Thinking independently and leading creatively are keys to success

Thinking independently and leading creatively are keys to success

D ilanka Seimon’s, ’03, professors at Georgia College showed him the magic that happens when individuals are allowed to think independently. It commands respect. Now, he applies this skill to his profession as vice president of Alternative Energy for Energy Transfer, one of the largest and most diversified energy infrastructure companies in North America. 

Dilanka Seimon
Dilanka Seimon

During Seimon’s Honors class, Dr. Kenneth Saladin, distinguished professor emeritus and evolution theorist, would occasionally debate with another professor, a creation theorist. The opposing views didn’t stop the Saladins from hosting this professor and his wife at their home.

“As a 20-year-old, I thought, ‘This is pretty amazing,’” said the economics major. “Here are two people on the opposite side of one of the biggest debates of humankind, having a lively, yet respectful debate and maintaining a good relationship.” 

The Honors Program was just getting started during Seimon’s time as an undergraduate. Drs. Saladin and Rob Viau were professors at that time, and Drs. John Sallstrom and Doris Moody were leading the Honors program. The theme of class discussion was the Utopian Society.

“The main take away I learned from that class was how you respectfully have these discussions, particularly with individuals who have different viewpoints than you,” he said. 

Dilanka Seimon with colleagues in Japan at the anniversary celebration of a liquified natural gas (LNG) project.
Dilanka Seimon with colleagues in Japan at the anniversary celebration of a liquified natural gas (LNG) project.

Although Seimon was president of many organizations at Georgia College, he was particularly impressed with the GEM (Georgia Education Mentorship) program, which was a pilot program in its inaugural year with Moody as the director. He was matched with Paula Rosput Reynolds, former CEO and president of Atlanta Gas Light (now part of Southern Company), who convinced him to pursue a career in the energy business.

“She facilitated my first job in Houston,” he said. “Paula was amazing. She allowed me to go to Atlanta to shadow her in meetings. The company flew me to Houston to visit its subsidiary and talk to energy professionals. A year later, after I graduated, they hired me.”

Seimon has been in the energy business and traveling the world ever since.

In his current position, the challenge is to see how the company can build infrastructure to support an expansion of energy sources. Current energy mainly comes from hydrocarbons and then from wind, solar and other renewables. As the U.S. moves to a lower carbon economy, he poses the question, “How do we build infrastructure to support and accelerate those sources?”

“There’s a lot of debate around the energy transition. The challenge is that a lot of enabling technologies are new,” Seimon said. “So, I tie that back to, navigating those conversations around folks who have diverse views on this topic. You have to figure out a way for these ideas to coexist and build on each other. Sometimes they won't, and that's alright.”

“The energy industry is just so crucial because energy is required for all economic activity,” he said. “It has enabled human progression. If you think about the essential goods around us—plastics, cars, chemicals, clothes—many of them come from oil and gas. Those are on top of the more obvious uses of gasoline and natural gas.”

Seimon knows energy is such a dynamic and important industry for the growth of the world, especially when there are parts of the world that still don’t have access to stable energy. It’s interconnected to most everything people do. Without the energy business, the world ceases to operate.

“How do we solve this trilemma of energy security, affordability and sustainability?” he asks. “Because it is not sustainable to depend only on hydrocarbon-based energy, but you can’t turn away from them abruptly either. Wind and solar have made great progress and will continue to grow, but we need to go further. So, developing technologies around carbon capture and storage and clean hydrogen are crucial.”

“One of the greatest gifts I received from Georgia College and classes like the Honors Class is the ability to have respectful discourse with those who disagree with me. This was done with the intention of learning and further honing my thoughts not with an objective to change the other person’s mind at all costs.”
– Dilanka Seimon

The biggest challenge he faces in his profession is addressing misinformation about the energy industry. 

“It’s extremely complex with many geopolitical dimensions,” Seimon said. “This leads to a lot of confusion, which, in turn, leads to things like inconsistent energy policy that makes it difficult for long-term planning.”

As the world’s population grows, emerging and developed economies will demand and consume more energy.

“We need to find new sources of energy to meet that demand,” he said. “Because of climate change and the scarcity of hydrocarbons, we have to expand the energy mix.”

He hopes the use of alternative energy will grow in the U.S. and the world.

“All energy is important,” Seimon said. “My hope is that we’ll figure out technologies and deploy them at scale to deliver the energy the world needs in a way we can balance the tensions between energy security, affordability and sustainability. This is one of the greatest challenges of our times.” 

Dilanka Seimon (second from left) with colleagues at a power plant in Chile.
Dilanka Seimon (second from left) with colleagues at a power plant in Chile.

The secret to his success is having the ability to get along with people. This helps towards inspiring them in the pursuit of common goals.

“The ability to be nimble, learn from new information and apply critical thinking skills are at the core of my foundation and biggest aids in my profession,” Seimon said. “I think the Georgia College experience of thinking independently was quite important in this regard.”

Appreciating others for their independent thoughts is a skill that has declined in today’s world, he feels.

“What's discouraging to me is the way things are now,” Seimon said. “It’s like, if you don't see it my way, I don’t want to engage in a constructive debate—whether it’s politics, the COVID vaccine or energy sources.”

“One of the greatest gifts I received from Georgia College and classes like the Honors Class is the ability to have respectful discourse with those who disagree with me,” he said. “This was done with the intention of learning and further honing my thoughts not with an objective to change the other person’s mind at all costs.”

Seimon’s experience at Georgia College has made such an impression on him that he served on the Alumni Board for six years and currently serves on the Foundation Board of Trustees. He also endowed the Murali Thirumal Endowed Scholarship to honor Murali Thirumal, ’91, ’98, to support undergraduate and graduate Sri Lankan or international students, preferably those participating in the Georgia College Honors Program.