Becoming a Mountaineer was the right choice
For alumnus Brian Freed, the last few years have been quite hectic. But despite the whirlwind nature of it all, he absolutely loves it.
“I like doing deals. I do a lot of fairly large, complex transactions. Whether it’s selling companies or buying assets, I really enjoy that. Beyond that, I love solving business problems. And one way to do that is to figure out a way to structure a deal that gets things done,” Freed said.
Freed, who currently serves as vice president of Crude Logistics at Inergy Services, is a 1993 finance graduate originally from Huntingdon, Pa., roughly three hours northeast of Morgantown. His decision to become a Mountaineer was not an easy one, but ultimately, it was the right one.
“I had an appointment to West Point (Military Academy),” Freed explained. “I had an ROTC scholarship and I realized I would be roughly in the same place militarily when I graduated from either school. At 17, it’s not often that you make life decisions that are the right ones, but I ended up doing just that in two ways. The first was knowing I wanted to go to business school. While West Point was a great institution, it did not offer that. Also, I ended up marrying my high school sweetheart and I’d be remiss to say that she didn’t influence me, and she went to WVU as well.”
Now, 20 years later, the couple resides in Houston, Texas, with their two sons, ages 11 and 9. After graduation, Freed went immediately into five years of active military duty as an artillery officer.
“My military history is something I’m extremely proud of,” he said. “I often tell people that the best career move I’ve ever made was joining the Army. The second best was getting out when I did. But the Army shaped my career in so many ways. When you’re making life and death decisions, it puts things into perspective. You make a bad decision in the military, someone can die. You make a bad decision in the business world, someone loses money. Those two are not equal.”
When Freed was finished with his active duty, he began to work in management consulting.
“The next thing you know, I was managing custom application development of information systems that were being developed for some pretty large companies,” he said.
As the Internet bubble began to burst in late 2002, Freed decided to find a partner and go into business for himself. Entessa was born, where he served as president, CEO and chairman of the board. The company had software that his partner, along with Freed’s help, developed in-house and built from the ground up.
“I’ve always been a big believer that technology is about solving business problems. I ran the company from 2002 to 2010 and along the way I procured as customers most of the big oil and gas companies that were out there,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I was CEO, but I was also CFO and janitor along the way. That’s what it is when you start a small business,” he said.
By 2010, Entessa had grown to 50 employees and offices in four cities. They went to market. Energy Solutions, a company that offered complimentary services, came along and offered to buy Entessa. As part of the acquisition, Freed became CEO of the newly merged companies. After the merger, which took about three months, he took the company straight back to market. After the sale of the company, he took a few months off of the day-to-day business, but remained on the board of directors. But it wasn’t long before Freed was back at it, heading up the business development efforts for Rangeland Energy.
“Energy, broadly, is something that I can’t help but be extremely bullish on,” he said. “Oil and gas is changing the macroeconomic competitive landscape. It’s great to be a part of that. When I joined Rangeland, the enterprise value of the company was negative. But within two years, after having developed a large terminal and pipeline project up in North Dakota, we sold that company for $425 million to Inergy, who had been exclusively on the gas side up until then,” he explained. Wanting to expand its business, Inergy asked Freed to head up crude oil for the company.
“At the end of the day, I’m responsible for ensuring that the crude oil business at Inergy is a home run,” he said.
Currently, thanks to Freed’s efforts, Inergy is preparing to finalize a merger with Crestwood Mainstream Partners, a company focused on providing midstream infrastructure solutions for the development of North American shale and unconventional resource basins.
“I’ve sold or merged four companies in three years. That seems like a lot but I’ve stayed with all of those companies along the way. It’s been quite a run,” he said.
Freed said that skills learned through the military and his education at B&E have been valuable as he has grown in his career.
“You’ve got to know the numbers. It’s has been of real value to have that finance degree and understand how we’re going to steer the ship and how these business decisions are made,” he said.
“I’m not an attorney, but I spend a lot of time reading contracts and doing things associated with business law that I couldn’t have imagined when I was in school. Take more than just one business law class if you can, because you can’t get away from dealing with contracts in the business world. I actually used one of my textbooks to look up some accounting practices and how to handle some stuff during an upcoming audit while I was running Entessa.”
Freed said his best advice to students is simple, but will help them differentiate from the masses.
“Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. Go to class. Do your homework. In the business world, this translates to getting your deliverables in on time,” he said. “Quite frankly, (sticking to your word) is a lost art. Also, be yourself. Let your personality shine through as you start to talk to (recruiters). Not everybody will love your personality. There will be swings and misses along the way, but that’s life. But you can really differentiate yourself by asking for what you want, being personable and letting your personality shine through. Put yourself out there and ask for it.”