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Posted: June 25, 2012

A recruiter’s journey from renewables to oil & gas

Being nimble paid off

David Lewis

The mighty U.S. government for some years now has been pushing green jobs as, among other things, the solution to the nation’s economic stagnation.

That might be an appealing idea, but that’s all it is: an idea.

Just ask Doug Thorner, managing director of Denver-based eforce LLC, an energy industry recruiting and consulting company.

Back in 2007, Thorner was a specialist in financial services and accounting businesses. Then the Great Recession hit.

"There wasn’t much of an opportunity anymore to keep recruiting in that industry, for obvious reasons, so I was looking for other opportunities," he says. "I saw the energy industry as a great opportunity, and I went to work for a company called EarthStream."

Thorner began working with the sustainable energy industries – solar, wind, utility companies, green technology companies and private equity firms – with as much enthusiasm as the headlines and the government subsidies seemed to deserve.

"EarthStream’s concept was to recruit in energy across the board, in all sectors," he says. "What I viewed as the greatest opportunity within the energy industry was definitely the renewable energy industry, based on what I had been reading in the media and what I had been hearing politically, if you will."

Thornton joined a throng of about 20,000 professionals at a solar energy conference in California, and the future seemed … sunny.

Then, as it will, reality set in.

"I went after it. I went hunting for business both locally and nationally, as well as business and opportunities here in Colorado," he says. "In 2007 and 2008 I put an investment in time and money really going after the renewable energy industry. There were a lot of promises – we are going to need this, we are going to need that – and honestly, spending six or eight months on it, working my butt off, it came to be nothing much.

"Companies gave us opportunities, and we worked on the opportunities, found people and they hired no one," he says. "I had been in bad economies before where it was obvious that nothing was happening, but this was really unusual because it appeared that it was a great opportunity. It was very frustrating and disappointing."

Why?

"In some situations it was that they were waiting for approval for government funding or waiting for the money to come from government or private equity," he says. "Over time, the answers changed to, ‘We’re not doing any of it,’ or ‘we can’t afford to do it,’ or ‘instead of hiring one executive we’re going to do it in-house and on our own.’ So it was very scaled back or nonexistent."

Then, in 2009, Thorner formed eforce. He changed his emphasis and his fortunes.

"I was able to be a little nimble and the natural gas industry was the first thing I looked at, and then getting into oil as well, this time really looking at it more regionally, in the Rocky Mountain area, and realized that there was opportunity from mature companies that were used to paying fees and using recruiting firms."

This year, Thornton entered into a joint venture with Denver-based recruiter Petroleum Field Services, enabling him to service field workers as well as oil industry technologists and executives.

"These are very good paying jobs at all levels," he notes.

And, "Before, so much of the business that I was going after was in other cities – San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Chicago – whereas today so much of what we’re able to do is in the Rocky Mountain states. It’s great to see this industry taking off right here in our backyard."

The moral of the story?

When Thorner started eforce three years ago, he had two employees. Today, he has a dozen.

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