In this episode we speak to one of the OGs of the solar industry, Dan Shugar, CEO and founder of solar tracking company NEXTracker. With more than thirty years in the industry, Shugar has been called a pioneer of the commercial solar market. With impressive success leading companies including Powerlight and Solaria, even before NEXTracker, he’s also been called the King Midas of solar. Here, we finally connect with the man who says he has silicon pumping through his bloodstream.
Tell me about why you love solar. What keeps you working in the industry, even though you could probably retire?
The first time I held a solar cell I thought, ‘OK, when does it run out of electrons?’ And I realized it never really does.
If you take out the solar cells from a crystalline panel and stack them in your hand, it’s about the thickness of a deck of cards. Over its life, that small stack will generate the equivalent of burning five to ten tons of coal. When I was able to understand that, I became enamored.
You’ve said you place a lot of value on building a team, even before building a product. What advice can you share when it comes to building a good team?
I like to draw a parallel to music. I play guitar and I’m passionate about it. You see a lot of bands with a great album or hit and then the band goes away. It really comes down to ‘how do you sustain that?’ It’s also similar to having a relationship with anyone in your life, whether that’s your spouse or your kids. You can be very passionate and have a lot of energy and a vision about where you want to go. But the enduring companies are ones that have a team that’s able to evolve the company.
Let divergent views have a voice. Consider all views irrespective of what level in the organization they came from. If you do that, people feel like they have a say in the outcome of the company and if there’s an issue they’re able to articulate a solution without being shutdown. Also ensure that folks are recognized when they make contributions to evolving the company. Encourage folks to take measured risks, and then have their back if things don’t work out.
It’s also important to have the same views when it comes to customers. Be really transparent with them. Issues aren’t a problem as long as you’re very upfront. This helps develop fierce loyalty with your team and customers. It’s about functional communication, identifying the issues and solving them quickly, and innovating and encouraging new ideas.
Check back monthly for a new episode of Ask a Solar Vet, in which editor Kathie Zipp brings you the unique perspectives and insights of those who have spent more than a decade in solar.