Late one muggy night in June, in the northeastern suburbs of Beijing, Will Latta made the final preparations for the Forever Duke Send-off party he was hosting. In the spirit of cross-cultural exchange, Latta, Fuqua Weekend Executive MBA ’02, playfully decided to cater the event with some good Southern cooking. Everyone seemed to enjoy the pulled barbecue pork and fried okra, and it seemed appropriate that an engineer like Latta would be able to finagle a way to find okra in large commercial quantities in Beijing.

Latta is the co-founder and managing director of a successful start-up named LP Amina, an energy and environmental company that provides a full range of pollution control and energy efficiency improvement services to Chinese energy producers. Since its establishment in 2007, LP Amina has expanded from its original three investors to more than 100 full-time employees and has seven research and development centers around the world. The company name is a portmanteau of “America” and “China” and rhymes with the latter.

LP Amina’s services fall into two categories: power generation and coal-to-chemical production. Massive increases in energy demand over a relatively short period of time mean that Chinese power producers have focused on simple energy generation, often using outdated and inefficient equipment that produces high quantities of pollutants. To address the mismatch in supply and demand and the high pace of development, LP Amina provides plants with cleaner, more effective coal-burning technologies and technical support to install and integrate these new systems.

Meanwhile, LP Amina is developing cleaner processes for producing chemicals that are derived from carbon-based materials like coal. As Latta sees it, LP Amina’s technology represents a paradigm shift in the way society should think about coal’s impact. Coal is abundant and low cost, potentially offering enormous value for power generation for billions of people around the world and particularly those in developing economies. Latta sees it becoming even more popular as an energy source as the price and supply of oil and gas fluctuate but is focusing on reducing its more inconvenient outputs, like air pollutants.

Latta is a youthful spirit. With his graying temples and a beer in hand, he exudes the charisma of a born-and-bred Southern gentlemen. His boyish curiosity about people, places and things and his naturally laid-back temperament make him an easy conversationalist and an excellent host for the send-off party. He also has a stubbornly optimistic view of reality.

“Will truly believes in win-win situations,” said Jamyan Dudka, one of Latta’s employees. “He is actively optimistic and still enjoys looking at drawings and going to technical meetings. His energy energizes the whole team.”

Currently, 11 provinces and two municipalities in China have employed LP Amina’s emissions-reducing technology. Most recently, In Shanxi province, a new pilot plant intended to showcase nascent coal-to-chemical technology is currently under construction.

LP Amina’s global presence is indicative of the now global nature of energy production and consumption. While the company is based out of Charlotte, N.C., Latta spends most of his time working and traveling in East Asia, where his duties as CEO have widened to attending events with celebrities in China like U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke.

“I never thought I would have gotten into energy,” Latta laughed. “If you asked me as an undergraduate what I’d be doing, I wouldn’t have been able to guess this.”

As an undergraduate, Latta attended Georgia Institute of Technology, where he majored in engineering. It was also at Georgia Tech that he began to entertain the idea of starting his own company. He then went on to spend two years getting his business degree at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business. After graduating, Latta landed a job with Alstom Power, a power generation equipment manufacturer. The career move was strongly motivated by his desire to travel, and he got his wish.

“This job said, ‘Hey, we’re going to relocate you every three to six months.’ I was like, ‘Perfect,’” Latta said.

He moved constantly from state to state on project work before managing Alstom’s mergers and acquisitions efforts in China. After founding LP Amina, Latta settled in Beijing, China permanently, where he opened his home for the Forever Duke Send-off party.

It was at Duke, however, that Latta fatefully met Dave Piejak and Andy Welch, who would later complete the triangle of LP Amina’s first investors. As Latta tells it, they were on their annual ski trip when he brought up his idea to bring his work experience to the growing energy industry in Asia. Within two months of pitching the idea, Latta quit his job and launched LP Amina with seed money that Piejak and Welch had invested.

“It was somewhat impulsive,” Latta admitted. The rest, as they say, is history. Piejak now serves President, LP Amina US and Welch sits on the board of directors. Latta credits Duke with giving him the resources and connections to pursue the founding of LP Amina.

The energy industry in the 1990s, however, struck him as “stagnant,” and information technology seemed more exciting.

“I remember my friends [who went into IT] telling me they were in these big corporate offices with ping pong tables and everything,” Latta said. “At this point I’m in West Virginia on a mountaintop, [and it’s] snowing. You have these second thoughts.”

But the rise of China as an economic and industrial powerhouse changed Latta’s original conceptions about the energy industry.

“[Energy] is essential for everyone’s economy, in every culture… but [energy] has to be cheap. That is really inspiring a lot of energy,” he said.

The excitement—and headache-inducing challenge—of working on creating new products continues to draw Latta into his work.

“China wants to be an innovator and not just rely on others for solving their issues. The flip side is that these problems are complicated. They really require the best talent you can find globally,” he noted.

Latta is playing a part in the process of matching up talent with need. Most recently, LP Amina inked a partnership with the Chinese power producer Gemeng International Energy and Bayer, a German pharmaceutical and technology company, to produce a technology that derives valuable chemicals from energy waste by-products.

In person, the pressures of LP Amina’s ever-growing scope of business in China showed very little in Latta’s composure. Even among the former and future Duke students crowding his home, he remained jovial yet aloof. As the Forever Duke Send-off party drew to a close, he looked around in good humor at the excited freshmen and the considerably more tranquil upperclassmen. Standing amidst clusters of students just beginning the paths of their lives, he offered some reassuring advice: “As you graduate, just be open-minded. Listen to yourself. Figure out what you really want and focus on those things that are really important you, and the other stuff just kind of works out.”