Alumni Profile: Leah Barton ’97

Jonathan Hwang | jonathan.hwang@yale.edu December 11, 2007

Leah Barton ’97 has taken her Chemical Engineering degree into the business world. As one of only four chemical engineering majors in her class, Barton felt the program, which was challenged by its smaller numbers in the 90’s, set the bar high for its students.

While at Yale, Barton was an active member in Team Lux, The Yale Solar Car and Mechatronics Design Team. She spent quite a few 30-hour weeks building a solar car to race from Indianapolis to Colorado Springs. The car finished ninth out of 44 teams—an impressive accomplishment, considering that Team Lux was one of only four rookie teams.

Barton’s experience with the team taught her important business skills. Team Lux did not initially get funding from the engineering department, so its members had to call alumni and local businesses for money or in-kind donations. “It was a great experience talking to people in industry, building a team, and finding the best role for everyone,” recalled Barton.

After graduating from Yale, Barton joined the Peace Corps, spending two and a half years teaching math and physics in Tanzania. The experience was rewarding both personally and professionally. Ultimately wanting to go into international business, she felt it was vital that she see other areas of the world firsthand. Additionally, according to Barton, “If you can stand up in front of a class, you can stand up in front of a board.”

When she returned from Tanzania, a fellow ’97 Chemical Engineering graduate helped Barton land a job at a Hydrogen Fuel Cell company in Cambridge, MA. As the company started to expand, Barton’s role began to shift toward management. Enjoying her new work, she received an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School, while her interest in international business led her to earn another Master’s degree in international relations.

Barton then moved to Houston, where she got a job in business development at Shell Chemical helping launch new polyesters for carpets and textiles. The job involved frequent travel to Asia and some to Europe. “I was probably the only Shell Chemical employee going to fashion shows,” Barton recalled.

At Shell, almost all managers have an engineering background, and Barton felt her Chemical Engineering degree gave her credibility. It let her employers know that she had the needed data analysis skills, that she would work hard, and that she had the intellectual capacity for the job. However, Barton also wishes that she had spent more time on classes outside of engineering. In engineering, an answer “can be forced on a problem.” Questions in areas such as economics, political science, and international relations, however, can have more nuanced and complex answers.

Last May, after three years at Shell, Barton decided that she wanted to work somewhere smaller where she could be closer to upper management and have broader responsibilities. That led her to take her current job at MxEnergy, a natural gas and electricity marketer.

Barton is currently working on stabilizing MxEnergy’s residential power platform and just took the role of commercial sales operations group leader. She says she is working “a lot harder” than she was at Shell but is also “having a lot more fun.”

As a board member of the Yale Club of Houston, Barton continues to stay active with other Yalies. The club members go to wine tasting, opera, and other events together. She also met her current boyfriend, a Yale ’98 graduate, through the Yale Club.

What does the future hold? “I used to stress about it a lot,” she reflected. “I used to think managing people was easy but now I realize I still need to work at it. I am just going to keep working on my leadership and business skills and see where they take me.”