We met Terry Jester, CEO of Silicor Materials, at the WiSE Luncheon during the ASES Solar 2015 Conference at Penn State. She spoke with us about her role as CEO, the benefits of solar silicon, Silicor’s Icelandic expansion and her advice for success in the field.
Tell us your story… how did you get involved in the solar industry?
I went to California State University, Northridge. I was always very interested in math and science as a kid. My dad was an aerospace engineer at Edwards working on really cool planes and eventually the space shuttle. I started college as a math major and one of my professors told me I should look in to engineering if I ever wanted to get a job. I started taking engineering courses as a junior and really enjoyed it.
I worked my way through school—eventually doing three really great internships—the first with IBM, the second with Hughes Aircraft, and the last one at a small company called ARCO Solar. I had taken a solar energy course in school and really liked it. A friend of mine was doing some subcontract work for ARCO Solar and suggested he give my resume to them. I started working there during my last semester in college and didn’t leave that company for 28 years. It changed hands from ARCO to Siemens to Shell, but I always liked the work, felt I was contributing, and every day was different. It was working for a start-up but not worrying about whether you’d get paid as those companies certainly were established entities.
You are the CEO of of Silicor Materials. Tell us about your role there. What does your average day look like?
I am CEO; it is a really great job. I manage the organization and the Board of Directors. I was just promoted to Chairman of the Board as our Chairman passed away unexpectedly. I am ultimately responsible for all the things that the organization does, but I delegate a lot. I have been fundraising for our factory in Iceland for the past year, so that has taken up most of my time. An average day used to be a pretty good balance between reviewing manufacturing and research progress, financial status, and working on new initiatives with either customers or suppliers. The last year has been mainly dealing with potential investors and attorneys as we get the deal done. I have a tremendous respect for the financial arms of companies now. It is not easy raising money and deciding what you will give the investor in exchange for their investment. It has been really interesting to raise funds internationally. I’ve learned a lot about Europe and about Iceland, which is sort or part of Europe but not fully. It has a different currency which has been limited in its availability to exchange for other currencies. We’ve had to work with several banks and educate them about the solar business and its growth and potential.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
I like the diversity. This has always been my experience in the solar business. For the last 36 years, not one day has been like another. I think it is because it is not a long term, well-established industry yet. It still has a lot of problems to solve to be completely mainstream. It is never dull, and I always feel like I’m doing something good for the world.
What is one industry project that you’re really excited about? This can be one you’re personally overseeing, or one you’ve simply heard about.
I love the scale of the large solar farms being installed and that they are now thought of as annuity streams to be counted on. The questions of bankability and reliability have gone away and the projects just get larger and larger. I remember the 1 MW installation with Southern California Edison back in the early 1980s and several of that scale with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District. I admire these early risk takers. It is because of them that the reliability was proven over time.
Is Silicor Materials hiring? How might the HeatSpring audience become involved?
We are not hiring yet. We have another 9 months to close a large loan and some additional equity. We expect to finish that during Q2 of 2016 at which time we will start hiring in a big way.
What is Silicor doing to get more women involved in the industry?
I have worked with some of the finest women engineers during my career. I never pass up a chance to hire them.
What are the benefits of using Silicor’s solar silicon?
It offers lower cost and performs the same as the competitive product. It also takes much less energy to produce.
You were recently awarded the Women In Solar Energy Award at the ASES 2015 conference for your outstanding contributions to the solar industry, and your hand in the advancement of women therein. When looking to the next generation of powerful Solar Women, what are three pieces of advice you would give them?
- Always be your genuine self. It is essential to be consistent and be able to be counted on. One thing I’ve learned is that the challenging and interesting assignments are always handed to folks who can be counted on to deliver.
- Keep a sense of humor always. It carries everyone through the good and the bad. Remain calm even in the worst disaster. It helps to be self-aware about what has gone well and what has not. Try to learn from the failures without beating yourself up. I like to say that people hire me for my failures as much as my success because I can help the company avoid them again.
- Love what you do or go find something else that fills your needs. Life is too short not to love what you do.
Favorite solar resources that you use to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the industry?
I read a lot of the industry status reports from Photon and Greentech Media and nearly anything I can get my hands on.
Tell us about Silicor’s planned commercial-scale facility in Iceland. What was the partnership and research process like?
The plant in Iceland will produce approximately 3.5 GW of solar silicon. The plant will be approximately 1 million square feet and be almost completely automated. There will be around 450 people working there, a mix of direct labor personnel and administrative and technical folks supporting the operation. We have started discussions with local universities to set up research partnerships for development of the process and training personnel.
Do you have a free tool or piece of writing that you would share with the HeatSpring community?
We have some key slides that would likely be interesting to folks. Download the white paper: The Silicor Process: Environmentally-Friendly Solar Silicon.
What are your hobbies outside of work?
I travel so much that when I’m home I like to be with my family and friends. I live by the ocean, so I like to be at the beach. I like to hike up in the foothills for day hikes. I also love to cook for my family and friends. We have a potluck dinner nearly every weekend I’m home where anywhere from 10-20 friends and family show up. It is always an evening of jokes and stories which makes for an interesting end/start to the week.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Just a big thank you. The advancement of women takes a full network of folks that care. I think it is like creating a fabric of entities working together to make a strong support system and foundation that we can help each other with. I admire what you are doing.
Thanks, Terry—we admire what YOU’RE doing!
- Join Women In Solar Energy (WiSE)!
- Learn more about HeatSpring partner American Solar Energy Society (ASES).
- Read about Silicor Materials’ solar silicon plant in Iceland.
- Learn more about women in solar via RenewableEnergyWorld.com (the exclusive media sponsor of this summer series!)
- Check out the National Women in Solar Initiative webcast series hosted by GRID Alternatives and SunEdison
- Free Course: Solar PV Design, Code, Economics, Sales and Site Visits with Chris Williams, Christopher LaForge, Ryan Mayfield
- HeatSpring Course: Solar PV Installer Bootcamp Training + NABCEP Entry Level Exam Prep with Fred Paris
- Learn the financial modeling background and perspective often lacking in deal negotiations by taking our Solar Executive MBA Training Course with Keith Cronin and Chris Lord
- Free Courses: How to Use Solar Leases to Grow Your Solar Business and How to Make Money in Renewable Energy with Chris Williams