For a company to have made it through its 14th year is not much to crow about. After all, businesses do this all the time. For a boutique consulting company such as Pterra, we would not crow about this either, not about the fact that the company celebrated its 14th year of incorporation on June 29th, 2018. But we would be remiss if we said we had nothing to be thankful about, for the weight of these past 14 years is carried in terms of good memories, tough challenges and the enlightening fellowship of colleagues, friends and families all of which were intrinsic to the Pterra mosaic.
We did write a review of our first 7 years (see An Anniversary) and promised to do another in 7 more years. And we are already here, almost in the blink of an eye.
The most remarkable aspect of this journey is the continually recurring gift of provenance. As with any human endeavor, there are many things beyond our control. But for quite welcome reasons, we have always been given a way through those crucial times when business was slow or external forces tried to undercut us or when one or more of life’s many vicissitudes came to take our attention away. This type of “luck” is totally undeserved, making it all the more remarkable. For this reason, we cannot be prideful of where we are, how we stand or how we got here, but rather, we feel blessed.
Pterra started out as a relatively “young” group of five engineers, stepping out of the embers of what was once known as Power Technologies, Inc. (see PTI Song). The idealism was unbounded, mostly based on the belief that if you do a quality job, provide quality studies, and remain independent of manufacturing, commercial and software interests, that clients will come knocking on your door. This was, by no means, a novel concept, as it is taken right out of the PTI playbook when that company’s seven started out in 1969 (three of those seven of the original PTI deserve mention here for their support and encouragement during Pterra’s formative years: N. Dag Reppen, F. Paul de Mello and Lionel Barthold – thank you, muchas gracias). Of course, for idealists, reality always seems to have handy a rude awakening. Building a client-based business of pure technical consulting is a slow process, much like cooking roast pig on a spit (it takes hours). Meanwhile, the business has to remain solvent through the growing process. The challenges of building a company imposes stresses on personal relationships, including with immediate families, and could render apart or bind stronger. It would be nice to think that there was more binding and less rendering that took place. Fourteen years later, four of the five original founders remain (plus one new partner), maybe not so young anymore but still plugging away. The idealism remains as staff still would readily put in a late day, or late night to early morning, in pursuit of getting the job done right.
The Dynamic Power Industry
One seemingly important retrospective is how the power industry has aggressively evolved during the past 14 years. From the onset of deregulation and markets in the late 90s, the industry has gone through paroxysms of change: the wild expansion of wind-based generation, those year-long interconnection queues, the re-emergence of power transmission founded on novel technologies, public policy rising on renewable targets and transmission needs, solar power hitting the commercially-viable level, distributed generation disrupting the age-long quiescence of distribution systems, offshore wind, submarine direct-current lines, distributed energy markets, and battery energy storage systems. So much change in a relatively short time. Enough there to make a power version of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” For a consultant, change is good as it represents an opportunity to apply novel thinking and fundamental engineering skills to deal with new technical challenges. After all, this is one of the main reasons why consultants are brought in. And so, for the little boutique firm of Pterra, the many changes in the industry was a boon to the firm’s viability. There is a totally unrelated but quite apt analogy to what it’s been like — like surfing the waves of a building storm. Who knows where the power industry is headed in the next 7 years?
A Plan is Nothing; Planning is Everything
Pterra’s long-term business plan was not one of aggressive growth or broadening commercial concerns but the rather simplistic concept of staying small and operating like a country shop, serving one customer at a time to the best of our abilities. Repeat customers were the focus, and the company owes much to the clients in those companies that have chosen to work continuously with Pterra over the past 14 years. However, this approach made Pterra the proverbial small fish in the big pond. Big-box consulting firms could disrupt our business just by their passing wake, and now and then, one such would turn our way to take a bite or swallow the company whole. And yet, the founders stuck to their provincial approach, for always when talk came to mergers or acquisitions, past experience of being in the dog-eat-dog environment of corporate politics would turn them away. To remain independent, it was important to be nimble and flexible while hewing to the basic engagement principle of aiming for the best quality product that could be reasonably achieved. It was important to love the work, to commit to keep up with the latest developments in the industry, especially in new technology and software, and to enjoy doing this as a team. Longevity is not an objective but the offspring of a commitment to teamwork.
Sadly, we have lost beloved family members, partners and counselors along the way. Carmela Lagarejos Austria, though her name is not listed as founder, was a foundation for much of the culture and operating principles of Pterra. Her common-sense approach to the company’s challenges and unrestrainable humor will ever be a part of the company. Conrad St. Pierre, mentor, adviser and partner on many a Pterra engagement, provided the company with pragmatism built from experience, imbuing Pterra with a deep understanding of power engineering concepts and evolution. His many notes, kindly donated to Pterra by his widow, form an essential part of the Pterra library. Joann Veronica Staron, ebullient partner, was the energizer bunny who would not be daunted by how hard a task or how intransigent a party. She was magnanimous to a fault, a trait we have retained ourselves through the formation of the Pterra Foundation for charities.
Looking ahead, the partners remain excited with the company’s vector in its niche space of power system analysis. We are eager to help the industry find its way through the coming technical challenges brought about by changing markets, power demand and technologies. In the latter alone, there are promising new developments in power conversion, transmission and distribution.
Most especially, there is excitement to transition the Pterra work ethic to the next generation of power engineers. We can only hope these new “young” consultants are ready and willing to meet the challenges of boutique consulting. In any case, theirs will be the story of the next chapter of Pterra.
No promises, but hopefully, there’ll be another update on the 3rd multiple of seven anniversary.