Interview with Bri Hamilton of Javelin Capital, Christy Searl of Leyline & Stephanie Johnson of CHESSA
Bri Hamilton of Javelin Capital, Christy Searl of Leyline & Stephanie Johnson of CHESSA
Catherine: Thanks, everyone for joining me and congratulations on your new roles. I’m excited to speak with you today because all of you are incredibly talented, and have exceptional peers in other industries. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to help place you within top clean energy companies. As I know you all bring a lot of important skills to this industry. Please go ahead and introduce yourselves and your current roles. We’ll start with Stephanie.
Stephanie: Hey, everyone. So my name is Stephanie Johnson. I’m currently the Executive Director at CHESSA, the Chesapeake Solar and Storage Association. Prior to CHESSA, I worked in Federal Affairs for about seven years. Prior to that I was in the state government for about four years. So I’ve had a pretty lengthy career at this point. And I’m excited to hit the ground running at CHESSA.
Catherine: And you’re based in Baltimore, Maryland.
Stephanie: Yes. So CHESSA covers Delaware, DC, Virginia and Maryland.
Catherine: Great. And Bri?
Bri: Hey, everyone, I’m Bri. I am currently at Javelin Capital and started about a few months ago, and I’m based in New York. Before that, I probably spent like seven years in the mortgage real estate industry and before that in finance, so I’m excited to join this new industry.
Catherine: And last but not least, Christy.
Christy: Hi there. I’m Christy Searl. I’m now at Leyline Renewable Capital in a Managing Director Origination and Structuring role. And before that I worked at Lehman Brothers for many, many years as in house litigation counsel, and for the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy estate. But I’ve always done a bit of real estate and sort of old energy, a little bit of dabbling in oil and gas. And for our real estate clients at Lehman’s real estate private equity group and our commercial real estate group. We did a lot of financing, mezzanine and bridge debt. So I bring those experiences to Leyline. And I was a lawyer also for many years doing a little bit of project finance litigation at Chad Bourne Park, which is now Norton Bros. And then lastly, I spent a little time in an alternative capital provider doing investing and underwriting. So I also bring that experience to my new job.
Catherine: Amazing. Thank you so much for that. So how was your transition? And how has clean energy been so far? I’m really interested to know if it matched your expectations? Do you want to kick us off? Bri?
Bri: Yeah, sure. I honestly wasn’t sure I was kind of nervous and thought, oh, there’s no way I’m gonna catch on to this. Especially coming from mortgage, I was like, how quickly am I going to catch on, and all the new slang and all the different terminologies and stuff. But I’ve been really lucky here with my team. My team has been helping me by giving me all the resources connecting me with other people in the industry. So it definitely exceeded my expectations, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was going into, but was a little hesitant and wasn’t sure. And now I’m like, Oh, my gosh, it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Catherine: That’s great. What about you, Christy?
Christy: Yeah, I’m not alone, because it has exceeded my expectations as well. It’s such a lovely, friendly industry. Every single person I met is just how can I help you? What knowledge can I impart in a like, really nice way. And it’s just been a joy. I love my Leyline team, too, because it’s a very, very diverse group of individuals. And it’s so fun to work with everybody who has these multiple perspectives. Some of us are more experienced at different things than others. And so together, we really do a great job of vetting investments and making sure that our interests are really aligned with the folks who are using our capital.
Stephanie: So yeah, I have also been very surprised. I’ve worked in a number of industries over the course of my career, and I’d say solar is by far the most helpful industry. As soon as I started, I had 50 people in my inbox offering advice and saying you can call me if you ever have any questions, and I experienced that in any other industry. I was lucky if I had one or two people who would serve as a resource. And I’d say one of the biggest challenges is that I cover the entire solar industry. So we have a lot of different member segments from large utility scale projects to small rooftop projects. So I have a lot to learn. But I have such an amazing brain trust just across not just my members, but everyone across the solar industry has been amazingly helpful.
Catherine: I just remember I saw Stephanie and met her for the first time after she started at CHESSA, I saw her at happy hour, I hope you don’t mind me saying this stuff. We were at happy hour, and we were chatting, and she;d only been in the role for about a month. And she was like, talking all the jargon and all the talk. And I was like, Oh, my goodness, I remember I was so impressed. Because I felt like during the interview process, like I was coaching, what a PPA was and everything. And I can only do so much you put in the work. But I was so impressed when I saw you. I was like, Oh, my God, and you would think you’d been in the industry forever.
Stephanie: Yeah, I took a deep dive.
Catherine: Yeah, it’s a bit that’s it. It’s like, it isn’t astrophysics, it’s a megawatt. You know, we can learn it. So there are benefits to coming from outside the clean energy industry. I’ll leave it with you, Stephanie.
Stephanie: So for me, I’d say in my role in particular, I’d say being from outside the industry is almost key, because we have people who would come from the industry might have preconceived notions of which members segment should get the most attention. Yeah, each of the member segments is equally important. I’m learning about them as I go. But I keep an open mind. I’m not prejudicial against one and say, Oh, you don’t have a future, you’re not as profitable. To me, they’re all important. So I’d say that having that outside perspective, you’re coming in with an open mind. And you’re able to unite these different parties who might not always get along, because you’re, you’re a conduit, and you’re open minded, and you bring, it’s easier for me to bring them together and show them what they have in common as an outsider, just looking at them immediately saying like, Oh, this is what you’re going after you all have this in common. Like you don’t need to fight like, it makes total sense for you.
Catherine: Right, there’s no baggage from you. What about you, Christy?
Christy: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think being an outsider is great, because it helps you innovate new ideas. And I think the idea is for us all to make the pie bigger, and to grow the industries or the companies we work for, and to try to bring more people in. And so it’s been really fun for me to take a look at the incredible products that we already have to offer and think about how can we extend these out so that we can get capital into the hands of more people, people who maybe have never traditionally had access to it? And how does that look? And also, what are the trends in the industry that are coming out now, and again, with no preconceived notions to Stephanie’s point, I can match make a little bit more and really mix and match my contact book with Leyline’s contact book, and see if we can come up with some new ideas to try to push the business forward. So it’s been incredibly fun. And it’s fun coming into such an exciting situation. Again, I use the word innovate. And it’s an exciting new growing industry, right. And so it’s so fun to work here. Because there aren’t a lot of preconceived ideas, like you really can push the boundaries and try to move things along. So I’d love it. It’s incredibly fun.
Catherine: What do you think, Bri?
Bri: Yeah so I oversee all the marketing, investor relations at Javelin, and so for me, I got to come in and kind of ask the questions of full, why don’t we do something certain things this way, or different systems and stuff like that, that they’re like, Oh, I guess we never really thought of that, because no one else has done it. So I’ve been able to add, like a crease flair to it that maybe they wouldn’t have thought of, because that’s just not the industry norm necessarily. But we’re gonna make it that way. And so it’s been really fun. And I agree, I think being able to come in and not already have, like a full idea where I get to kind of get morphed with the company. And the firm itself gets to kind of teach me and train me up. And so it’s really exciting. To kind of come out and I had no idea. So it was all new to me. And I got to learn and meet so many great people too. So it’s been I kind of didn’t have anything pre in my head about it and, or anybody necessarily, but it has been amazing that now being in it, I’m like, Oh, I didn’t realize that I do know this person or that person. It’s a smaller world than you really realize. And I definitely see it expanding. And I really think that coming in with a fresh set of eyes and a completely different industry was really helpful because it’s helped me grow quickly.
Christy: I’m just gonna add one more thing too, which is about processes and I think because the three of us are newer to the industry, new to the industry, the way that people have gone about doing things, we might be able to suggest ways that maybe are a little bit more efficient, or are slightly different, or that we can bring from our old industries that were helpful there that can be useful here. And so that’s something that I’ve noticed at Leyline is some of the ways that we do things, I’ve suggested ways that we might be able to tighten up procedures and move move a little bit more quickly through the investment process, for instance, just based on my alternative investing, background from from from another place.
Catherine: Did you say Bri, that your brother was in the clean energy industry or affiliated with?
Bri: No, my brother’s just really passionate about it. So he was helpful with giving me different podcasts and things like that. So he’s knowledgeable in that aspect. So it’s been banter with him and I know what he’s talking about.
Catherine: It’s interesting, because I’ve come across quite a few people who got into this space, because they had a family member or partner who was like in this space, are really passionate about this space. And they kind of were like, what’s this about that kind of thing, I just have like one story that I want to tell because I also, I didn’t join the clean energy industry until I was 30. So it’s sort of my, one of my later chapters in my career. And so when I started in the clean energy industry, I’ll never forget, I called a company in the UK called Enpower. And I called them up and I called this person there. And we had a really good chat. And I went to see him, and he gave me a roll on and it was my first placement. And everybody was amazed, because they were like, you just called him up, you just call them Enpower. And I said, Who’s what’s in power, like, empowers like this massive German utility company. And this guy was like, super senior, but an ice cold called him. But my point is, if I had been in the industry for a number of years, I would have had the fear, definitely, like, I probably would have called him, but I would have been scared. And I didn’t have that fear, because I had no perception of it. So I just say this to all of my clients, like, it’s so good to come in with a fresh set of eyes. You really would be surprised at how much progress you can make by just doing, you’re not having these preconceived notions, I suppose.
Catherine: Do you have any recommendations for other candidates looking to transition into the clean energy industry? So particularly those who are intimidated, right, because they haven’t worked in the industry before? This, again, could be a woman thing, being a little nervous, or maybe just a people thing about trying something new. Any advice? Any recommendations?
Bri: I’ll kick it off. I mean, you just heard three of us. Like it was the nicest transition into a space that we weren’t involved with prior to our current time here. And I was nervous, I 100% was nervous. I’m some mortgage real estate girl, what am I gonna do? And I say jump in, right? Now’s the time, it’s booming. It’s so fun, that there’s so much going on. And it’s crazy and exciting to see what it’s projecting into the future. And I would say you can jump in, it’s gonna it’s a lot of work to learn the industry, but it’s worth it. And the people that are involved, which, obviously, you’re working every day with these people and clients and, and stuff. Everyone’s got your back. That’s what I’ve really noticed and so helpful. I’ve never seen anything like it was pretty incredible.
Catherine: Yeah. Christy?
Christy: Yeah, I totally agree. I think from my perspective, it’s always fun to join an industry that’s growing. And that where there’s ground to there’s there’s new ground to plow, so to speak, like new spaces to expand into. And so I think that’s what’s fun about this industry is there’s a lot of capital flowing into this industry. There’s a lot of eyes on this industry, there’s a lot of policy being made in this industry. And that’s really where you want to be. So from my perspective, I don’t want to say it’s a no brainer, right? Because trying something new is always hard, but if you’re going to try something new, it’s better to do it in an industry that’s growing, as opposed to one that is contracting. And again, I echo what Bri says, I think the people in the space are so lovely. And it’s such a pleasure to go to work every day. And the last thing is, what’s fun for me is I have a 13 year old son and what we’re doing is very interesting to I don’t even want to say the next generation, the next next generation and it’s kind of getting in his head and his friends had a little bit about hey if you start a really interesting business we might be able to finance that. Like you guys can have a great idea, and Jack’s mom can finance it someday. So it’s fun for them to kind of think about what they’re worth, what they’re working on at school, all the projects they’re working on could maybe someday be a business for them. And kids these days are super entrepreneurial, more so than I was as a child. So it’s just great, it’s a great space to be in all the way around.
Catherine: And I remember you were saying that he was really proud of you that you were doing something mission driven. He was like, that’s really cool mom.
Christy: Yes, it’s so nice to be working. Again, I’ve mentioned this before, but we are very much trying to get capital into the hands of folks who maybe have not had access to before. So you know, women owned businesses, minority owned businesses, folks who maybe identify as LGBTQ are somewhere on that spectrum, who may have not had access to financing before. And also some folks who don’t have that sort of friends and family equity to put into a new business. And so it’s really fun for me to be able to be saying to my son, like, Hey, I’m trying to push the world forward, not just on the environment, but also on the social justice and governance portions. If you’re talking about your ESG, or impact investing, that’s become so important in finance and finance these days. So it’s so nice to have the opportunity to do good and make money. It really is what we all want to do.
Catherine: Yeah, I could not agree more. Stephanie?
Stephanie: So my advice for someone who’s looking to break into solar specifically would be to identify the need in the solar industry, depending on the company. And then figuring out what you bring, so a lot of similar companies are growing pretty aggressively. But in the past, they were more startup based, but they’re trying to implement more processes, like Christy highlighted. So if you are a process oriented person who’s brought a company from startup to a more established company, like that is something so many solar companies need right now. So highlighting that, and you would come in and you wouldn’t need to be an expert in solar, it would you would bring that expertise in implementing processes. So figuring out in the clean energy space in general, like how to leverage your experience, whether it’s coalition building, process, building, figuring out how to amplify messaging, those are the sorts of things that solar and clean energy need, that you can figure out the nuances as you go. But leveraging that experience is, I think, very important.
Christy: That’s a great answer, because it is true. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for service providers in the space. Just like what Stephanie was just saying in terms of taking your skills, like if you’re a lawyer, if you are an advisor, if you are a marketer whatever your thing is, from the other industry, it translates really well to this new industry.
Catherine: Yeah, I totally agree. And I also think that when we look at oil and gas, for example, you have project managers, who are like an excellent resource to the industry. I mean, there’s so many different sectors that are more mature than what we’re doing. So I remember I placed somebody, he was from Halliburton, and he went into a solar company. And they were just absolutely amazed by what he was able to put in place, like the process procedure to fix it. And this is like a pretty big solar company. And they were like, Whoa, because obviously, he had come from a super established business, so instead of shunning these people, we should be like, Come Come help us. Like, figure it out, make it better. There’s plenty of jobs.
Bri: Opportunity. Yeah, exactly what he’s looking for. Yeah.
Christy: Keep plugging my company, but you know, we are looking for experienced folks too, who want to start a new business in renewable energy, where they have experience in Old Energy in oil and gas, that would translate well, and they have a vision, have a dream.
Catherine: Yeah. Another thing I wanted to mention is that I say this all the time, like I would not be able to make any progress, being able to place candidates into the clean energy industry from outside space if it weren’t for the clients, right. I’m just the intermediary, I’m just like the conduit. And so what I am good at is understanding someone’s skills and attributes and how they could fit into that company based on the brief from given. And I think it’s also gotten very strict with my clients about them thinking like outside the boxes, like what jobs we could look at, that could be good jobs to take someone from another industry, like there are some things where there’s like, not flexibility. That’s cool, like I get that. But there are other job functions that are flexible to look outside. And so I think What’s been interesting is working with CHESSA, Javelin, Leyline. In all honesty, those are three companies that were very much like before I probably even could say it, were like, this could be an opportunity to take someone from outside the space. So I just say kudos to them because it wasn’t like I was dragging them. I remember Mike Healy being like, we have lots of people that know about solar, Catherine, like, what this role is, is about like public policy advocacy, there’s lots of other industries where we could use that skill set. And I remember, same thing with Matt Eastwick, I was like, Oh, this is exciting. Like, we could look at someone who’s really been successful in marketing in another space. And he was like, Absolutely, like, let’s, let’s do it. And same thing with Eric Lynch at leyline. They keep him totally on board with like, this does not need to be somebody from energy. There’s lots of transferable industries that we could look at. So I just want to give them a little bit of a shout out. Because I can’t do this without the clients.
Christy: Yeah, I know Eric and I have discussed this, he appreciates the perspective that I bring to the business. And that’s why I’m here is to bring that different perspective, to help to try to grow the business. And I think that’s outstanding, that’s what makes me so happy everyday going to my job is getting the chance to think big and try to move things forward, which is always really fun. And again, there’s been increasing specialization in the marketplace, in whatever industry you’re in. And I noticed that, because I was in the legal industry for such a long time. And while I think that’s fantastic that there are all these subject matter experts, there are a lot of missed opportunity, if you only stick with people who know, who already know what you know, it’s really important to get additional perspectives, because that is how you get bigger. And that is how you get more inclusive. And that’s how you reach more people.
Catherine: Yeah. Does anybody else have a comment on that?
Bri: Yeah, I would just say that since I’ve joined Javelin, we’ve had some really fun, interesting conversations about operationally for the firm, and projects and efforts that we see the firm going in the future. And I think that’s because I’ve been able to challenge or bring up other topics that I learned from previous, my previous industry and previous career. So I feel like, it’s something very unique and special, that these individuals in these companies are really open to that, because there are others that just are really closed off and want that, but they’re open to that because of the industry growing and the excitement behind it. So it’s been really great. And I appreciate you, Catherine for doing that, and connecting us with them and having that being the liaison to explain the positions and the benefits of bringing somebody outside of the industry because I probably wouldn’t have thought, oh it’s transferable. Right off the bat.
Catherine: I also think so much of it is culture. It’s just so much in his culture fit, just knowing Eric, Matt and Mike, I know them quite well. And so just knowing like, Oh, they’re gonna like that person, a good fit, right? So I think that’s just so much of this is like, do you want to work with this person every day? Because they are taking the time to train and develop somebody, the companies are doing this, right, I’m coaching. But then once you start, where do I go for the happy hour?
Christy: I think, if I may say, and I don’t mean just step on Stephanie here and have a chance to say something. But I think you’ve been really helpful to and helping me connect up with others in the industry, which I really appreciate. So your work has gone on, but you have the buy in from my CEO, and the other management of these other places, because you’ve developed your relationship with them. And so that’s very helpful for the three of us. And so you’re vouching for us. And that is a helpful thing. So the fact that you know your clients so well, and that you’ve taken the time to get to know the three of us. I mean, I think that speaks a lot for how you do your job.
Catherine: Thank you. That’s very kind. Stephanie, do you have anything else you want to add?
Stephanie: Just piggybacking off what Christy had to say I think that it helps my relationship with our national association SEIA because they have such a great relationship with you. So from SEIA’s perspective, they’re like, Oh, if Stephanie is like this immediate pressure. So yeah, I would definitely highlight that your relationships with the clients are key.
Catherine: Yeah, I remember Abby was like, oh, yeah, she’s great. Abby Hopper is a big fan of yours. And I’m a big fan of hers. And so, but this all goes back to Women Helping Women. I don’t want to make it about just women. But I think when we help each other and support each other we can make a lot of progress. Well, thank you so much, ladies, for doing this. I really appreciate it. I think this is going to help a lot of people who are thinking about getting into this space, know that it’s a great space to join, and as we’ve said, a million times really open and friendly. I just thank you for your time. It’s great working with you all.
Bri: Thank you, Catherine.
Christy:Thanks for bringing us in, Catherine.