Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Jonathan Nichols, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

Jonathan Nichols

University of North Carolina, Kenan-Flagler Business School

“Easy-going, compassionate, cheerful guy committed to positively impacting the environment and the local community.”

Hometown: Chesapeake, Virginia

Fun Fact About Yourself: I played on a co-ed club field hockey team in undergrad! As a natural left-hander playing a sport that requires you to be right-handed, I was far from an all-star but I still had an amazing time!

Undergraduate School and Major: James Madison University; integrated science and technology; economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Lilker Energy Solutions; energy engineer

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? UNC Kenan-Flagler’s energy program, which has a renewable energy track, was the critical factor in my decision! I felt the MBA Energy concentration would provide me with the foundational energy industry knowledge, quantitative skillset, and networking opportunities necessary to facilitate my career transition into renewable energy development while enabling me to become a leader in the industry. My decision to come to Chapel Hill was also supported by the fact that my grandpa attended UNC and made sure I was a Tar Heel fan since the day I was born! He is my biggest role model, and it was always my dream to follow in his footsteps and go to UNC. To be able to do so is truly special for both of us.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Since most activities are virtual in these unique times, one way to describe them is pixelated, but a better way to describe my classmates is supportive! It is often repeated that students on campus embrace the Carolina Way and I think supporting each other is just one pillar of that spirit.

My experience moving to Chapel Hill best exemplifies the supporting culture at UNC. Days before my move, I was stressing about how I was going to get my heavy furniture up a flight of stairs into my new apartment. Moving is never fun and neither is helping someone move, especially during a 90-degree summer day in Carolina with about 100% humidity. I did not know anyone living in Chapel Hill, but I did have the contact information of my campus tour guide I met months ago. I contacted him and asked if he knew anyone still around campus who could help me. I did not realize it at the time, but he was still in town and offered to help free of charge. He even showed up with a few local beers as a housewarming gift! That kind of support is ubiquitous across UNC. Everyone I meet is willing to go out of their way to help someone else, both inside and outside the classroom. The Carolina Way is contagious!

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I am looking forward to participating in the Nonprofit Board Consultants Program. Students work with a nonprofit board on a specific project while gaining exposure to strategic decision-making and leadership experiences. I take pride in my community involvement over the years, but I have never engaged with a nonprofit on a strategic level. I hope to gain insight and skills that will enable me to become a board member of a nonprofit in the future.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am most proud of my time spent managing and developing the Energy Star multifamily building certification service at my engineering firm. I worked for a tiny firm where employees had to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. Shortly after being hired, I assumed control of the entire Energy Star division even though I had limited understanding of what the service required or what project management entailed. I researched what was needed for a building to meet Energy Star standards, upgraded our verification equipment, and started reaching out to existing clients while networking with potential new clients. I managed all aspects of each project, including proposal writing, client relations, on-site verification and execution of deliverables.

To differentiate our company from competitors, I began providing building management teams individualized reports outside the scope of Energy Star that detailed ways to save energy in their buildings. While managing the Energy Star division, I developed over 30 new projects and created a strong working relationship with one of the largest property management companies in the U.S. Working at a small engineering company provided me with valuable leadership and project management experience that I may not have gained so quickly at other large companies.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  While I enjoyed my work as an engineer in the energy-efficiency industry, my goal was always to transition into a finance role within the renewable energy industry. Given the threats society is facing from climate change, I feel a sense of urgency to enter the energy sector and help accelerate renewable development. It is less about this moment in my career and more about this moment in human history. Society needs people working on finding and supporting climate change solutions as quickly as possible to avoid catastrophic risks to the environment, the global economy and human life. I knew business school, specifically one with an energy program, would provide me the technical knowledge, quantitative expertise, and soft skill development necessary to be an effective clean energy leader.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? McCombs

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I was asked to discuss a time where I had failed. This question is tricky to navigate because I was trying to impress the admissions team, but simultaneously had to explain a situation where I did not meet expectations. The approach I took was not only to address the failure but also to talk about how I grew from that experience.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I evaluated a variety of factors to determine which school was best for me. I prioritized business schools that had an energy concentration and a strong alumni network that could help me develop relationships in the energy industry. Then I tried to assess the atmosphere within the classroom and the community. Any MBA program can teach you basic finance skills, but what makes each program unique is its culture. I have a laid-back personality and I knew I wanted a collaborative rather than a competitive environment. I spent time talking with students and faculty on the phone about their school’s culture to try and determine how I would fit in. I also visited each of my top schools. My UNC Kenan-Flagler campus visit was particularly warm and welcoming. The student ambassadors spent all day with me, and I felt like they cared about my future. Their friendliness and down-to-earth nature reassured me that UNC was where I wanted to spend my next two year.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? After undergraduate school, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in energy policy at George Washington University. At the time, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I wanted to do with my career, but it seemed like a natural choice to go back to school and pursue my interests surrounding policy and the energy industry. I was doing well in all my classes, but I quickly realized I was more intrigued by the technological and financial aspects of energy project development rather than policy. After my first year, I decided to withdraw from the program. It was not an easy decision for me. I had already invested a lot of time and money in the program, and I felt embarrassed to admit to my friends and family that I made a mistake. However, looking back, I do not regret that time in my life at all. Withdrawing from the program enabled me to get my engineering job, which I enjoyed for years. It also helped me discover my passion for working in the energy sector, which led me to UNC Kenan-Flagler!

DON’T MISS: Meet UNC Kenan-Flagler’s MBA Class Of 2022

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.