Park Fellows alumni spotlight: Frank Nicklaus, MBA ’12
After serving five years as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army, including over two years in Iraq, Frank Nicklaus entered Johnson with significant leadership experience. “One of the things I lacked was experience applying my leadership skills in a non-hierarchical, flatter organization,” he says. “The Park program helped me take what I learned about leadership in the military and apply that effectively in a business setting, where you’re working with people who don’t always report to you or even to the same people you do.”
The Park program also taught him about giving and soliciting feedback. As a principal with Greentech Capital Advisors (GCA), an investment and advisory firm focused on sustainable infrastructure and technology, Nicklaus provides candid, constructive feedback to his associates and encourages his superiors to provide it to him, even when it means having an uncomfortable conversation.
One trait Nicklaus particularly admires in leaders is an even keel. “One of the most underrated qualities in a leader is the ability to maintain your composure and create an environment where people are as comfortable bringing you difficult news as they are bringing you good news,” he says.
He describes two commanders under whom he served in Iraq. “One was completely unstable. He had violent mood swings that clouded his judgment, and his communication style was basically to yell and make threats,” he says. “It compromised the safety and effectiveness of our unit, and destroyed morale.”
Nicklaus served his second tour under an even-tempered commander who had high standards, but responded deliberately and rationally to what was happening around him. “The difference in the efficacy and morale of our unit was like night and day,” he says. “That’s something I’ve tried to emulate – being an approachable and balanced leader.”
Nicklaus has devoted his career to finding solutions for mitigating climate change and improving resource efficiency: at Johnson, through the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise and the Park program; then with GE’s renewable energy investing unit; now with GCA. He’s guest-lectured at Johnson and in fall 2017, he participated in an energy and climate conference with CSGE director Mark Milstein. “I’m very happy that I chose the career path that I did, focusing on renewables, which I’m really passionate about,” he says. “I think it’s in line with what Roy Park wanted to accomplish with the program, which is to use business as a force for positive change.”