“I still had some itches I needed to scratch, particularly in the areas of business and its intersection with technology, and EMTM sounded like a unique program that would meet those needs.”

Earl Burns Jr. MSM, EMTM’03
Manager, Global Strategy and Commercial Development
Conoco Phillips Commercial Marine Division
Houston, TX

Earl Burns, EMTM’03

Earl studied marine engineering at the Merchant Marine Academy and worked in technical sales and business management at Mobil Oil for several years. While he was with the company, he was sponsored to get an executive masters of science and management from Purdue University. When the company merged with Exxon he left to become a consultant in energy strategy at PriceWaterhouseCoopers. He’d been out of school for more than 10 years when a fellow coworker told him about UPenn EMTM, and the timing seemed right. “I still had some itches I needed to scratch, particularly in the areas of business and its intersection with technology, and EMTM sounded like a unique program that would meet those needs.”


A Philadelphia native, Earl had always been interested in attending UPenn. When he heard more about UPenn EMTM’s singular blend of Wharton and Penn Engineering curricula, he was intrigued. “One of the things that interested me was that I didn’t have any sort of deep grounding in IT and I felt I needed to understand where technology was going with respect to business.” After sitting in on classes at the behest of his colleague, Earl says he was “taken aback” by the program’s high caliber of faculty and the precise ways it delivered on its promises to teach the management of technology. Earl was eager to get started right away — even though it meant he would miss out on applying for sponsorship when it looked likely that he would be changing employers early on in the matriculation process. Earl still applied and matriculated to EMTM, and was fully sponsored by his new employer for the second year of the program.

Career Impact

Knowing that he would stay in the energy industry, Earl opted for breadth in his EMTM classes. “So many of the classes were amazing, and so many exposed me to ideas and individuals who were at the top of their fields.” Classes in decision models and data mining have given Earl key analytic tools to extract and understand critical information and data sets. Negotiations and Intellectual Property classes have been especially useful for his career in energy trading and origination, allowing him to apply complex strategies to assess and propose deals and manage intellectual capital, both legally and financially. The exchange with classmates from the pharma space was illuminating and he found aspects of the drug discovery process applicable to his own work. He also had the unusual opportunity to write articles for the Wharton Journal student newspaper, interviewing prominent leaders from NASDAQ and Pharmacia.

When he completed the program, Earl was recruited into BP, running a division in the lubricants business in the Southeast and Southwest regions of the U.S. He was then put into a corporate high potential program where he worked as a chief of staff to a senior BP executive. He was eventually promoted to a trading management job, covering vast territory stretching from Europe to the Americas and overseeing a dynamic multicultural team with massive profit and loss responsibilities. Not long after, a headhunter called him with the opportunity to join ConocoPhillips as their manager of strategy and commercial development for the company’s global shipping business. “It was a tough decision to leave BP but the new job was too good to pass up. It’s an example of how, with the right experience, the EMTM degree can be so powerful — even in a difficult economic environment I continued to be aggressively recruited.”

Earl continues to be pleased with the enhanced opportunities that the program has helped create for him within the energy sector. “Whenever I have not been in the right spot EMTM has helped me make a swift career change and get to the right place. And it has helped me continue to perform exceptionally well with my current employer. EMTM has been a key backstop to my resumé and it has added value to my career.”