In this article, Matthew Berrick interviews Ben Men about working at Centrica and the energy sector. Centrica supplies over 25 million customers and have strong footholds in the U.K. and AMER regions.
Why did you decide to do a grad scheme within a big corporate like Centrica?
I’ve studied law for so long and I’ve always known it is the field I want to work in, so I decided to take some time away to try something new. I also think it’s really important to have some ‘industry’ experience within businesses which are similar to those you would be advising as a commercial lawyer. Many of the firms I would be interested in training at advise FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 companies like Centrica. By developing a solid knowledge of multi-national corporations from the inside, I believe I will be better equipped to advice my commercial clients going forward.
It is all just personal preference though. There is no right or wrong way to enter the legal profession, it’s all about the experiences you have and the skills you develop. I would, however, stress the importance of developing this magical phrase ‘commercial awareness’. Firms are looking for recruits who know how business work and how their commercial priorities can change, so keeping up-to-date with business news and reading insights on platforms like The Legal Line-up is invaluable!
What are the main challenges within the energy and services industry at the moment?
The energy and services industry is volatile and the success of the market depends largely on commodity prices and energy usage. Earlier this year we saw oil prices fall to as low as negative $37 per barrel as a result of over-production and reduced demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. This not only negatively impacted the energy and services market, but also global markets generally, as oil and commodity prices are somewhat indicative of the state of global financial markets.
In the UK particularly, we are seeing a huge time of change within the energy and services industry. Last year, for example, the government introduced an energy price cap which meant companies were limited on the price they could charge for their default energy tariffs, dramatically effecting profits within many of the UK’s energy companies. Centrica successfully challenged the energy Regulator OFGEM in the High Court last year, seeking a judicial review of the regulator’s last-minute decision to alter the cap.
As well as the price cap, energy and services companies are feeling the pressure to retain their customers now that they can easily switch energy providers to get the most competitive prices. This means that energy companies need to remain competitive by lowering prices and creating new products and services for customers. This does actually create some really exciting opportunities within the industry which I’ll talk about in the next question.
What are some interesting highlights within the industry at the moment?
For me, one of the most interesting challenges and opportunities within the industry is the introduction of Electric Vehicles (EVs). The market for EVs is rapidly expanding and is expected to boom to a total of $802 billion by 2027. Because of this market potential, it is hugely important for energy and services companies to capitalise on these opportunities. Centrica, for example, have recently partnered with Lotus, Ford and Vauxhall to develop their EV ranges and charging facilities for their customers. It will be really exciting to see how the EV sphere develops over the next few years, so it’s definitely one to keep your eye on if you want to develop some commercial awareness in this area.
It’s also impossible to ignore the move to a carbon zero future in this question. Energy and services companies are at the forefront of this transition, developing exciting new technologies to help make our energy consumption more carbon efficient. For example, we are helping businesses to save money and become more energy efficient by installing energy production facilities in their sites so that they can use their own decentralised energy.
Do you have any advice for our readers who may be applying for Training Contracts?
This is a difficult question because everyone’s journeys are so different – what works for one person may not work for another. Like I said earlier though, I cannot stress the importance of developing a sound commercial acumen. Whether that is through reading business news every day (which, by the way, doesn’t mean boring yourself to death with the Financial Times), working part-time in a business or doing a commercial graduate scheme like myself, all are great ways to develop that understanding of businesses and how they operate.
I also think it’s important to stress the importance of resilience through the application process. You will get rejections (unless you’re exceptionally lucky) and you will face setbacks, but if you remain composed and motivated the hard work will pay off. I recently learned that the average lawyer qualifies when they are 29, so don’t worry if you don’t get a Training Contract right away. Do what you feel is right for you.