February 2017

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Jack Mc GowanEMAIL INTERVIEWJack McGowan and Ken Sinclair

Jack Mc Gowan, CEM, Principal,
The Mc Gowan Group

Contributing Editor

McGowan's Reflection on Hall of Fame Award

Thinking about this reminds me of an interview I once heard with Joe Walsh, legendary guitarist with the Eagles.  He said that while his career unfolded, it seemed like series of disconnected moves jumping from one job, or opportunity, to the next.  Yet when he gained perspective and looked back at it, it looked like a finely crafted novel.

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SinclairJack McGowan, your induction to the ControlTrends Awards Hall of Fame this year before the AHR Expo, gives us the chance to revisit a career of work on numerous industry developments.  What are you most proud of?


McGowan:  Big question Ken.  As I said in my acceptance, our relationship of over three decades tops off that list.  It was also incredible that I had the chance to be right at the heart of two industries, energy, and controls, early in my career. I was very fortunate to enter the business at a very exciting time for both industries, particularly because high energy costs then were really driving control industry growth.  Using technology and systems for energy efficiency and management was the first “killer AP” for Smart Buildings.   It was more, though because energy also became a catalyst for creativity and innovation in both controls and buildings.  I developed a passion at the beginning, to learn everything possible about innovation, emerging technology and new business developments that would impact my work. 

wantedposterAt ControlTrends I referred to you and I, as industry explorers trying to understand “what is next” for our industry, and whether it is any good.  It was exciting for us to be part of a cadre of thought leaders, who were at the forefront of the most exciting and transformative industry changes to occur in decades.  Among those leaders were Jim Lee, Anto Budiarjo and Leighton Wolffe, shown in this Wanted poster, I put together for a Strategy Session held at our Colorado family cabin in 2009.  All of this work complimented my desire to write and speak about industry developments.  My goal was to use my articles as a platform to put a spotlight on industry professionals who were pushing the envelope, to pursue excellence in Smart Buildings. It is truly amazing to be recognized by ControlTrends for that work because it was the most fun I had in my career.  Running a successful business and building great projects was exciting, but the real fun was that I had a small role in driving the industry forward.

SinclairWhat industry developments really stand out in your memory?

McGowan:  There are almost too many to mention because technology has a way of changing the industry’s course. First such developments solve a problem, but then they often take you places you could never have guessed.  Consider BACnet for example.  I was an early champion of open systems and communication standards, while a Corporate Energy Manager for a retailer with 20 million square feet of buildings across the US.  While there I implemented hundreds of energy management systems (what we called automation then), which created huge benefits for the company.  This work also formed the basis for 200 articles and the first three of six books I wrote on systems and technology.  Implementing systems seemed to lead naturally to writing articles, speaking at conferences and teaching seminars.  The goal was always to share what I was learning about how to do it right, and to educate the industry on changes that were needed to progress.

horsemen Back to your question, I laughingly refer to my open systems work as addressing one of the “Four Horsemen of the Automated Buildings Apocalypse.”  Legacy Systems and the need for BACnet drove my initial activity, but that was followed closely by Middleware, the Internet and Web services developments and Apps like Dashboards and Analytics.  With my end user experience, I was at the beginning of what we now call Analytics.  Data is key for energy managers, and facing challenges with proprietary datasets was critical.  That’s why it is exciting to see the work being done by Project Haystack and BACnet.  I mentioned energy prices were drivers for controls, but looking beyond energy cost to energy reliability, what we now call resiliency, was an epiphany.  My understanding of buildings, energy, DDC, controls, and system communications caused the U.S. DOE to invite me to join the Gridwise Architecture Council as a founding member.  Gridwise is another example of technology developments taking us to unexpected places.  Finally, as an entrepreneur my goal was to build great projects, incorporating emerging technology and innovation.  This led me to expand my company from System Integration to full-scale Energy Service, Design / Build contracting.  Using that model we built multi-million dollar projects, which could easily accommodate leading edge ideas and technology.

Sinclair Given that diversity of work, are there some particularly memorable experiences you can share?

McGowan:  Thinking about this reminds me of an interview I once heard with Joe Walsh, legendary guitarist with the Eagles.  He said that while his career unfolded, it seemed like series of disconnected moves jumping from one job, or opportunity, to the next.  Yet when he gained perspective and looked back at it, it looked like a finely crafted novel.  I agree with the sentiment; my career’s been a great ride.  One last point, though, don’t take it too seriously, always find ways to inject humor and have some fun.  I had that in mind while creating the DR Expo 2007 keynote in Chicago.  There were many topics to discuss; automation, the Grid, standards, emerging technology, business models; but instead I settled on a simple idea.  There was a popular Cable TV Show at the time about automobiles that inspired the title of my talk.  I told the audience I just wanted someone to… Pimp my Building.

SinclairThanks Jack for taking the time to visit with us about your lifetime of achievement. I the last question is, what are you doing now?

McGowan:  Well Ken, after selling the business, I settled into comfortable semi-retired consulting, offering market and business development work for a few clients.  But mostly, after 39 years of marriage and raising two great children, Judy and I are just enjoying life.  In 2012 we moved back to Santa Fe and built a Zero Net Energy home.  Since then we travel, dance and take life as it comes.   I also picked up some things that never seemed to fit into my work life, like oil painting landscapes.  It is fun to paint places that we travel, like the one below from a trip we took to Tuscany earlier this year.



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