Take it from a VP: Learning never ends

By: Maria Minsker '13
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Earning an MBA marks the beginning, not the end, of a business education, says Tom Strobel ’96, MBA ’05, vice president of finance at Ecolab, a global leader in water, hygiene, and energy technologies and services. For Strobel, every day is an opportunity to learn something new — a challenge he welcomes with open arms, even though he’s no newcomer to finance.

After graduating from Johnson, Strobel earned his stripes working on the treasury teams at ExxonMobil and the Apache Corporation. He also worked in Australia on a $14 billion financing project for PNG LNG, a development effort to commercialize the gas resources of Papua, New Guinea, a true “career highlight” for Strobel, as it was the largest project financing in history at the time.

Windmills

“In my thirteen years since my MBA, I’ve held ten roles, which have all taught me to be adaptable and agile,” says Strobel. While focused in treasury, his experience has spanned capital markets, cash management, foreign exchange, insurance, project finance, pension investing, M&A, contract negotiations, and more. While each new assignment starts with an initial period of discomfort that is the natural byproduct of learning, finding ways to add value in different areas is ultimately very satisfying.

Strobel’s broad experience has prepared him for more senior roles. Recently, he has focused on team leadership. “I really enjoy creating the right environment for teams to be successful,” says Strobel. That vision is paying off; Ecolab’s cash management department won an Adam Smith award for best liquidity solution in Asia.

“It is easy to be proud of what you do every day when you work for a company where sustainability is central to its purpose.”

Strobel, who joined Ecolab in 2016, has enjoyed his transition. “Ecolab is unique in that it is a growing and successful company that is doing good things in the world,” he said. For example, he worked on the company’s investment to support construction of a new wind farm in Texas that will enable Ecolab to offset 100 percent of its electricity demand in North America and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent. “It is easy to be proud of what you do every day when you work for a company where sustainability is central to its purpose,” says Strobel.

As students begin their finance careers, Strobel urges them to find an organization that will serve as a great platform for learning. “Particularly early in a career, it is important to join an organization that will support your professional growth. That means working for good mentors and having access to great opportunities to learn,” said Strobel. “For example, at Ecolab, we have almost 3,000 finance professionals spanning all manner of disciplines, and we support professional development through diverse assignments.”

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