January 30, 2010
Thank you to McCombs Alumni Network News, who let us submit the following questions for their interview with the Zlotniks.
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 Zlotnik, BBA '75, MBA '80, serves as President and CEO and Marcie Zlotnik, BBA '83, serves 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 also named 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.
Read the full interview at McCombs Today.