Never complain. When things don’t go your way or someone makes an error, don’t complain about it. If necessary, use constructive criticism. Try to make most interactions with your colleagues’ pleasant ones.
Never explain. If you make a mistake, don’t explain it away. Own up to it, learn from it, and move on.
Greg Schindler is Managing Director and Deputy General Counsel at Freepoint Commodities, a leading global commodities merchant. Further, Greg is a founder and Managing Director of Freepoint Commodities’ startup accelerator program, PointForward.
Greg has nearly 30 years of experience in the worldwide energy and commodities industries, with expertise in structuring complex transactions including purchase and sale agreements, trade finance, intermediations, and joint ventures. His strong legal skills and business acumen make him a trusted advisor to senior management, traders and operations personnel.
Greg has previously held senior legal positions at JP Morgan, Sempra Energy Trading and Phibro Energy. He began his career at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen, and Hamilton in New York. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Greg is passionate about driving innovation and has helped dozens of new energy and commodities teams establish and grow their businesses. He continues this work at PointForward, where he mentors early-stage companies in the commodities and energy industries.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas a lawyer at a great firm in New York, but I always felt that being outside counsel was missing something. My favorite clients were those where I had an opportunity to become very involved with their business (one of my first clients was Pan Am). I started looking for an in-house position, which led me to Phibro Energy, a successor to the legendary commodity firm Philipp Brothers. I really enjoyed the continuity of working for a single, fast-paced client, and the challenges of bringing on new teams and helping transform ideas into reality. This same pace and these same challenges have been welcome constants throughout my career in the energy and commodity industries.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2002, I joined Sempra Energy Trading in Stamford CT. The people were great, the work was interesting, and the company was successful — at one point we had 32 consecutive quarters of profitability. In an effort to gain access to a larger balance sheet, in 2008 control of the company was sold to RBS. Then the financial crisis hit our new UK banking parent hard. Pretty soon, almost all of Sempra Energy Trading had been sold off in pieces to JP Morgan, SocGen and others, scattering hundreds of colleagues to the four winds.
In almost any other case, this would be the end of the story.
In November 2010, a few of the old principals of Sempra Energy Trading got together to form Freepoint Commodities. The company started small. Little by little, the business expanded. Old friends returned. Freepoint outgrew one set of offices, and then another. Eventually, Freepoint moved back into Sempra Energy Trading’s old headquarters in Stamford. I joined in 2016. Today, Freepoint has grown to over 430 employees worldwide — almost 40% being returnees from the Sempra Energy trading diaspora. It’s like the line from the movie The Blues Brothers — “We’re putting the band back together.”
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
There have been five:
- Really listen to people. Get to know their life stories.
- Do things for the right reasons. Then, whatever happens, happens.
- Use your time productively.
- Whatever you do, do it with all your strength.
- Act with integrity, in matters large and small. (Many waiters have been surprised when I point out the missing $2 club soda on the bill.)
Ok. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
Freepoint has founded the PointForward Startup Accelerator with the idea that it should fund and mentor energy and commodity startups, providing them with the industry know-how and contacts that they need to succeed.
There has been a mentality of “either/or” in the world of innovation: Either you are inside an entrenched industry where innovation is lacking, or you are an outside disrupter of that industry.
However, there is a growing appreciation that these two worlds have much to offer one another. Startups can be an established company’s engines of creativity. And established companies can offer startups deep industry knowledge and contacts, as well as guidance in the nuts and bolts of running a business.
Admittedly, there are other corporate accelerators. Often, they have been created due to a lack of in-house innovation and implemented in ways intended to insulate the startup from the company culture. On the contrary, PointForward looks to employ its own company culture and entrepreneurial spirit as a model for energy and commodity startups.
How do you think this will change the world?
My father used to have a poster over his desk that read, “Old age and treachery always triumph over youth and skill.” But imagine the benefits if we bring these two groups together.
Energy and commodity companies can offer startups essential industry-specific knowledge. These markets can be extremely complex and are often highly regulated. For example, say you have an idea for a battery-storage technology — great! But do you know how to sell this power back into the grid?
The energy and commodity industries are built on a plethora of relationships amongst producers, transporters, users, intermediaries, financial institutions, and many others. Companies have the industry contacts to open doors for startups at these essential market participants, including many potential customers. Indeed, the company itself has the potential to be the startup’s first big customer. This vote of confidence would likely inspire others to sign on. Companies can also guide startups in the basics of running a business, such as legal, information technology, human resources, and accounting. This can save startups precious time and money, freeing them to focus on the real work of engineering their product.
The company is also rewarded in this exchange. It may gain new ways of thinking about its business and its industry. It will have a trial run with businesses in which it may seek to invest further. It will meet talented people with whom the company may want to remain in contact — regardless of the success of this venture — for future business opportunities or possible employment. For some of the company’s employees, mentoring the next generation of energy and commodity innovators will be its own reward.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?
This idea will require the right kind of company and the right kind of startup.
Some companies will be too bureaucratic, and their processes may stifle innovation. Others will lack the necessary entrepreneurial spirit. For this approach to work, the company’s employees should be people who are curious to look at their world in new ways. There needs to be a core group of people who enjoy helping others — people whom Adam Grant calls “givers” in his seminal book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. The company needs to encourage and reward employees who assist these startups.
Some startups will believe that there is nothing that they need to learn, especially from the industry that they seek to disrupt. Some may (rightfully, in many cases) fear the influence of a staid corporate culture. Some startups may simply seek to team up with whoever offers the most money. They will not appropriately value the benefits that come from working with experts. Founders need to recognize that working with seasoned professionals can help them better fine-tune their product to market needs and bring their product to market sooner.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
I have been fortunate to work at companies that were always willing to try new things and bring in new people. Over the years, I have helped dozens of energy and commodity teams get their businesses going, offering not just legal advice but business guidance as well. This is work that I have enjoyed.
One day, I was speaking about possible career paths with a graduate school student who was designing a method to optimize energy usage. “Does Freepoint offer mentoring of startups,” the young engineer asked. “No,” I replied, then I immediately added, “but we should.” Given Freepoint’s culture and entrepreneurial spirit, PointForward seemed natural. After all, not that long ago we were a startup. When I raised the idea with senior management, it was met with immediate enthusiasm.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
Widespread adoption of this model will require other companies to recognize the benefits of mentoring startups. These companies must have the foresight to commit time and resources to a project that is unlikely to show immediate financial rewards. It may take one or two big successes for the idea to catch on.
Startups will need to know that opportunities such as PointForward exist and to appreciate the benefits that come from working with industry insiders and imbuing their own company with the right kind of culture. Founders need to ask themselves: “What will help us build the best business?”
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Treat everyone with respect. When I was in private practice, one of my colleagues became very heated in telephone negotiations. When he finished shouting, the attorney on the other end of the line said — in perfectly measured tones — “[Bill], I understand what you’re doing. I know it’s just a tactic that lawyers sometimes use to help their clients. Please know that I don’t take it personally.” It appeared to me as if my colleague physically deflated. Negotiations proceeded along a more pleasant — and productive — track.
- Never complain. When things don’t go your way or someone makes an error, don’t complain about it. If necessary, use constructive criticism. Try to make most interactions with your colleagues’ pleasant ones.
- Never explain. If you make a mistake, don’t explain it away. Own up to it, learn from it, and move on.
- The 40/60 Rule. On a 1–100 scale of happiness at work, try not to go above 60 or below 40. (All right, you can have the occasional 70.) Take a walk around the block when you get upset.
- Remember this is part of — not all of — your life. No matter what happens at work, you will always have your family and friends … and, if all else fails, your dog.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
- If you touch something, you own it. Even if you are asked to look at only a part of something, look at everything.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid if they seem like dumb ones. Once I went to a play of Moby Dick. Afterward, there was a Q and A session. People were asking about metaphors and motivation. I asked how everyone onstage managed to sway back and forth at the same time as if they were on a rocking ship. Turns out everyone else was wondering that as well! (A: There was a person in the back of the theater who was waving a stick.)
- Work with people you like. You can’t always control this one. But it makes coming to work a pleasure, and it helps develop collaboration and trust.
- Keep learning. Welcome the ability to work on something new. It’s good for the brain.
- Don’t give up until you figure it out. Don’t “sorta know” something.
Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
First, thank you for being an essential element in this next great wave of innovation.
Ultimately, your goal is to maximize the success of the startups in which you invest. How best to make this happen?
I invite you to consider the benefits of encouraging your energy and commodity markets startups to team with PointForward:
- We have deep industry expertise and broad range contacts to help their business thrive.
- We are entrepreneurial, lean, and nimble. We can show your startups how to develop these essential traits.
- We understand global markets and complex logistics, with over 430 employees in offices across North America, Europe, and Asia.
- Our relationships with thousands of counterparties, suppliers and service providers can help your startups reach their target customers. We may be one of those customers.
- We know what it means to build a company culture of entrepreneurship and collaboration. We will help foster these qualities in your startups
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Currently, the best way to follow me is on I-95 each morning and evening. (Not a big social media person.) Just check out the PointForward website; I am often involved in writing the copy. www.PointForwardaccel.com.