The Solar Women Summer Series continues with Co-Owner and Director of Strategic Planning & Initiatives at Namasté Solar, Amanda Bybee.
Namasté Solar provides PV design, engineering, installation, maintenance, and consulting services to residential, commercial, builder, non-profit, and government customers throughout the U.S., with a mission to propagate the responsible use of solar energy, pioneer conscientious business practices, and create holistic wealth. Amanda spoke with us about her career path, her role at Namasté and success in the employee-owned solar business model.
Tell us your story… how did you get involved in the solar industry?
I started in the solar industry in Austin, Texas in 2003, promoting renewable energy policies at the state and local level. I worked for a non-profit organization, Public Citizen, and had the fortune to be in the right place at the right time as we launched the Solar Austin Campaign. Working with an outstanding group of advocates, we successfully encouraged City Council and Austin Energy (the municipally-owned utility) to set ambitious goals for renewable energy use by the city, and we helped create the first solar rebate program in the state of Texas.
What do you do as a ‘Co-Owner/Director of Strategic Planning and Initiatives’ at Namasté Solar?
When I started at Namasté Solar almost 10 years ago, we were a startup. I got to wear a lot of hats – administration, HR, procurement, policy, rebate processing, inside sales… and after spending four years specializing in sales for new and existing homes, I returned to a “multiple-hats” position. As Director of Strategic Planning and Initiatives, I focus on several priority areas: working with our Team Leads on strategic planning for the future, a special initiative to provide better financing products for our customers that will create a separate, spin-off cooperative, key recruiting efforts, and fundraising/investor relations.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I enjoy the variety of it. On any given day, I will meet with colleagues about strategic issues facing the company or a new policy proposal, give an orientation session to new hires about company culture, and spend time writing (business plan, investor report, intra-company memo, etc.).
Namasté Solar uses an Employee-Ownership model… can you tell us a bit about company culture in a co-owned organization? What are some other business practices/values that make Namasté a unique PV systems designer/installer?
Being employee-owned is a tough but rewarding way to run a business, and we have worked hard over the years to make it a meaningful aspect of employment at Namasté Solar. It’s not just about owning a share in the company; it’s about taking part in the risks, responsibilities, and rewards of ownership and having the opportunity to influence decisions. Co-Owners at Namasté Solar have many ways to engage, within their departments as well as on committees and ad-hoc task forces. We practice what we call “extreme transparency,” whereby all information inside the company is available – and often proactively presented – with the exception of legally protected information like health insurance data. This includes salary information. All meetings are open, and meeting minutes are available if a person can’t attend. We also hold bi-monthly company meetings where we report on the financial and operational progress of each department against the strategic plan, which is a powerful educational opportunity for most folks. While we’re not perfect, most people are dedicated to the mission and values of the company, and try hard to uphold the tenet of Frank, Open, and Honest (FOH) communication. That keeps gossip and politics to a minimum, and makes for meaningful relationships with others in the company. Lastly, one of our company values is Fun – if we are going to spend so many hours a week at work, we want to enjoy it. And we do.
Do you have any advice for women who have been in the industry for a while and want to make a career change within their company?
Figure out what you want, say it out loud, and start moving yourself in that direction. We talk a lot about “meeting halfway” within our company – if you want to move into a new position, ask about it. Spend a day shadowing a person in that position. Ask a mentor how to get there. Find out what education or certifications you might need, and see if there are classes that qualify for professional development funds. We reward initiative; new opportunities don’t just materialize – you have to make them happen.
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’m pretty intrigued by all the buzz about energy storage/demand management/microgrids/etc. After so many years of not being a champion for those technologies due to their cost, complexity, and inefficiency, we’re finally starting to see new technologies that make energy storage more feasible. And I think that has the potential to lead to a true revolution in the energy industry as a whole. While many of those technologies aren’t specifically related to solar, I see the natural synergy of using storage plus renewable energy sources, and the potential to truly democratize the way we source and use electricity. Utilities are reacting fearfully right now, trying to impose net metering fees and other policies that will stifle adoption of these technologies, but I think it’s short sighted and will hopefully be short lived. Climate change is a tremendous challenge, and it’s staring us in the face. While it will require a lot of work and innovation to find ways to address it, I wholeheartedly believe in human ingenuity and that we can figure out how to transform the energy industry to the benefit of humankind and the planet.
What are you doing right now to get more women in the industry?
This has been a hard nut to crack, yet it’s one that I feel very strongly about. I initiate discussions about hiring practices in our company in order to encourage qualified female applicants. I have put together events for the women at Namasté Solar to have a strong support system for each other (such as monthly “Ladies’ Luncheons for the last 4+ years). I can’t always do informational interviews when asked, but I try hard to make myself available to female inquirers. I make a point to introduce myself to other women at industry events and such, in order to build relationships and make sure we each have friends to call upon when needed. I support the Women In Solar Energy organization that is taking root. While on one hand, I’m disappointed that we have to work so hard to bring women into this industry (and guard against a good-ole-boy culture), I still see a lot of potential to be more progressive and inclusive than the energy industry at large.
How can the HeatSpring community get involved with Namasté Solar? Are you hiring?
We are! By all means, let’s get more women in the door!
Is what you’re doing now in any way related to what you wanted to do as a 5-year-old?
When I was five, I wanted to be a teacher (I had a chalk board mounted on the wall in my bedroom and everything). In a way, I do get to scratch that itch through public speaking. Over the years, I have given many presentations on solar, renewable energy policies, and Namasté Solar’s business model. The mission of Namasté Solar is to propagate the responsible use of solar energy, pioneer conscientious business practices, and create holistic wealth for ourselves and our community. We regard education as part of each of those pillars, and have always made time to share education about solar and progressive business models like cooperatives and B Corps (though admittedly, not as much time as we would like).
Any mentors or companies who have helped you grow professionally? What is one piece of advice bestowed upon you that you wish to share?
I’ve been fortunate to have many great mentors and role models in my professional life. But one of the most influential is Namasté Solar’s co-founder and CEO, Blake Jones. He is humble, earnest, and unflinchingly honest. His communication style is confident, thorough, and compelling. And he also has a great sense of humor (he’s responsible for many of the pranks around the office). He isn’t a perfect person by any means, but he’s willing to look hard in the mirror and work on himself as needed. I don’t know that he would ever describe himself as a mentor per se, but he’s been a profound role model for me.
Two bits of advice I would share: One of my college professors counseled that if you really want to get ahead in the world, learn to ask for help. When you ask for help and others agree to your request, they become invested in your success. (Though I have to say, I’m still learning that one!). Another powerful lesson I have learned is to ask questions rather than make assumptions; even when I think I know the answer, it is very powerful to acknowledge others’ expertise on a given topic, and it makes for a much more collaborative and mutually-respectful work environment when we defer to each other.
What are three practical skills or qualities that a young person looking to enter the solar industry must possess?
- Initiative, to pursue new opportunities and take an entrepreneurial approach to this dynamic industry
- Passion, to stay rooted in why we do what we do (which for me is about finding tangible ways to address climate change)
- Balance, to honor that both idealism and pragmatism have a role to play in the myriad issues that arise every day
- Learn more about Namasté Solar!
- 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. Sign up today and receive 6 months of Keith’s Solar Contractor Business Academy!
- 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 Tool: 2015 Solar Startup Guide by Chris Williams
- Join Women in Solar Energy (WISE)
- Use our Free Solar Comparison Tool when comparing solar proposals for homeowners
- 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
- Free Course: How to Use Solar Leases to Grow Your Solar Business with Chris Williams