Green Collar Careers: Ultra Geothermal President Melissa Aho
By Austin Sorette | Published September 2, 2013
When Melissa Aho, 38, joined Ultra Heating & Cooling in 2006, roughly 30 percent of the company’s business was in geothermal. But it didn’t take long before more and more New Hampshire residents started insisting on a cleaner, more renewable source of heat, and soon it became one example of supply and demand that this “green” energy business was happy to serve.
Today, the rechristened Ultra Geothermal is proving that clean energy is the superior source of power. With the help of federal rebates and tax credits that help save 30 percent on the total system cost, word has been burning through the grapevine that a little up-front investment can save you big bucks down the road. With their friendly, educational approach and state-of-the-art technology, Aho and Ultra are always first-to-the-gate in providing passionate service to the public’s ever-increasing demand for “green” energy.
“The fact that it’s an uncapped tax credit could be a huge selling point to a consumer who may be making the choice between a high efficiency natural gas system and a geothermal system,” says Aho. “I think that the more people become aware of this tax credit opportunity and learn about its specific applicability to geothermal, it will definitely help drive acceptance of our technology.”
In 2011, Ultra was one of six Granite State businesses honored with a New Hampshire Business Magazine Lean & Green Award.
a) What do you like most about your job?
Not only is my job diverse, but I am also in an industry that I’m passionate about: renewable energy. As president of Ultra Geothermal, my job description includes everything from payroll and accounting to talking with customers to the marketing and web design. Any given day, I am doing so many various things that it makes the time go by so quickly.
Another thing that is exciting about my job in the geothermal heating and cooling business is that I also get to do the education outreach. I am able to work with a wide variety of ages in education, from kindergarten age all the way through to college, and then also educate the public by speaking at government functions and builder events. I also work with many student bodies, including UNH students, by doing presentations in their classes and working with the UNH Energy Club.
b) Where did you go to college? Does your college education help with your current job? What skills from college most prepared you for the work you do now?
I went to school in the early 90’s at UNH for civil engineering. But after a while, I moved on to finish my undergrad studies in Boston at Newbury College with a fashion design degree. Then I went on to get a paralegal degree and did some work in that field only to realize that’s not what I wanted to do either. After that, I was offered an opportunity with SNHU and the state of New Hampshire to work in the international trade field as a training manager. During that time, I took the opportunity to get a BA degree from SNHU in business Administration and then I purchased Ultra Geothermal and made my business happen.
I want to point out that you can see from my various educations you can never know what path you will take in life. I thought my life was made in the fashion industry but turns out in New Hampshire that is an unlikely field, so I took many other turns and wound up back in a field where my UNH civil engineering background and my business degree play a huge role. And I look back now to say I would never change a thing.
c) What do you look for in an employee in this field?
We look for qualities in our employees that show they are going to be dedicated to their job and that they also want to progress as they are with us. Education is important when you are looking to be in a particular industry, but I look well beyond that. I feel that I can always train an employee to learn what I need them to know, but I cannot train them to be courteous, friendly, and really care about what they are doing; that comes only from them as a person. I can also say that from the other side of this question of what I am looking for, is what is the employee looking for? It is hard to hire someone when they don’t show a desire to grow.
d) What made you integrate sustainability into your business/go into a green industry?
When I was with my job at the International Trade Resource Center, I was working on the side for Ultra Heating and Cooling. I purchased the company and then renamed it Ultra Geothermal, Inc., in May of 2008. Then I was handed another opportunity that really swung me into reality of owning a business: Oil hit over $4.50 per gallon in the summer of 2008, and the geothermal business took off. Honestly, it was crazy trying to figure out how to run a company for the first time and then getting hit so hard with the most business our company has seen in the last five years. Even to this day, 2008 was Ultra Geothermal’s busiest year. Since then, I have learned a lot and figured out how to manage things much better, and we are a successful, steady paced company that only sees the industry going up.
e) What are you most proud of in your business as relates to sustainability?
The one thing that I can say I am most proud of is the fact that both my business, in Barrington, and my home, in Strafford, are using the renewable technologies that I preach every day. Geothermal is the only source of heating and cooling that we use; it’s how we keep the home and office warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I am proud that I am able to work in a business that offers these same sustainable options to our customers. We average around 100 systems a year, and this creates a huge impact on getting the Seacoast and local area less dependent on fossil fuels. And I also have quite a few customers that have taken it to a level like myself and added solar PV to lower their impact on our environment even further.