president and CEO, BITHENERGY
When I visited Tuck and felt the soul of the school, I knew it was the place for me.
It’s hard to put Robert Wallace T’84 in a box. The Baltimore-born entrepreneur has written six books and runs three companies focusing on information technology, executive coaching, and most recently, renewable energy. He serves on several boards and travels extensively for global missions, while delivering dozens of speeches every year. It’s fair to ask how he does it all.
“I don’t sleep,” he laughs.
Wallace grew up in Baltimore’s Cherry Hill housing projects and attended segregated schools until the 10th grade, when he was admitted to an engineering and science magnet school that had been integrated after a landmark case argued by Thurgood Marshall. Wallace thrived at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, and one day during his junior year two teachers pulled him aside and told him he should attend an Ivy League university.
“I had no idea what an Ivy League school was, but those men saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” says Wallace, who earned an academic scholarship to study mechanical engineering and applied mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. While studying at Penn, Robert met Carolyn Green, a biomedical engineering student, and his soon to be wife. During his senior year at Penn Robert researched renewable energy, with a focus on solar generation. It was 1978, and Jimmy Carter had famously installed solar panels on the White House roof.
Wallace recognized the technology’s potential, but also realized the business environment was not yet right for renewables. Consequently, he and Carolyn decided to accept employment at DuPont, where they both focused on honing their engineering skills. However, Robert’s passion was with business so he began applying to business schools.
“When I visited Tuck and felt the soul of the school, I knew it was the place for me,” Wallace says. He and Carolyn moved with their two young boys to Hanover. She pursued her masters at Dartmouth, he earned his MBA, and they welcomed the third of their five children. Neither of them slept much in those days.
Wallace worked in numerous engineering jobs for IBM, Procter & Gamble, and Westinghouse before founding his IT company, BITHGROUP Technologies, in 1992. He wrote bestselling books on minority and female entrepreneurship and founded an executive coaching consultancy, Entre Teach Learning Systems. In 2009 he founded BITHENERGY, feeling the time finally was right for sustainable energy advanced technologies. “We’ve seen the innovation increase, the operational efficiency improve, and we’ve seen costs decrease significantly,” he says.
As with everything in Wallace’s career, his approach to energy is multifaceted and nimble. While BITHENERGY has had success in what he calls ‘big iron’ projects, including utility-scale solar generation, the company also is pursuing opportunities at the intersection of renewable energy and information technology. Two of the most promising veins relate to cybersecurity and networks of integrated devices, the so-called Internet of Things.
“We see additional innovation on the horizon that’s not mainstream but soon will be, and we are positioning ourselves to be a part of that,” Wallace says. “There’s a great deal of commonality between our efforts in IT and energy, and that has given us the ability to become one of the swift players in that space.”
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