Peter E. Barker-Homek Addresses the Innovation and Technology Forum

Peter E. Barker-Homek ('83) has worn many hats—U.S. Marine pilot; high-level State Department official; Director of International Mergers and Acquisitions at British Gas; CEO of Taqa, the Abu Dhabi National Energy Company; and, currently, senior principal and Energy Practice Head of the Capital Corporation, one of the premier investment banking firms in the country. His accomplishments, far too numerous to list in their entirety, include flying an AH-64 Apache gunship and closing billion-dollar transactions.

In 2013 he sponsored a course in the Department of Technology, Culture and Society titled "Women, Human Rights, and Developing Countries." This year and next year, he is supporting graduate fellowships in Integrated Digital Media. With initiatives like these at NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering he puts into practice making a positive difference.

And on April 21, he added a new title to his CV: winner of the 2014 Spirit of Innovation Award, given to him by Professor David Lefer, after his Innovation and Technology Forum guest lecture, which was entitled “Think, Do, Make a Difference.”

Also add to his list of accomplishments the ability to grab the attention of an audience. Barker-Homek opened his talk with a quote by Steve Jobs, who when asked why he didn’t just work for IBM instead of taking the risk of going out on his own, replied, “Why join the Navy if you can be a pirate?”

“Be a pirate,” Barker-Homek exhorted the students who packed Pfizer auditorium to hear him. “Don’t ever be complacent. You each have what could be considered the world’s most sophisticated computer perched right on top of your shoulders, so use it.” The iconoclastic speaker was not imploring his audience to simply use their brains to make money, however, but to go out on a limb and try to change the world. “Sure, some of the challenges you face are going to be career-changing, meaning that the morning after you stand up for what’s right, you might find yourself out of a job, but you have a moral obligation,” he asserted.

That obligation became plainer when Barker-Homek listed a few statistics. The 85 richest people in the world, he said, have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest; only 20 of 196 countries around the globe are functional constitutional democracies. “You’re lucky to live in one of those 20 countries, so exercise your right to vote,” he said. “Write letters to your elected officials about important issues. I’ve lived under dictatorships over the course of my career, and it’s not pleasant.”

Acknowledging that his audience was comprised mainly of aspiring engineers, Barker-Homek showed a slide listing innovations that the world could have done without—Agent Orange, New Coke, Olestra, and Hair in a Can, among them—and encouraged them to devote themselves instead to issues that mattered, such as cyberwar, poverty, and the environment.

A select group of students had the chance to eat lunch and speak individually with Barker-Homek, but all were invited to reach out to him via email for advice and to network. “There are a lot of great companies out there with internships available,” he enthused. “Let’s see if we can get you doing something meaningful over the summer.”