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May 1, 2014

Green Cowboy

Conor McKenna ’09 oversees $500 million in investment transactions in wind, solar, and biomass projects for accounting firm CohnReznick.
Amanda Chalifoux

After working for a hedge fund manager, Conor McKenna ’09 went to business school and headed for the Wild West of investing — renewable energy. “I wanted to have a positive impact on society at some level,” McKenna says. “I saw so much opportunity to be a cowboy — a pioneer — in an area that was in its infancy.”

Today, renewable energy is all grown up — since 2011, McKenna has overseen $500 million in investment transactions in wind, solar, and biomass projects for accounting firm CohnReznick. In 2013, he helped secure an asset sale for the Spanish firm Immodo Solar — a deal worth $80 to $100 million. He says competition from big banks cashing in on renewable energy has increased, and developers are improving project proposals. “There’s a much lower fail rate on transactions now,” says McKenna. “And more of my clients are traditional finance players, like private equity and infrastructure funds.”

Advice for Students “Network with friends, regardless of their career focus. The perspective you gain from them is priceless.”

Even as green investing becomes more mainstream, McKenna believes there is significant opportunity in the space for pragmatic decision makers — especially Columbia grads. “There are a lot of big talkers in this industry,” McKenna says. “Approaching these projects from a practical viewpoint allows you to blaze your own path.”