Board and CEO Advisory Partners

Identifying and Hiring Clean Tech, Energy and Sustainability Leaders

New Leaders for New Challenges

The economics and politics of sustainability initiatives are driving demand for a new breed of leadership.

Over the last decade, the topics of clean technology, energy and sustainability have moved from the periphery to the center of the global economy. Established and emerging companies, along with private equity and venture capital firms, are making sizable investments as they stake out their areas of the market. Governments have made sustainability and the technology needed to achieve it a key component of both environmental policy and economic development. The question no longer is whether this trend will take hold but rather when large markets will coalesce and which technologies and companies will prevail. Current global economic conditions and gyrating energy prices have made operating and investment conditions challenging in the short run, but industry players nonetheless are moving to capture mind share and press their speed-to-market advantage.

The influence of clean tech, energy and sustainability extends beyond the diverse array of companies focused on this market space. Sustainability has become a strategic leadership issue in virtually every industry as enterprises rethink everything from product design to facilities strategies in the face of regulatory developments, increasing scarcity of resources and rising costs. Forward-thinking companies are appointing chief sustainability officers to proactively address these issues and turn them into opportunities for growth.

Identifying and hiring clean tech, energy and sustainability leaders to meet this growing demand are complicated by two factors:

  • The nascent state of the industry means there are very few senior executives already within the sector who have a proven track record at scale.
  • The hybrid nature of sustainability requires knowledge and experience across a broad range of disparate fields and a unique set of leadership competencies that can be difficult to find in a single individual.

Clean tech companies require proven entrepreneurial leaders who understand the energy business, can navigate rapidly changing markets, and know how to lead the development and commercialization of new technologies and business models. But leaders from traditional energy companies may not have had the level of experience working within entrepreneurial environments that sustainable energy organizations require. Likewise, few technology executives with a track record of managing innovation also possess deep familiarity with the energy industry. The same challenge applies in finding sustainability executives for companies in other industries, who must combine an understanding of a specific company or industry, deep knowledge of sustainability issues and the ability to bring and implement the appropriate technologies and perspectives.


Finding the Right Leaders

We develop an in-depth understanding of each clients' unique challenges and objectives and structure the search around those requirements. We focus on the business strategy and the issues to be addressed within the client organization, the industry and functional expertise required in the role, and the competencies needed to implement solutions. Our proprietary networks cut across all relevant industries and functional areas, enabling us to transcend traditional industry silos and quickly identify and evaluate appropriate candidates from a range of fields.

In addition to skills and experience, cultural fit plays an important role in recruiting decisions for clean tech, energy and sustainability leadership positions. A new leader, of course, must fit well within the unique culture of the hiring organization, but he or she also must align well with customers and influencers in the markets that the organization seeks to serve. For example, an archetypical technology entrepreneur who appears perfect to lead a fast-paced, technology-oriented start-up may not be effective relating to senior executives at traditional utility companies. The importance of cultural fit holds true whether the recruiting organization is a large-scale traditional enterprise seeking to adopt meaningful sustainability initiatives to meet consumer, stakeholder and regulatory expectations or if it is a technologically driven, entrepreneurial organization racing to supply the global market with alternative forms of energy. As a result, our executive assessment specialists are an integral part of our search teams, providing unsurpassed leadership and cultural assessment offerings that evaluate leaders' competencies and behavioral traits, the culture of the organization and the cultural preferences of candidates for leadership roles. This analysis can provide an added dimension to the finalist candidate evaluation process and often highlights issues to be addressed in the onboarding of the selected candidate, thus increasing the "stickiness" and potential impact of leaders taking on the critical roles.

Our Track Record

We recruit CEOs and senior functional executives to companies across the complete range of clean tech, energy and sustainability segments; for some companies, we have helped to rebuild large portions of their executive teams as part of their overall strategy in this area. A representative list of our successful assignments includes:

  • Chief Executive Officer for a newly formed European foundation dedicated to climate change initiatives
  • Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. wind business for a global publicly traded energy company
  • Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer for a European solar-cell manufacturer
  • Chief Executive Officer, Board Member, Chief Financial Officer and two Vice Presidents for a global manufacturer and marketer of geosynthetic lining products
  • Chief Executive Officer and Senior Vice President, Engineering for a leading biobutanol producer
  • Chief Executive Officer for a leading wave energy conversion company
  • Chief Executive Officer for a utility industry institute
  • Chief Operating Officer and four Vice Presidents for an industrial biocatalyst company
  • Chief Technology Officer and three Vice Presidents for a global energy metering company
  • Partner, Climate Change/Carbon Credit for a global audit, tax and advisory firm
  • Senior Director, Climate Change and Sustainability for a publicly traded global agricultural company
  • Global Practice Leader, Climate Change for the world's largest mining company
  • Board Chairman and a Managing Director for a publicly traded Australian geothermal energy company
  • Board Chairman, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Accounting Officer and two Vice Presidents for a North American wind energy company
  • Board Member, Chief Financial Officer and two Vice Presidents for a publicly traded solar systems manufacturer

A Strategic Approach to Today's Leadership Challenges

The leadership challenges faced by CEOs, boards and senior leaders do not occur in isolation and cannot be addressed that way. Russell Reynolds Associates' consultative approach to executive and board-level search and assessment provides leaders with tailored, comprehensive strategies that help drive long-term growth and success.


About Russell Reynolds Associates
Russell Reynolds Associates is a global leadership advisory and search firm. Our 425+ consultants in 46 offices work with public, private and nonprofit organizations across all industries and regions. We help our clients build teams of transformational leaders who can meet today’s challenges and anticipate the digital, economic and political trends that are reshaping the global business environment. From helping boards with their structure, culture and effectiveness to identifying, assessing and defining the best leadership for organizations, our teams bring their decades of expertise to help clients address their most complex leadership issues.

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Identifying and Hiring Clean Tech, Energy and Sustainability Leaders