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“Put Me In, Coach”: A Gameplan for Leadership in Cleantech

State of Play

The Renewables and Cleantech industry is tech-based, highly innovative and growing at an exponential pace. Many companies are looking for leaders with clean energy industry expertise and experience scaling a business, but in many cleantech verticals, they simply don’t exist—the business is too young. Even if we could find this person, what are the chances they would have the other skills required to lead your company into its next phase?

The Cleantech industry doesn’t have time to wait for unicorns.

They’re looking for athletes. Adaptable and versatile leaders, athletes are great at pivoting to new roles and industries, combining experience and new ideas to take action and make progress. These leaders tend to be great team players. And when it comes to vision, they are focused on how to get there.

"It goes back to the essential capabilities," explained Angella Xu, Senior Vice President Renewables of TÜV NORD GROUP. "Strategy development, long-term perspective, learning agility. We are looking for strategic but also down-to-earth leaders who have the full support of the organization, founder, and teams."

Scouting Report for Clients – How to Find an Athlete

So how can cleantech companies find the flexible, adaptable and optimistic athletes they need?

  1. Look for genuine commitment and optimism about the role of business in solving the climate crisis.
  2. Think about how skills can transfer. Professional business-builders can come from other industries and bring their professionalization, commercialization, and scaling capabilities with them. And once the business is scaled, you’re going to need functional leaders like finance, HR, and risk management. These professionals can come from other industries, especially traditional energy. Just don’t forget to gut check on #1.
  3. Be realistic. Don’t waste time searching for a leader who doesn’t exist when you could hire an athlete who will take your business to the next level.

Gameplan for Candidates – How to Be An Athlete

Demand for strong leadership in cleantech is urgent. Are you a strong leader in another industry with a passion for solving the climate crisis? You might be the cleantech athlete a company needs to innovate and scale. Here are some questions and considerations for reflection.

  1. Do you have a genuine commitment and optimism about the role of business in solving the climate crisis?
  2. Are you adaptable? Do you handle pressure well? Are you ready to work hard?
    “Cleantech leaders have to deal with a lot of ambiguity and constant pressure,” explained Jahangir Bhatti, Director at BDC Capital’s Cleantech Practice. “A cleantech leader cannot be someone who expects everything to be set with a full staff of support folks. People often misjudge the amount of work required.”
  3. Are you curious? And humble?
    Cleantech leaders need to be inquisitive, entrepreneurial, and willing to explore new ways of doing things—technologies, business models, and value chain. This requires a certain level of humility - a willingness to know what you don’t know and ask your team for advice.

    After all, the climate crisis is bigger than any one leader.


When an “athlete” makes the transition to a cleantech company from another industry - but with the same values and sense of purpose - the move can spark true innovation.

Even though you might think you need a leader who knows a lot about your cleantech business, what you really need is someone who knows how to grow your business. With an athlete as a leader, you might actually get there.

Thank you to these additional collaborators from the global practice who provided insights and support for this article: Thomas Dorn, Sonia Florenzo, Jonathan Rossotto, Lars Smith, and Callum Wallace.


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