3 Surprising Ways Solar CEOs Navigate Uncertainty

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The unpredictability of the future can seem daunting. And, it’s in uncertain times like these, that we typically look to the leaders in our industry for guidance.

That’s why, a few months ago, we brought together three leaders of national solar companies and asked them to share some of the guiding principles they are currently following.

In the session, Leading Through Change: How CEOs of Leading Solar Companies Outmaneuver Uncertainty, the CEOs of Vinyasun, Palmetto, and Blue Raven Solar shared how they’ve each navigated major solar businesses through the pandemic by following the “Three C’s:”

  • Culture
  • Care
  • Confidence

In this post we’ll take a look at the main strategies they shared that can help any solar business navigate the current environment. You can also listen to their full discussion on-demand at EMPOWER2020.


1. Culture: Listen To Your Team

Ben Peterson (CEO of Blue Raven Solar) and Chris Kemper (CEO of Palmetto) kept their companies operating at full speed throughout quarantine by following two sources of tried-and-true professional advice.

Take the Advice of Your C-Suite

“2-3 months before COVID-19 shutdowns began, our Blue Raven COO warned us that COVID would impact our business,” says Ben Peterson.

“To us in January, it was just a far-off virus. But he insisted on helping us develop a detailed framework, with different response levels, more than two months before our state shut down on March 12th. Because of that head start, all of our employees were working remotely just four days after shutdown.

We wouldn’t have been able to get back to work so fast if our COO hadn’t had the courage to warn us, long before most people realized the threat.”

While most businesses have a framework for pandemic-era operations by now, the future remains unpredictable. So as you plan your business’s next moves, show your C-suite that you welcome their input and observations. If they know you’ll seriously consider their advice, they’ll feel more confident sharing it.

Bringing In an Outside Expert Can Be Worth It

Thanks to an economist, Chris Kemper began COVID-19 preparations at Palmetto even earlier than Ben — in fact, before COVID-19 even existed in humans.

“In fall 2019, we brought in an outside economist to help us anticipate the market through 2020,” says Chris. “COVID-19 wasn’t around back then, but the economist used other factors to predict a recession in 2020.

So by the end of 2019, we’d made a 5-point plan to take as much financial risk off the table as possible. Although we didn’t anticipate COVID-19, our long-term outlook for Palmetto helped us create a good financial position to respond quickly when it came.”

Ben and Chris give the same simple piece of advice to other solar leaders: “Surround yourself with a great team and then listen to them.”

2. Care: Prioritize Employees’ Well-Being

All three solar leaders unanimously agreed that employees’ health is the biggest priority and that it’s also essential to the welfare of their companies.

Justin Hoysradt (CEO of Vinyasun) explained that employee-friendly policies help achieve greater productivity and low turnover.

“Major tech companies like Google and Apple have significant paid time off, but their employees ultimately stay for the positive culture, support, freedom, and inclusivity of team members,” he says.

“While unlimited paid time off is unaffordable for small companies, everyone can afford to uphold those four values. In addition, support employees’ physical health as much as you can. For example, Vinyasun’s premium health benefits package seemed costly when we chose it — but it’s paying huge dividends now.

Vinyasun team members work better because they’re less stressed by health-related concerns. They know that if they get sick or lose a family member, they won’t end up in bankruptcy court; we’re behind them all the way, especially during this pandemic.”

At Palmetto, Chris also saw the positive effect of prioritizing employees’ health.

“Our teams have performed well this year because we transitioned into fully remote work early for their safety, even before many governors started shutdowns. As a result, we’ve seen our metrics spike in several ways — even during quarantine. Because of our employee-centered culture, we didn’t miss a beat.”

All three panelists encouraged solar leaders to make their employees’ health the #1 goal.

3. Confidence: Follow the 4 Work/Life Balance Basics

One of the most important things business leaders need to do right now is deal with the stress that comes from months of uncertainty. Managing the welfare of their business and the well-being of their employees, all while trying to maintain a confident front, can be overwhelming.

Ben shared that practicing the 4 Work/Life Balance Basics has helped him sustain confidence and productivity:

1. Exercise

Just 10-15 minutes of exercise can boost work productivity by giving stressed-out minds a major endorphin and blood-flow boost.

Although most gyms are closed, you can still exercise outdoors or seek out online in-home programs. Even if you don’t have much equipment, you can start an effective routine with just bodyweight exercises.

2. Sleep

We all know we should get 7-9 hours nightly, but increased responsibility and pandemic stress make it more challenging than usual. Ben recommends using a sleep-tracking app, which takes a metrics-based approach to help you improve your sleep quality.

3. Family 

Your loved ones need you, and you need them. Quality time with your closest people is healing, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that if you live with them, it’ll “just happen.” Instead, purposefully schedule it.

Ben recounted that a friend’s six-year-old son, Seth, told his friend that, “you don’t have time to play games with me because even when you’re here at home, you’re on your phone all the time.” Ben’s friend now schedules “Seth/Daddy Special Time” with Seth, which he writes down in his calendar.

4. Faith

Both religious and non-religious people can benefit from connecting to something bigger than themselves. Many find fulfillment by serving their communities, so seek out opportunities to volunteer for worthy causes (often remote options are available).

Following these 4 work-life basics will help you perform your best, sustain a work-life balance, and keep a confident perspective even in the midst of 2020 chaos.

Conclusion: Reasons for Optimism

Recent statistics show hopeful trends for solar businesses. According to Solar Power World, “solar-generated electricity expanded by 22.2% (compared to the same period in 2019) and provided nearly 3.4% of the nation’s total.

In addition, PV Tech discovered that “solar PV accounted for more than a third (37%) of new power generation capacity energised in the US throughout H1 2020. Texas and Florida, in particular, added more than 900MW each of distributed and utility-scale solar in Q2 alone.”

The solar market is growing, despite the recession, so to position your company to take advantage of these upcoming opportunities, remember to follow the solar leaders’ 3 C’s:

    1. Culture: listen to your team’s advice
    2. Care: prioritize your employees’ well-being
    3. Confidence: Practicing the 4 Work/Life Balance Basics

Thanks to Ben, Chris, and Justin for their openness about what they did to guide their company successfully through this difficult year. You can also listen to their full discussion on-demand at EMPOWER2020.