In this exclusive interview, Matt O’Keefe, Group Vice President at Oracle Utilities Opower, shares his approach to leadership; what the critical points to achieve a just energy transition are; and the importance of Environmental, Social and Governance goals within Oracle Utilities.
This interview was originally published in The Global Power & Energy Elites 2022
What’s the best book you’ve read or the best podcast you’ve listed to this year?
An impactful read is The Topeka School by Ben Lerner. The story is broadly about how we’ve got to the point where we are today with cultural divisions. It looks through the eyes of one man’s growth from teenage years to his early adulthood around the turn of the century. The fundamental message throughout the book is about how we use communication to connect or distract, divide, or persuade. As someone who regularly engages with teams and clients, this message is powerful as I have recognised how much less valuable it is to talk and how much more valuable it is to listen.
As an avid runner, I always tune in to the classic This American Life podcast. I recently listened to a remarkable one-on-one conversation between a man in North America and a man in Kabul in Afghanistan during the recent evacuation. It was a fascinating, deeply personal connection between two individuals, which showed many interesting facets in the way that we talk and the difficulties of cross-cultural communication, particularly in times of crisis. Ultimately, it was all about how we’re all individuals living in a big world in which reaching out to one person can forever alter their journey.
What do you think makes a successful leader?
We are a unique team inside an ambitious organisation. Our mission is specifically focused on decarbonisation, energy affordability, and accelerating the clean energy revolution. It is this mission that drives our employees to come to work every day.
I recently went on a listening tour with many small groups within my team. Engaging in smaller groups allowed me to identify what motivates each person to go above and beyond in their role. The response was astonishing. It all came back to the mission across the board.
How do you think we can achieve a just transition?
This is a topic we should all be talking about because we cannot achieve the energy transition without economic and environmental justice at the centre of it.
I think that we are going to have to ask ourselves this in almost every decision we make about long-term investments. As an organisation, the centre of what we do is to work with utilities to tackle their biggest problems by changing people’s behaviour.
Although the behaviour changes can be small – a thermostat set point or an appliance purchasing decision – they can have a significant impact.
When I think about these changes for our most vulnerable customers, they are particularly impactful from a health, environmental, and budget perspective. Therefore, to make the most positive impact, you cannot leave groups out of the decision-making process.
We need to assess and analyse if the impacts are disproportionate, as we shift to more expensive energy sources or if we are improving the environment in one area and not another.
Without a doubt, the focus on environmental justice and economic justice is critical to our business because we see them as intertwined. But we’re only going to succeed if we think about the way we design our products to bring everyone along on this decarbonisation journey.
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About Matt O’Keefe
Matt’s career has focused on the intersection of business, government, economic development, and the environment. He currently leads the Opower business within Oracle Utilities, whose mission is to focus on decarbonisation, energy affordability, and accelerating the clean energy revolution. Prior to Opower, Matt held positions at the California Energy Efficiency Energy Industry Council and CleanTechLA – City of Los Angeles, among others. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the California Efficiency + Demand Management Council.