Pioneering wind energy leaders show the way forward

WORLDWIDE: Long gone are the days when a skilled engineer with entrepreneurial spirit could step straight into the world of wind energy and leave his mark.

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"As the industry matures and leads offshore, we will see the emergence of leaders who take the role of 'conductor of the orchestra'," says Per Krogsgaard, a director at independent wind-industry research firm BTM Consult, a part of Navigant Consulting. The 'orchestra' to which he refers will be a group of talented people who embrace the three skill centres: technology, finance and policy.

The man who tops Windpower Monthly’s Top 20, Iberdrola chief executive Ignacio Sánchez Galán, typifies this role, embodying the leadership qualities that run through our list of the most influential people in wind power, overleaf.
Clare Skinner, who runs the wind energy practice at international executive recruitment and leadership advisory firm Heidrich & Struggles, explains that when an industry achieves global status, it becomes crucial to resolve leadership and succession issues to ensure the industry continues to grow and prosper.

"Today we are seeing the renewable-energy sector starting to achieve efficiencies as it reaches economies of scale," she says, adding that the right leadership and succession structures will allow wind-energy companies to evolve to take advantage of this.

"Previous leaders may not have had the skills for this next phase," says Skinner. She has seen utilities that are moving into renewables and wind display greater maturity in the way they handle talent and leadership. "Utilities have a good understanding of management development and are using their renewable-energy businesses to develop future group leaders."

Broader strategic vision

Utilities and equipment suppliers worldwide are using their experience in leadership and strategic management to mop up smaller players in the latest wave of consolidation — GE is a good example of an energy conglomerate that is doing this successfully. Skinner says investors are attracted to companies that can demonstrate this kind of strategic leadership.
Where in the past wind power has typically been embedded in a regional or national culture, it is now a rapidly expanding business, says Skinner, as companies increasingly look for growth outside their domestic markets.

Successful senior leaders in wind power need excellent PR skills and a good handle on policy. Above all, however, they need a management team made up of individuals with a range of key skills. Aris Karcanias, a senior consultant in Navigant’s energy practice, says studying the development of the Chinese wind sector could be instructive, given its unprecedented rate of growth in onshore and offshore sectors.

"The Chinese wind market was in its infancy back in 2007 and is now the largest and fastest-growing market in the world," says Karcanias. This rapid development indicates that Chinese leaders are likely to be at the forefront of the future offshore sector worldwide.

"This rate of growth has meant that these leaders have had to adapt and face the demands of high build rates in complex environments, manage large projects, face the challenging connection and network issues, and deal with the critical supply chain feeding the important sub-suppliers," he says.

China’s near-monopoly on certain raw materials, and its strength in manufacturing and shipping, also strengthen its position. "In the past, it was these Chinese players who were coming to benefit from the know-how of the European sector. The balance of power, however, may well shift back to China as we seek leaders who can address some of the critical component-supply issues and can navigate around the ever-important resource and manufacturing base," Karcanias adds.

However, differences remain between how business is done in China and the West. Andy Wickless, Colorado-based associate director of energy at Navigant, says this could inhibit Chinese leadership outside their home market. He cites the example of the Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, in the US. "For dealing with the permitting challenges encountered thus far during its development, you need leaders who understand the ins and outs of US agencies such as the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency," he says.

New breed of leader

Management succession is a central challenge for the wind sector. As the industry develops, key questions arise: who are the industry leaders of the future? What are their main skills and qualities? "The next generation of leaders are going to be people who can drive performance across a complex industrial environment," says Skinner. "They need the ability to look at the wind-energy market globally and deploy resources, materials and human capital on an international scale."

Leaders will need a different strategic vision to make the change from managing small local teams to overseeing a global corporation.

"These emerging global businesses will by their very nature have to engage in joint ventures, partnerships and consortia with local players," says Skinner. "A company dealing with a moderately sized onshore wind project might have been engaged with a joint venture, but when it comes to higher-risk offshore projects, the ability to operate as part of a joint venture, and structure and share risk appropriately, is increasingly critical."

In her experience, new recruits in the offshore industry are being made with this in mind, as key players compete for leaders with the skills to deliver such large and risky projects to budget. Offshore wind in particular brings with it these partnership challenges, according to Skinner. "The exponential growth in this market over the past 15 years means that offshore wind is now big business, and with it come some of the most complex, capital-intensive and risky projects there are."

Offshore wind’s growth has taken many people by surprise, Skinner says. "In 2001, I saw a prediction that perhaps 5,000 people would be working in offshore wind by 2010. But since then there have been predictions of an industry on the scale of the oil and gas sector emerging by 2020, and studies estimating that Scotland’s offshore sector alone could generate more than 20,000 jobs."

Acquiring and retaining talent

The leaders needed to spearhead the burgeoning offshore sector could come in part from the offshore oil and gas industry. These people understand the hostile marine environment, the complex logistics and supply chain, the demands of working with multiple partners and the paramount need for health and safety to be embedded in the business culture at all levels.

"Offshore leaders of the future will need to have the ability to communicate their vision, manage large multidisciplinary teams and high capex projects, build strong relationships with key stakeholders and policymakers, and be innovative in their approach to financing. They’ll need to be passionate about safety issues, intuitively good at image and communications and above all able to think globally," says Skinner.

Singapore-based Kevin Gibson, CEO of energy, renewables and environment consultancy EarthStream, says that creative talent acquisition and retention will be increasingly crucial in the wind-power sector. "With the extreme demand about to be experienced and the finite talent pool of experienced specialists, the successful leaders in wind energy will be the ones that are able to identify transferable skill sets outside of the offshore wind industry," he suggests.

"This is more challenging than it sounds, as the default starting point for most hiring projects is to find people that are currently doing the exact same role —which will just not be practical in the years to come." But the standout leaders, he says, will be able to develop staff from outside the wind industry. He also expects intra-industry poaching between the major players to increase, pushing the best leaders to put in place the right policies to retain key staff.

Navigant’s Wickless also emphasises that as the wind sector is supported by a global supply chain, successful leaders will need international experience and language skills. "Global power giants like GE and Siemens are likely to have executives with this type of experience," he says. "So are European wind developers that have successfully expanded internationally."

This fast-growing industry has moved on since the day of the entrepreneur engineer. We have entered an era of the globally minded, culturally aware, financially astute leader who is comfortable playing the champion, diplomat, recruiter and delegator with banks, regulators, governments, environmentalists and the media.

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