Headhunting in the CleanTech World

by Richard T. Stuebi

It wasn’t long ago that most executive recruitment firms didn’t know how to spell “cleantech”, much less develop specialized practices in the field.

In 2000, when I and my fellow co-founder of a start-up company in the distributed generation space knew that we needed help in hiring a CEO, we contacted a few generalist search firms, but found that they had neither the interest nor the rolodexes to take the assignment. In the end, we retained the energy-focused firm Clarey/Napier International of Houston, and were very satisfied with their work, but it wasn’t though they had a lot of competition for our business.

In early 2005, I wrote a white paper called “Leadership in Renewable Energy” (which I was astonished to find still on the web!), in which I vowed “to personally be involved in ‘recruiting’ one new excellent businessperson into the renewable energy sector each year,” and urged others to do likewise — just to accelerate the pace of talent entry into cleantech.

My how times have changed!

Today, a couple of top-notch boutique search firms — Hobbs and Towne and ON Search Partners — are mainly if not solely focused on cleantech placement opportunities. And, after years of ignoring the sector, many of the big retained recruiting firms now have solid cleantech practices.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Ron Brown, the partner who heads the Alternative & Renewable Energy practice at Heidrick & Struggles, outlining some of their recent cleantech placements at venture-backed firms such as Grid Net, Comverge, Solyndra, Northern Power Systems, and Bloom Energy.

Hardly a month goes by where I don’t receive an unsolicited call or email from a recruiter looking to place an executive into some cleantech post. So, my vow from 2005 to help in attracting one person a year into the renewable sector seems like a quaint notion today.

This state of affairs would have been unfathomable to me a few years ago, and is possibly the most compelling evidence supporting long-term optimistic prospects for the cleantech world. As long as a good share of the best talent flows into cleantech, this is a sector with a healthy future.

Richard T. Stuebi is a founding principal of NorTech Energy Enterprise, the advanced energy initiative at NorTech, where he is on loan from The Cleveland Foundation as its Fellow of Energy and Environmental Advancement. He is also a Managing Director in charge of cleantech investment activities at Early Stage Partners, a Cleveland-based venture capital firm.

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