keep that in mind for any future projects and how that may affect any other things they’re trying to accomplish within their energy profile.”
Another major challenge for energy supply companies, says Ziolkowski, is “trying not to be a commodity” while actually selling a commodity.
For many companies, this translates into a race to be the cheapest.
“From a sales perspective, if you’re going to rest your laurels on your price, you’re going to win and die by your price,” Ziolkowski said.
Then there’s the challenge of helping customers find a “happy medium” when it comes to purchasing energy, delving into what that customer values, and learning the level of risk they are willing to take on.
Ziolkowski calls it “changing the game.”
“It’s not a binary world that we live in– you don’t have to buy everything today,” he said. “Nor do you have to leave everything on an index. You can have a little bit at risk and there’s the possibility of having some upside to that. If risk was a bad thing, places like Las Vegas and Atlantic City would not exist. When you bought the best price on the worst day and the market dropped, that’s not a risk. That’s just a certainty. The market is going to move. In that case, it’s just an uncomfortable certainty. I try to show people that risk is not a bad thing.”
Helping organizations become stronger, greener, and more resilient has kept Ziolkowski motivated, invested and driven to do more. But his career in energy took on new meaning five years ago with the birth of his daughter.
“Seeing the result of some of the services we offer is fulfilling in and of itself,” he said. “But knowing that through the process, I also help contribute to the health of our environment is extremely rewarding. Six years ago, if you talked to me about the environment and GHG and carbon emissions, I wasn’t very motivated toward that. Once I had my daughter, that started to change, especially when she started asking, ‘Daddy, what does the sun do? Why do we need the sun?’ Those are pretty hard-hitting questions. And then trying to explain why we need the sun. It was moments like that in particular that really fueled my internal fire.”
Ziolkowski enjoys taking an active role in his daughter’s education around making the world greener and safer, from conversations about the solar panels installed on his roof to learning about the sun and the planets.
“She’s such a curious kid,” he said. “And if she’s curious about things like sustainability and the sun and the environment, I want to champion that and give her as much encouragement as possible to continue to be interested in things like that. I can talk to her and let her know that Daddy is making sure the planet will be safe for her.”