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Bob Zlotnik, BBA ’75, MBA ’80, and Marcie Zlotnik, BBA ’83, Talk Business

Husband-and-wife team Bob and Marcie Zlotnik founded the Houston energy company StarTex Power in 2004 and have been on the rise ever since. Bob serves as President and CEO and Marcie as Chairman and COO. Inc. magazine featured StarTex in its 2009 list of the 30 fastest growing companies in the U.S. StarTex also earned the 2009 J.D. Powers award for customer satisfaction and was named one of the 10 best places to work in Houston by the Houston Business Journal. Bob and Marcie were finalists for the 2009 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, and you can hear Marcie as the keynote speaker at McCombs' 5th Annual Alumni Business Conference on March 25-26, 2010 in Austin.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges the energy retail industry will be facing in the next few years?

Bob: New initiatives such as nodal pricing and smart metering will be opportunities for retail businesses to set themselves apart from others. Also economic conditions such as a recession put more strain on credit policies and hedging strategies as customers curtail operations.

Marcie: I think overwhelmingly, the biggest challenge will be balancing the desire for overall lower energy costs versus green or alternative fuel sources used to produce electricity. Everybody wants to use alternative, clean fuels, but those fuel sources are very expensive. So trying to balance those factors and please customers is going to be tough going forward.

What initially drew you to the energy retail industry?

Bob: The opportunity is tremendous. The retail electricity market in Texas is over $25 billion, and our competitors are run primarily by individuals with sales and marketing backgrounds. I believed that having a financial and an operations focus would set us apart from our competitors.

Marcie: I spent 14 years in the telecommunications industry, so I was familiar with how deregulated markets worked. Needless to say I went from the frying pan into the fire. I love the competitive energy market and I look forward to watching it grow.

What have you done specifically to set StarTex apart from your competitors?

Bob: We maintain a strict financial focus and are very conservative with our pricing models and our hedging strategies. We have very strict credit policies and have very good systems in place to process our deals.

Marcie: Our focus is on one thing, and that is our customers. Our company tag line is “Power to Connect,” and we do that by connecting on a personal level with our customers. Bob and I answer the call center phones sometimes. People are blown away when they find out they are talking to the chairman or president of the company!

What are you most excited about, in terms of where your company is going within the industry?

Bob: We are gaining recognition for our customer service and we are becoming known as a financially strong company that stands behind its offerings and treats customers and third party sales channels fairly. We have a great culture and the best employees in the industry. The awards from J.D. Powers, the Houston Business Journal and Inc. magazine support this belief.

Marcie: The possibility of advanced meters (smart meters), the possibility of StarTex expanding into different states and new markets, prepaid services for customers, building a stronger brand for StarTex and the overall growth of the retail energy market.

Do you find customers are being more selective about what sources their electricity come from?

Bob: No, currently most customers are focused on price and service.

Marcie: Surprisingly, customers are not that selective when it comes to the electricity. What we have found over the past several years is that people are looking for only a few key factors: competitive pricing, excellent customer service and a trust-worthy company to do business with. These factors are our differentiators because they are the things we focus on at StarTex Power.

What brought you to McCombs as a student?

Bob: I come from a family of Longhorns. My Dad was an athlete at Texas, and I never really considered another school. I was a good baseball player and dreamed of playing baseball at Texas. UT is a great university. It helped me grow not only educationally but also socially. I grew up in a small town, and going to Texas gave me the confidence to know that I could accomplish anything I wanted in my business career.

Marcie: Funny thing, I changed my major three different times before I settled at McCombs, and it wasn’t until I took Cost Accounting that I really found my true passion and calling: operations. That class—the only class I ever made 100’s on tests—is where it all clicked. It was there that I fell in love with operations and where I learned how to make a living out of doing what I love.

How did your educational experience change you? What was the most valuable thing you learned?

Bob: It taught me a love of business and business practices and ideas. The professors challenged me and opened up a new world for me to discover. It taught me to work with others, respect others’ ideas, to always challenge conventional business practices and to always have confidence in my own convictions.

Marcie: In college you learn to be responsible for your own happiness and success. If you are not flexible, it can be frustrating and damaging to your psyche. A lot of the skill sets you learn in college are the same skill sets I use now. The educational experience molds who you are and what you make of your experiences.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Bob: I am always amazed at the great people that work at StarTex Power. We started with an idea in 2004 and now we have over 100 loyal employees and 140,000 customers.

Marcie: We work really hard at providing a great working environment for our employees and a place they want to come every day. Seeing that culture materialize in front of me is an incredible feeling. Plus, building the culture to what we all want it to be is exciting. Our employees help us define the company’s culture as well.

What are some bits of business wisdom that you have tried to abide by in your career?

Bob: If I don’t understand the idea being explained to me or the explanation doesn’t make sense, the person explaining it to me probably doesn’t understand it either or the idea doesn’t make sense.

Marcie: Do a good job every day! Everyone wants to do a good job, and typically if the employees aren’t successful, then it’s either the failure of the company to provide the proper tools, training, etc., or the company has placed this person in the wrong job. My personal mantra is Be Demanding but Fair. I follow that personally and professionally.

Comments

#1 Congratulations! You have so

Congratulations! You have so much to be proud of, and it makes me happy to see so much success come to two really nice people. Mark and I both think so highly of you. Funny memory- My first memory of meeting Bob is when Carol Lockwood Sowards and I had our recruiting visit to E&W and we drove to Pappasitos in Bob's brand new Toronado (? - I think that was the make of the car), it was brown and had leather and FUR on the seats!

#2 So much to be proud of, and

So much to be proud of, and it makes me smile to think I saw the start of your entrepreneur spirit back in the days of E&W. Remember Z-Cubed Investments? Seriously, many, many congratulations to the two of you.

#3 Great interview. I'll be

Great interview. I'll be seeing y'all soon hopefully.

#4 Bob, Congrats on your

Bob, Congrats on your successes.......It has been a very long time since the E & W days in San Antonio. I remember playing a little tennis with you back in those days.

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