Lee Watson, Geoscape Solar’s Chief Operating Officer was recently named one of the 10 most Influential COOs in 2023 by The Chief Navigators. Read what he has to say about how he got into renewable energy, tips for success, and advice for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
How did you initially become interested in the field of Renewable Energy & Semiconductor Manufacturing?
I started out in the construction business and as I was building, I started to notice a trend amongst my clients: they were interested in sustainability. Sometimes it was as simple as wanting their kitchen cabinetry to house multiple garbage cans for the purpose of recycling. Sometimes it was asking for a tankless water heater to cut down on the energy they’d have to use to heat up an entire water tank. Requests for induction cooktops, low flow toilets, and other high efficiency appliances became the rule.
I met Michael Boches (our CEO) on a job and we began talking about how green energy fit into the future of construction. This led to more discussions about the then-current benefits of solar energy and our expectation that the industry was going to explode. His background in finance and my background in project management and construction made for a natural partnership.
What are your experiences and qualifications that make you suitable for the role of a Chief Operating Officer?
I was already operating as COO of my construction company. It was easy to transfer my project management skills, determining P&L, meeting payroll, and sourcing supplies from general construction to solar installation.
What is an example of a challenging operational issue or project you have successfully resolved. How did you approach the situation and what was the outcome?
Most of 2021 and 2022 were an ongoing “challenging operational issue” because of the decreased supply chain which impacted the entire solar energy industry. There wasn’t just one solution, I had to get creative about sourcing materials from multiple suppliers so we could meet installation deadlines. New Jersey was under the gun more than most other states because we had a strong solar incentive (TRECs) that was about to sunset and if we didn’t get the project installed by the deadline, our clients would lose a significant amount of money which they were counting on to shorten the timeframe of their ROI. I had most of Geoscape Solar’s team on the case and we were able to install our pipeline as promised.
What strategies do you employ to optimize operational efficiency and drive productivity improvements?
It all boils down to having systematic protocols in place and streamlined project management. It’s also about having effective “Plan B’s” because Geoscape Solar’s team needs to be able to successfully pivot and be productive when the unexpected happens. This can be anything from a crew member getting sick to bad weather. For example, the days our air quality was dangerous as a result of the Canadian Wildfires, we rerouted and completed some indoor safety training we need for professional certification.
How do you handle change management and navigate organizational transformations?
Geoscape Solar has grown exponentially over the past several years so we’re dealing with “organizational transformation” on a daily basis. As our team members grew, the need for more formalized training became apparent, so I created detailed training materials and mapped out Geoscape Solar’s training protocol.
How do you ensure compliance with regulatory requirements and industry standards within the operations of an organization?
I work closely with Geoscape Solar’s Operations Team to maintain our standing in our PV membership associations. This includes North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), New Jersey Sustainable Business Association and American Solar Energy Society. All of these memberships require on-going training and learning certifications across the company. We also have an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau and are a member of the Amicus Solar Cooperative. Amicus gives their values driven member-owners an opportunity to purchase materials at a members-only rate, as well as sharing best practices.
How do you stay updated on industry trends and advancements to ensure the organization remains competitive?
My inbox is filled on a daily basis with the Renewable Energy and Solar Energy articles, newsletters, and policy announcements that I opt into. I’m also a member of several professional Linked-In groups for C-Suite Executives that share ideas and best practices. Our Amicus Solar Co-Op has a policy arm so Geoscape Solar is always in the know and a part of relevant issues that are impacting the solar industry now or in the future.
What are memorable success stories or significant achievements from your career?
I was very proud to be named a 2021 Executive of the Year by South Jersey Biz. Recently, the entire Geoscape Solar team came together and participated in Earth Share NJ’s Green Day Challenge and won “Best Overall Project” for our clean-up work at Jackson Woods Park in Long Branch, NJ. It was a great team effort and I’m honored to be leading such a hardworking and dedicated team. With that said, I’m equally as proud of every solar energy system Geoscape Solar designs and installs. Every project Geoscape Solar takes on is custom designed, makes a huge difference in our environment, and the system owner’s bottom line.
As a leader in the industry, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs or professionals looking to make an impact?
If you believe in it, do it. Don’t second guess yourself. Geoscape Solar was founded in 2008, during The Great Recession. If we had listened to the nay-sayers (and most of the economists), we would have less solar energy, more carbon output, less green energy jobs, and I would always regret not following my instincts to co-create Geoscape Solar – a highly rated, successful solar energy company that has been a trusted solar energy provider for 15 years.
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