Roderick Morris is the Senior Vice President of Marketing and Operations for Opower, the global leader in cloud-based consumer engagement solutions for the utility industry. Rod graduated from UT Austin with degrees in Business Honors, Philosophy and MIS in 1995, then went on to earn an MBA from Stanford in 2002. Using behavioral science and big data analytics, Opower creates innovative software that motivates utility customers to save energy and better manage demand. Since 2007, Opower has become an industry trendsetter, working with 93 utilities and serving 32.1 million households worldwide. To date, the company has helped consumers save more than 4 terawatt hours of electricity – equivalent to $460 million dollars or €338 million euros.
You seem to have vast responsibility within Opower. What are the main functions of your role and what are your main goals in the position at this time?
At the highest level, I run the marketing, client services, and operations sides of the company. I am growing Opower’s top line through marketing, enhancing relationships with the client base, and delivering on an increasingly streamlined quality implementation of our products around the world. Opower’s future growth is going to come from new customer acquisition, existing customer expansion, new product introduction, and international market growth. Everything I do is in support of that: from creating awareness around our new products, to ensuring that the client base is interested in expanding relationships, and making certain our clients are satisfied with the execution of rollouts on their behalf.
What gets you excited about the work you are doing?
It’s really exciting being a part of a double bottom line business. In addition to serving our utility client’s needs, every dollar of revenue has a benefit to the planet. With our double bottom line and high growth, we have a huge opportunity to make a difference in the world while also providing great growth opportunities to our employees.
Before coming to Opower, I was working in software and doing volunteer work on the side. I never had an opportunity to do something for profit that also had a social benefit. This job gave me the opportunity to combine both of those worlds (watch a short video about this).
When I joined, we were less than 100 employees and had 23 clients. Today, we have more than 500 employees and 93 clients worldwide. We had $89 million in gap revenue in 2014 and had an initial public offering (IPO) in April.
You work with both domestic and international utility partners. What are the unique challenges of working with your partners in foreign countries and how do you determine the best messaging for the consumers in those cultures?
With our utility partners, we spend a lot of time localizing our products and innovating in those markets. The core elements of behavioral marketing are pretty consistent across all parts of the world though. What compels someone in Europe to turn off the lights is the same thing that compels them to do it in the U.S. It’s just a matter of localizing the product so we give them clear actions they can take that are relevant to their situation.
We have rapidly expanded the portion of our revenue that is international. One of the main differences in other countries is there isn’t as much regulation of the utility industry. In the U.S., there are many regions that are highly regulated. In other countries, there are more competitive markets for energy. Our U.S. utility partners use us to reach energy efficiency goals, whereas international partners are interested in the competitive advantage we bring to them.
You have degrees in business, philosophy and MIS. Your role seems to have an element of all of these areas. How did your education at UT prepare you for your career?
The thing they have in common is logical problem solving. As I have become more senior, a lot of the problems I have seen require me to go back to those problem-solving skills I learned in school.
In philosophy I learned that the best messages are the simplest ones. It is actually really difficult to come up with simple messages that resonate with people on an emotional level. The building blocks I gained in my MIS classes and as a TA for a software development class have helped me work with teams doing software implementations around the world. I use the building blocks from BHP in all aspects of my job. I would be hard-pressed to find a better business education than I received from BHP.
How did your experiences in BHP compare to going through the Stanford MBA program and did the program prepare you well?
The program prepared me very well. Stanford’s curriculum is tailored to the individual. Because of the base of knowledge I had built in BHP, I was able to focus my learning on elective projects. I wrote entrepreneurial cases, did entrepreneurial coursework and led the marketing club. Those of my classmates who had degrees in business had more freedom to pursue their own interests earlier. I think my BHP education put me in good standing within my cohort.
Your career has had many twists and turns. You had roles with the Peace Corps, Simmons & Co., Bain, LexisNexis and Vovici. Did you find that one thing led to another or were you deliberate in your transitions?
The only thing I was deliberate about was working hard and helping out whatever team I was on, as well as networking to build relationships. I didn’t plan out my career. I sought out the best opportunities and did the best I could in those positions. The variety in my career has given me valuable perspective and kept my life interesting. While recruiters were sometimes involved, pretty much every job I have had has happened because of a relationship in my network. I learned a great deal in each position, but I learned a tremendous amount as an investment banker at Simmons and a consultant at Bain. Those positions were foundational for me and really impacted how I approach my work daily.
What advice do you have for current BHP students?
I would encourage people to be more linear than I have been. It has worked out for me to bounce around to different opportunities, but there is a lot to be said for building functional expertise in one area. If you can find that area earlier on, it will be easier for you.
What is next for you?
Opower just went public and we have a huge market ahead of us. I will be working on growing the company. I had never been through an IPO and it was thrilling to be an integral part of it. I built much of the company from the early days, and had an opportunity to be deeply involved in scaling a really cool company. It was rewarding to go from that to helping in the IPO roadshow to share the company’s story and growth opportunitywith investors. It was a milestone in my professional life.
Note: To learn more about opportunities at Opower, visit the current postings page on their website.