The Serial Entrepreneur: Keith Maxwell, CEO, Spark Energy Gas & Electric, Named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2010 Winner in the Energy, Chemicals and Mining Category
Palm Springs, 14 November 2010 – W. Keith Maxwell III has been named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2010 national winner in the Energy, Chemicals and Mining category. Now in its 24th year, Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year® is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award encourages entrepreneurial activity and recognizes leaders and visionaries who demonstrate innovation, financial success and personal commitment as they create and build world-class businesses.
Maxwell was recognized for successfully navigating volatile markets and regulatory regimes and growing Spark Energy into an electricity and natural gas service powerhouse. Maxwell was honored at the Entrepreneur Of The Year® gala, the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in Palm Springs. The Forum is the nation’s premiere gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies. Awards were given in nine additional categories. All Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® winners were selected by an independent panel of judges from approximately 300 regional award recipients.
“Successful entrepreneurs embrace new ways of thinking about familiar problems, and have a willingness to take risks and fail,” said Bryan Pearce, Americas Director, Entrepreneur Of The Year, Ernst & Young LLP. “This perfectly describes Keith Maxwell. By constantly drawing on new ideas from past experiences and taking the necessary risks to implement them, Maxwell has built Spark Energy into an industry powerhouse. Keith Maxwell has repeatedly proven himself deserving of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2010 award in the Energy Chemicals and Mining category.”
Pearce continued: “The energy sector has been buffeted by waves of regulation and deregulation, as well as by the volatility of commodity and currency markets. But while some companies suffer from these gyrations, truly entrepreneurial ones like Spark Energy thrive. To take advantage of growth opportunities in this space, entrepreneurs would do well to emulate Maxwell by watching for impending or early shifts in the regulatory environment that threaten to disrupt entrenched competitors and provide opportunities for new entrants.”
Profiting from the swinging pendulum
Keith Maxwell was lucky enough to work for a natural gas consulting company as soon as he graduated from college. President Ronald Reagan had just signed the Natural Gas Act that changed the rules through deregulation. According to Maxwell, it became a game-changing era where the playing field got leveled between legacy players and newcomers. The young entrepreneur gained invaluable knowledge and experience during this time.
Maxwell recalls the early pendulum swing toward free markets and deregulation in the early 1990s. The gas deregulation pendulum swung back in the early 2000s. “Those same companies that benefited so greatly from deregulation became the tipping point that led states to look at re-regulating energy due to their excesses,” he said. In the last decade, Maxwell noted that the power sector has been experiencing the same deregulation that natural gas had gone through earlier.
Founding Spark Energy in 1999, Maxwell drew on knowledge gained from the de-bundling and deregulation of natural gas and applied them to power.
The risk management benefits of data
Believing that newer proven technology provides better ways to get work done, Maxwell used time during the recent economic downturn to modernize internal Spark operations. He invested in new technology, upgraded systems, brought in new talent and incorporated insights from outside advisors.
Leveraging advanced technology to analyze client data is critical to Maxwell’s business. He feels the closer Spark Energy is to the source of knowledge — meaning how the customer behaves and pays — the easier it is to manage associated risk. He believes it is important to take time to read the data and from it, learn what customers are asking for and how to serve them.
A serial entrepreneur
A joke around the Spark Energy office is that Maxwell is a “serial entrepreneur.” He has tried a lot of different businesses and not all of them have succeeded. He believes that the lessons he has learned along the way are more about what hasn’t worked than what has.
This serial entrepreneur is always looking ahead and has plans to expand into Canada and the United Kingdom, and possibly Australia.
The energy to change
Maxwell feels people need to leave the earth better than they found it. His approach is to find green initiatives that are commercially viable, ones that will drive the free market to benefit the environment.
Maxwell also believes in giving back to the community and supports a number of initiatives and programs that involve children’s education, promoting the viability of children and getting their needs met. Spark Energy is a strong supporter of the Special Olympics.
Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2010 National Finalists in the Energy, Chemicals and Mining Category
In addition to Maxwell, The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® national finalists in the Energy, Chemicals and Mining category are: Jerry Jost, Founder of Saint Louis-based Jost Chemical Co., a manufacturer of high purity specialty chemicals for the pharmaceutical, nutritional, food, and other specialty markets; Michael F. Mansfield Sr., CEO of Mansfield Oil Company of Gainsville, Ga., a company that provides comprehensive fuel supply, distribution, delivery, and dispensing solutions to customers through an integrated network of refiners, terminals, carriers, and retailers throughout North America; and Paul Thomas, CEO, President of Austin, Texas-based Green Mountain Energy Co., the nation’s leading retail provider of cleaner energy and carbon offset solutions.
Overall Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2010 National Winner
Howard W. Lutnick, Chairman and CEO of BGC Partners, Inc. (NASDAQ: BGCP), was named the Overall Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2010 national winner.
Video and Photos
To view video clips of all the Entrepreneur Of The Year® winners, please visit the Ernst & Young YouTube Channel. Photos of the winners are also available by request.
Founded and produced by Ernst & Young LLP, the Entrepreneur Of The Year® awards are pleased to have the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and SAP America as national sponsors.
About Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year®
Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year® is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. As the first and only truly global award of its kind, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognizing them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 135 cities in 50 countries.
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