January 2012 Issue
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Fired Up

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Paul Browning’s mother stands at his bedroom doorway; she isn’t happy. Her 12-year-old has taken apart a television. Worse, he’s harvested the high-voltage transformer and rigged it to spark. There he is, ski gloves on, trying to light a pencil. Fortunately, his latest experiment doesn’t set the house on fire. His parents just don’t understand their son’s tinkering interest. Dad is an artist, which may explain the creativity. Maybe it’s Grandpa’s mechanical bent?

Wherever it comes from, it doesn’t fade, no matter the punishment for experiments gone awry. When he is ready for college, his inquisitiveness makes engineering schools very appealing, and Carnegie Mellon is top choice. He happens to be a standout football player, and it doesn’t hurt his chances that the Tartans coaches have their eyes on him. They invite him to campus during Spring Carnival weekend and have him bunk with a player in a fraternity. “That pretty much sold me,” Browning laughs, keeping mum on the details.

Kerem Metin is born seven years after Browning, in a time zone seven hours ahead, in Istanbul, Turkey. He moves to Jakarta with his family as a teen and, like Browning, shares a love for math and science. His interests, though, are clearly inherited. Metin’s father holds a PhD in chemical engineering and is a successful entrepreneur. Metin is also athletic. He plays football, like Browning—just a different kind; he is a soccer star, taking after his grandfather who was captain of the Turkish national team. Unfortunately, the elder Metin’s career came to an abrupt end at age 29, when he broke his leg during a game. A lesson for the younger Metin—academics before athletics.

Browning begins college life in 1985 as an electrical engineering major but moves on to metallurgical engineering and materials science. “I like to be able to see and touch things, and materials science just felt more real. Besides,” he adds with a smile, “my roommate was a materials science major, and he seemed to be having more fun.”

Browning meets Roy Guy during freshman football camp. The two become buddies. Within a year, both come to the same conclusion (and the same one arrived at by Metin): academics before athletics. They drop football, owing to what seemed to be all-encompassing demands on their time. They remain members of Beta Theta Pi and its buggy team, which they chair every year.

One year, the boys pick composite material for their contraption—a stronger, lighter body that will give their buggy an edge. Ingenious, except that they have neither the material nor the money. But Browning somehow locates a professor at the University of Delaware who will get them what they need. “How Paul managed to do this, I have no idea,” recalls Guy (AM’89), now a math teacher in Ohio. They drive out in the dead of winter, work on creating the buggy throughout the weekend, and bring it back to campus in their 1970 Oldsmobile convertible that has no rear window. Needless to say, it’s a chilly ride. It’s also a sign of Browning’s managerial talent—overcoming daunting obstacles.

A few years after Browning’s 1990 graduation, a freshman arrives on the Pittsburgh campus. Metin wanted to go to college at an American university, and he received offers to play Division I soccer, but he made an “academics before athletics” choice. Not that he didn’t have some doubts. “My parents dropped me in front of the dorm with my three suitcases. I remember it like it was yesterday—the taillights of that rented Volvo driving down the street and then carrying my three suitcases. It was an incredible shock.”

Certainly one individual is thrilled to see him. But to the soccer coach’s dismay, Metin (like Browning) opts out of the time-consuming sport during freshman year. He, too, remains a member of his fraternity, Phi Kappa Alpha. “There was a great group of people. I grew up on my own at CMU. They made it very easy.” Metin begins in mechanical engineering but also moves to another major—industrial management with a concentration in finance and engineering. “I always wanted to do something that combined engineering and industry because it allows you to play God for a minute,” he says. “You can play with the densities and temperatures and pressures and create something. That is truly something great. And,” he laughs, “if you can make money out of this, it’s even better!”

While Metin is earning his degree, Browning is climbing the corporate ladder. He spends eight years working in General Electric’s Global Research Center, a self-described “lab rat.” He learns about everything from light bulbs to washing machines but spends most of his time on energy products. Lured by a gas turbine division at Caterpillar, Inc., he leaves GE to work for Caterpillar in a variety of leadership roles that transfer him and his wife (Janel Koca Browning E’93) to various locations around the world—Mexico, Belgium, and Germany, as well as the United States. In 2010, GE asks Browning to return. The lab rat is now president and CEO of the Thermal Products division, a $7.5 billion company in itself with more than 10,000 employees and with customers in 140 countries. He has come a long way from trying to light a pencil with a TV part.

Metin, meanwhile, earns his industrial management degree in 1997 and starts his own climb up the corporate ladder. He begins his career with DuPont rather than joining his father in business. He knows he has to “first prove my worth to the family and the market.” After three years in Atlanta, Ga., Metin joins a Turkish firm and hones his global skills as an export coordinator in Istanbul. He next spends 14 months as a defense contractor in Iraq, supplying telephone and Internet service, and receives an excellence of service medal from the 101st Airborne brigade. True to his family’s entrepreneurial roots, he then founds a market analysis firm, PR Net, the first Turkish company to export software to the United States. When his company is acquired in February 2010, it’s clear he is more than worthy. He takes his place with his father at Met Capital Partners, a private equity firm with projects in varied industries—primarily agriculture and energy.

In scouting a new energy project, the Metins locate property in Karaman, Turkey, an area with strong energy demand and readily available natural gas. The site also has Turkey’s highest solar irradiation levels and excellent wind, ideal for environmentally friendly, subsidized energy production. As developers, they plan to move the project to the point of execution then sell to a larger entity, such as a utility. Father and son make the land purchase.

Fortuitously, in the spring of 2010, Metin and his father are invited to attend an exclusive presentation. GE has developed a revolutionary new technology for natural gas power generation and is eager to share it with select customers.

During the previous decade, there has been a huge change in the energy industry—the introduction of cost-effective renewable power sources—principally wind, with solar also becoming more viable. By definition, these sources are intermittent, available only when the sun shines or the wind blows. But we expect light when we hit a switch, so traditional sources like coal and natural gas must fill the gaps. Fortunately, natural gas power plants can cycle on and off in response. GE noticed many of its customers doing just that with increasing frequency. The problem is that ramping up and down decreases efficiency—or the percentage of burned fuel actually converted to usable energy. And as more fossil fuel is burned, the increased CO2 emissions cancel out the benefits of increased renewables.

In response, GE borrowed technology from its aircraft division, technology that allows a jet engine to rapidly shift from tarmac idle to full thrust for takeoff, both quickly and efficiently. They developed a power plant, a breakthrough they trademarked as FlexEfficiency 50. Its efficiency is unprecedented; it will ramp up at a rate of more than 50 megawatts per minute, twice the rate of today’s industry benchmarks.

Browning enthusiastically makes plans to unveil the product to potential developers: “Hey look, the world’s got some big energy challenges. I’m running one of the world’s biggest energy franchises and one of the people who has an opportunity to make a difference. It’s a big part of why I come to work every day.” Metin and his father travel to GE’s shiny new Belfort, France, Technology Center for the presentation. They enter the meeting room with more than 100 others. Browning takes the stage. Everyone is keenly aware of energy issues that include cost, resource availability, environmental impact, and financial caveats. For example, natural gas is cleaner than coal, and environmentally conscious countries like Turkey offer incentives for the use of renewables.

Browning presents. The Metins are intrigued by FlexEfficiency 50 because they’re looking for a power plant facility that integrates all three sources—natural gas, solar, and wind. It seems FlexEfficiency 50 may be the answer. Browning chats with them after his presentation and is equally intrigued. He has seen solar energy integrated into a natural gas power plant but never with the capabilities of his product. And natural gas, solar, and wind combined? It has never been done. The three men agree to continue the conversation in greater detail by scheduling a meeting at GE’s headquarters in Schenectady, N.Y.

A few weeks later, Metin and his father arrive for the meeting and are whisked away to a conference room on the sixth floor of Building #37. There, they sit down with Browning and his heads of finance, marketing, and manufacturing. Browning starts to tell his visitors that the building was constructed years ago and is a significant landmark in Schenectady. Not one for small talk, Metin’s father stops the tale halfway through. The younger Metin, filling the awkward silence, mentions that he lived in the United States when he attended Carnegie Mellon University.

“So did I!” exclaims Browning.

“When you’re at that early stage in a deal and realize you’ve got that kind of personal connection, it actually makes a big difference,” he says. “You go from being newly introduced strangers to people who share a common past. I honestly think it helped us take the next steps.”

And those steps begin a marathon—from the early concept and technology development to financing the project valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. “When you’re doing a large, strategic deal, there are all sorts of things that can go sideways on you,” Browning notes. During the next several months, dozens of meetings take place. Browning makes five trips to Istanbul. When sticking points arise, Browning and Metin huddle privately and come back with solutions, earning themselves the nickname “Carnegie Mafia.” When the final “king of contracts” is finished, it’s a whopping 7,900 pages and sits 2 feet high.

The 530-megawatt plant is expected to be operational by 2015 and combine the use of natural gas, solar, and wind energy. With renewable integration, they estimate an efficiency of 69%, approximately 20% better than the best existing facility, which in annual CO2 emissions equates to taking 12,000 cars off the road. It’s a tremendous achievement in an industry that pours hundreds of millions of dollars to chase an extra percentage point in efficiency. Metin is proud to report that the project is also “financially strong. There are a lot of good ideas around the world,” he says, “but if they’re not financially sound, they’re just good ideas.”

GE and MetCap announce the deal in June 2011. Within two weeks, they give more than 100 interviews to worldwide media. Metin understands the interest. “This is working for a better world,” he says. “We have to take charge of our future. I have two sons. One is a year old, the other is nine. What are we going to leave for them?”?

Melissa Silmore (TPR’85) is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to this magazine.

Photo Credit:  Ali Kabas

Related Links:
GE Wins First Solar-Gas Hybrid Plant From Turkey's MetCap
MetCap Announces Expansion of the World's First Integrated Renewables Combind-Cycle Plant Powered by GE Technology

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