The COVID-19 pandemic caused economic uncertainty as lockdowns took effect and many American industries were put on hold. Some states designated solar contractors as essential workers who could continue operations through the early pandemic lockdowns with proper safety precautions in place.
New York was one state where solar installation ceased altogether. With no work flowing in, Long Island-based contractor SUNation Energy furloughed 80% of its staff, which left founder and CEO Scott Maskin searching for ways to keep his business afloat.
Seeking solace from someone in a similar position, Maskin called Mike Teresso, president of Baker Electric Home Energy of San Diego. After that, Maskin called Jay Radcliffe, president of Renu Energy Solutions in Charlotte, North Carolina. Then, the three company heads scheduled a conference call with Josh Powell, CEO of RevoluSun in Honolulu, and Andy Clemans, CEO of Streamline Solar in Phoenix.
That was the start of a collaboration between five solar contractors that has lasted longer than pandemic restrictions. Then “The Wolf Pack” was born.
Radcliffe contends that the name was inspired by the North Carolina State University Wolf Pack, the athletics program at the school near Renu’s coverage area. Other members suggested it was lifted from the chaotic protagonists in Todd Phillips’ 2009 comedy film, The Hangover. Regardless of its origin, the name “The Wolf Pack” has stuck, and the group has the T-shirts to prove it.
What originated as a chance for, as Maskin called it, “CEO therapy,” eventually turned into constructive conversations on the industry and their businesses. Those early phone calls were check-ins, a means for survival, to see where these solar installers stood during an unprecedented time.
As time went on, group members brought trials and triumphs to discuss on each call. What was working at an operational level? Was anyone having any luck navigating the supply chain? What software was everyone using? The crew shared any tips that would keep them all operating in the black.
“More often than not, we’re talking about what we’re struggling with,” Maskin said. “All the things we have to deal with on a daily basis, we can learn from each other, and we can save each other tremendous amounts of money and time by not going down the rabbit hole alone.”
The five CEOs were talking as a group nearly every other day, which eventually evolved into more direct avenues for support between the companies. They’ve shared personnel on projects, shipped each other backstock equipment and even purchased company vehicles from one another.
“I think it’s unique because we don’t compete. It’s unique because we’re all mature companies and there’s ego checked at the door,” Renu Energy’s Radcliffe said. “We’re just talking, and we’re involved with the good and the bad. We’re honest about the issues. It’s a blend of a healthy family of personalities, and if you can find those kinds of personalities in CEOs, then maybe you can emulate it.”
SUNation, RevoluSun, Streamline Solar, Baker Electric Home Energy and Renu Energy operate in different installation territories around the country, so while the competition is lacking, the camaraderie is not. Some members of The Wolf Pack have known each other for more than a decade, meeting through SunPower’s now-defunct dealer network. Each company in the group credits its longevity within the industry to providing solar installation services that are customer focused. That mutual desire to create a positive customer experience is what kept The Wolf Pack together through the last two years.
“The reality of the group is it really allows us to get biased and unbiased opinions,” RevoluSun’s Powell said. “These guys might as well have been the guys sitting on the couch with me when I was 16. It’s a super tight group and everybody in this room makes payroll and has been doing it for quite a while.”
As pandemic travel restrictions lessened and vaccinations became widely available, members of The Wolf Pack were able to visit each other. They made cross-country trips to tour one another’s headquarters and facilities. It’s an uncommon practice among solar contractors but provided insight for these collaborating companies.
“The one thing that I took away from that visit, I can implement that tomorrow,” Streamline Solar’s Clemans said. “I can do what they do, and I can spend two grand and be better, and all of a sudden, we’re better because of that one visit. It’s absolutely invaluable, how you can become a better businessman just by sharing ideas.”
This collaborative practice has been passed on to other departments within each of The Wolf Pack’s companies. Marketing, operations and safety teams among the contractors have started holding regular meetings to discuss ideas, too.
While membership to The Wolf Pack is closed, the group often welcomes guests with industry relevance to discuss different topics. They’ve brought on financing companies and other services; they have spoken to module and energy storage manufacturers and tested new solar equipment; they let this solar journalist experience it first-hand.
Nearly three years later, The Wolf Pack still meets every Wednesday to catch up with each other, to discuss where they can improve and to continue collaborating as the solar industry presses onward.
“When this whole thing started up, we thought it was therapy. This group of people, we’ve all been through the same things all at different times,” Baker Electric Home Energy’s Teresso said. “We’ve all experienced the issues that I deal with every day, and it’s helpful having somebody that truly understands. Every time we get on these calls, I’m learning something. Hopefully, I’m able to bring something to the party, as well, and I think it’s made us stronger as individual businesses working together as a collective.”