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Hes Sold on Green Technology

August 31, 2008
Related Topics: Career Development, Future Workplace, Employee Career Development, Workforce Planning, Technology
Ermin Arslanagic is late for an interview.

    He doesn’t say why, only that something unexpected happened. Later, he explains: While riding his bike to work, he got a flat tire.

    Arslanagic, 35, is an account executive with Johnson Controls Inc. in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a role that requires him to convince municipalities such as the city of Geneseo that they can save money by installing energy-efficient utilities and control systems, switching to wind and solar power, and renovating infrastructure in line with standards certified by the U.S. Green Building Council.

    Given his vested interest in being green, he might have used his morning mishap to his advantage. But Arslanagic isn’t your typical salesman.

    A Bosnian-American, he studied economics in Turkey during the Bosnian War, earning an undergraduate degree from Bosphorus University in 1996, then moved to the U.S. a year later.

    Once in the States, Arslanagic worked in Boston, first at a bank, then selling vinyl siding and windows before taking a job selling copiers for Xerox Corp. in Atlanta while working on his MBA at Georgia State University.

    “No one recognized my degree from Turkey,” he says.

    A Georgia State professor referred Arslanagic to IBM Corp., where he sold mainframe equipment until he moved with his new wife to Chicago in 2003. He finished his MBA at Loyola University and posted his résumé with online job sites.

    When a recruiter called about the Johnson Controls job, which Arslanagic would begin in 2004, the position was still being shaped. Since then, more account executives in Illinois and nationwide have been doing similar work—selling government entities on sustainable solutions.

    Sometimes that means selling Johnson Controls products, such as automation or cooling systems, but often it means selling other companies’ products—wind turbines, for instance—then installing and managing them.

    Johnson Controls says it plans to hire 50,000 people worldwide in the next five years to meet surging demand for energy-efficient buildings, growth driven by high energy costs and a rising awareness of global warming.

    “So many regular jobs are being recast through retraining,” says Kevin Doyle, a Boston consultant who advises companies on how to hire and train green workers to install and sell this new technology.

    “Think of me as a quarterback,” Arslanagic says. “My deal is to engage the mayor and the board, the county executive, the city administrator, and say, ‘Let’s look at your crumbling infrastructure. There’s a good chance we can fix that and finance it with operational and energy savings.’ They like that.”

    Not that it’s a cakewalk. Sales can take 18 months from first presentation to closing (versus just a couple of months with conventional energy systems). Projects then take up to another year and a half to design and install.

    “It’s like herding cats,” Arslanagic says.

    But the process is still an improvement over traditional energy practices. “We used to deal with the lowest-bidder concept—that’s how governments buy,” he says. “Now they’re more open to green and sustainable projects.”

    So is he. He’s recycling and conserving energy, and encouraging friends and family to do the same, though Arslanagic did have to convince his wife that biking 11 miles each way to work was safe. It might have been his hardest sale yet.

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