Dr Fereidum Fesharak shares his knowledge and insights on building a career in energy economics. His area of specialization is oil and gas market analysis and the downstream petroleum sector, with special emphasis on the Asia-Pacific region, Middle East, Latin America, and United States.
Dr Fesharak’s Background
Fereidun Fesharak is Chairman of FACTS Global Energy (FGE). FGE comprises FACTS Inc, a leading consulting group focusing on the oil and gas markets east of the Suez, as well as Energy Market Consultants Ltd. (EMC), a leading consulting company covering the European and US markets operating from offices in Hawaii, Singapore, London, and Beijing.
Born in Iran, he received his PhD in Economics from the University of Surrey in England and completed a Visiting Fellowship at Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In the late 1970s, he attended the OPEC Ministerial Conferences in his capacity as Energy Adviser to the Prime Minister of Iran. He is a senior fellow at the East-West Center, where he heads energy-related research. In 2002, Dr Fesharaki was appointed a senior associate of Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
He is an advisor to some 50 oil and gas companies worldwide including almost every major oil company, some 18 state owned energy companies , independent companies, trading companies, and governments in the Middle East, Pacific basin and Latin America, as well as the U.S. government.
Dr Fesharaki is the author of more than 70 papers and has penned or edited twenty three books and monographs.
Dr Fesharaki’s Career
How did you career begin? How and why did you become involved in the economics of oil and gas?
I wrote my PhD dissertation (Economics) on the Oil Industry in Iran. Then, I returned to Iran and joined an academic research institute. Later, I was appointed as Energy Advisor to the Prime Minister of Iran and attended OPEC ministerial conferences in that capacity.
After the revolution, I came to the United States and joined the East West Center as a Senior Fellow and as Professor of Economics at the University Of Hawaii. I still maintain my academic links but decided to move to the private sector and have started my own consulting firm: FACTS Inc, which stands for Fesharaki Associates Consulting and Technical Services.
How did your professional experience prepare you to be the president and cofounder of FACTS Inc.?
I started as an academic, went into government service, back to academia and then to the private sector. My academic training was critical in preparing me for my consulting work. However, I should have left academia earlier and try to establish a professional organization earlier on.
What has been your key to success?
I have used my academic capability to apply my knowledge in such a way to create value added for clients. I have taken a high profile, speaking at many industry conferences and travelling to many places. My reputation is now solidly established.
What was your greatest success and biggest setback?
Greatest success has been to focus on Asia before anybody else, and, because of that, I have a niche, which the competition cannot take away from me. My setback has been the consolidation of the industry, which lost our firm 15 percent of satisfied clients because others just absorbed them.
What advice would you give in how to get into the field of economics? Is a difficult field to break into?
It all depends what you do with it. Economics is a tool, and you need to apply it to something useful. My advice is to learn something in great detail and apply economic logic to it. I think with an economics background, finding interesting jobs is quite easy.
The Actual Work
Tell us what you do. What are your responsibilities? How much of your time is spent in the office, compared to meetings, travel, etc?
I run a firm with 50 clients in 30 countries. I spend more than 50 percent of my time travelling. While traveling, I make presentations to my clients of our latest results and keep them updated on what affects their business.
Describe a typical day of work for you.
I spend 20 percent of my time keeping updated on the latest developments that will affect the industry and my clients, 20 percent on responding to clients’ inquiries, 30 percent conferring with staff and commenting on the ongoing projects, and the rest on business development. That is when I am not travelling.
What would you say has been your most challenging duty, and how did you accomplish it?
The most challenging duty of my work is to be a leader, thinker, and marketer and come up with new ideas – most importantly to make the clients feel they are getting something out of this relationship and earn their trust.
What advice can you give on how to properly manage one’s time?
Define your goals and do not forget that your job is to keep the clients satisfied without compromising your intellectual integrity. Avoid meetings of more than one hour and be result-oriented rather than chatty.
Throughout your career, you’ve been very active within the industry. You’ve written papers, written books, served on editorial boards, advisory boards and councils throughout the world. Why is this kind of professional involvement important?
You have to be seen as leader and an opinion maker. Serving on boards and councils often has low direct financial reward but great indirect rewards. If you are asked to decide what learned papers can be published in a specialized industry journal, if you sit in a board with big businessmen or if you participate in boards which are non-profit they all indicate your breadth, leadership and worldliness.
Education Information and Advice
Tell us about your education. Did Surrey University and the fellowship at Harvard properly prepared you? Why?
I went to Surrey University because it was (and still is) one of the few universities which has a good petroleum economics group. Through the Harvard Fellowship, I converted my doctoral dissertation to a book that enhanced my reputation significantly; this helped me with Prestige but not with knowledge.
How does a prospective student assess their skill and aptitude for the field of economics and oil/gas market analysis?
No special skill is needed, beyond training in economics. If they are interested in energy, they can do it.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing their school?
That the school provides them with an international exposure. In the business environment, the most important thing is to know your competitors: How do they do their business and what are their advantages and disadvantages — particularly in labor costs, technology and advertisement. Course work and faculty with international experience would be key, and yes exchange opportunities would also be helpful.
How can students prepare to get into the best graduate schools for a business degree?
By doing internships and by showing something extra beyond the regular schooling. Harvard, Yale, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia are a few of the best. But prestige is perhaps becoming less relevant these days, especially with the emergence of online degrees.
What should economic students try to get out of their education?
Find a niche subject. Do not be generalists. A few of the best “niche subjects” for economic students to focus on are telecommunications, banking and finance, trade agreements, auto industry, and e-commerce.
Job Information and Advice
What kinds of jobs are available for students graduating with a degree in economics?
Working in oil companies as planners or operation staff. Also, pretty much in all the industries listed above: telecommunications, banking/finance, auto, e-commerce, as well as international organizations such as the World Bank or IMF.
What is the average salary for graduating students in the U.S. who are starting out as an oil/gas market analyst? What are people at the top of this profession paid?
Starting salaries are around $50,000. Top salaries are in the millions. As oil companies, Chevron, Conoco, ExxonMobil, Mckinsey and BP are some of the top companies to work for.
How available are internships in this field?
Doing internship with people like Chevron or consultants like ourselves is one of the best ways to find a job in the oil/gas industry. There are not that many available, but there are a few. Chevron has the best one, but it’s only for MBA students.
What are some of the trends that you see in the oil/gas industry, which could help students plan for the future?
Demand is increasing, and the supply is not. Prices will rise, and there will be need all over the world. Environmental issues make a minor difference. Also, it is important to understand e-commerce, and if you do not, there is nowhere that you can compete.