Interview with Emilie Wangerman, Senior VP, Head of Business Development & M&A, Lightsource bp
Congrats, Lightsource bp, on doubling your solar power project pipeline in a single day! Led by Emilie Wangerman, Lightsource bp’s business development team supported bp in acquiring an additional 9 GW pipeline of projects from 7X Energy, Inc., which will be exclusively developed by Lightsource bp’s U.S. team. The projects are spread across 12 U.S states & will generate enough clean energy to power ~1.7 million U.S. homes.
I recently spoke with Emilie about this achievement, how Lightsource bp is making sure its rapid expansion integrates diversity & inclusion, as well as how Emilie was able to transition into & excel within the clean energy industry.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me, my friend and colleague, Emilie Wangerman. Thanks for joining me, Emilie.
Emilie: Of course. Thanks for having me.
Catherine: So Emily is the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Lightsource bp. Normally based in San Francisco, but out in a cabin in the woods in upstate New York?
Emilie: That’s exactly right.
Catherine: Very good Wi Fi, so I’m impressed.
Emilie: At times, I wouldn’t be surprised if it dies in in the middle of this discussion, so I hope we get through.
Catherine: So Emilie, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Emilie: Personally, like you said, I live in San Francisco. And I’ve been working at Lightsource since 2017. I started there as a Director and in Business Development, and then have grown in my career there now to lead the team. And I’m a Senior Vice President within Lightsource, what’s in business development, we do origination, so working on the off-take contracts with customers, for our utility scale solar and storage. And then we also do mergers and acquisitions. And so my team leads that. And then we also have what’s called wholesale power marketing. So that’s things like rep trading capacity, reactive power, things like that. So more merchant revenue streams. And then we also have the strategy, the corporate strategy for the company.
Catherine: And how did you get into the clean energy industry?
Emilie: So after undergrad, so my undergrad was in Chemical Engineering and Psychology, so I have a double major there. People laugh at that, I think it really does describe my personality. And the fact that I’m really technical, I have a lot of that background on the chemical engineering side, you know, always really enjoyed math and science, but then also really enjoy the people side. And so I really wanted to understand why people do what they do. For instance, a course I really liked it was human factors and design. So really understanding why people make the decisions they make. And so my first job after undergrad was at Intel Corporation, and I was on the technology development side. And I just kind of grew through that I ended up at the end of my career at Intel, I ended up leading a large engineering and operations team and in both Malaysia and the Philippines. And one of the reasons I left, the reason I tell you this is I decided to consciously leave Intel, even though I was doing well and I was growing in the company, I decided I just didn’t have a passion for developing semiconductors. It’s not that they haven’t provided a really important growth for the world. And it’s just it wasn’t really something that I was personally passionate about. So I went back to grad school. And I also got two other double majors, an MBA as well as a Master’s in Environmental Management, studying energy markets. And so I did kind of have a conscious career switch. And that’s how I did it by going to school. And then that’s when I jumped into PG&E. And that’s how long I’ve been in. So I’ve been in about six years. Yeah, about eight years on the energy side.
Catherine: Great. Well, that is quite a lot of education. I’m impressed- and working at the same time, probably. So want to talk about diversity, mentorship, your career success. So although there have been some particular improvements, there’s still a lack of diversity in clean energy, as we as we all recognize. Particularly within higher level roles. What are some key factors that have contributed to your career success, whether that be specific mentors, or otherwise?
Emilie: Yeah, we definitely still have a problem. And I think everybody, especially people like you, that advocate for diversity are essential to helping address the problem. I would say, for me personally, it was that I don’t give up easily and I push for what I want. And when I first started at PG&E, after grad school, I was in a program where you rotate around and learn different parts of your organization. But I didn’t really find that I had a true advocate. And I think that that’s one of the reasons that I decided to leave. Is that I think a key to success when you want to grow as a diverse candidate is you need to have someone that really can advocate on your behalf. And you have to feel like you’re really making progress along the way. And so I decided to leave PG&E to join Lightsource because I had a good friend who was part of the leadership team. And she took a chance on me and said, “Okay, yeah, jump into business development.” My prior roles had always been in engineering and operations, and then in strategy and policy, but I didn’t have specific business development experience, but those kind of all play together and how you talk to customers and how you negotiate contracts. So she took a chance on me and, so far, I think I’m doing pretty well. And so I think having advocates in the organization is really important. And then having a huge network outside of your organization is really important, too. So when I decided to make the job switch between PG&E and Lightsource bp, I really had to say, “Okay, where do I want to go?” And I just tapped my full network and people that maybe were somewhat close, but people that I knew were interested in interesting jobs. And so I would talk to them about that. And it just, at the end of the day, my job came from just having that conversation with my friend. And so I think that’s really important is having that network, and then also having the advocate within the company. And that’s, that’s what’s really made a difference for me.
Catherine: Yeah, thank you so much for those tips. I couldn’t agree more. I think a big reason why men have historically been so successful in finding new opportunities that maybe others aren’t aware of, is that ability to network. And I think the more women embrace that, the better and definitely having an advocate is super important. So the next question I would ask you is around your management style. So you’ve held a number of managerial roles, including now, how has your management style changed over the years, do you think?
Emilie: So I started leading teams, when I was pretty young. So it was right after undergrad, when you’re in process engineering, you’re basically designing the next technology. And then you’re working with technicians to actually implement the technology and roll it out in next generations, things like that. And I think that you start learning leadership skills right away, when you work in engineering. I also had a lot of leadership experience through sports when I was growing up. So it wasn’t a huge transition there. But I would say that my biggest difference comparing right after undergrad to now is that, at that point, I was really trying to prove myself and I was thinking, Okay, how do I, I’m going to get everything right, I’m going to work hard, I’m going to stay up really late. I’m going to work 24 seven, and I’m going to just prove that I am worthwhile, that I am supposed to be here. And now I think I’m just saying, You know what? I know I am and I don’t have to try to constantly prove myself and my job now at the leadership level I’m at, is to make sure that I’m supporting my team, and I’m much more of a servant leader. So it’s not about me, it’s not about individual contribution, it’s about how can I help my team perform better, because at the end of the day, everything they do at the end of the day is also contributing to my success, too. So, you know, it’s much more about helping them succeed rather than me personally, just exceeding on my own. So I know that’s the biggest difference.
Catherine: That’s really great. I guess I’ve read that Lightsource bp’s executive team in London is like 50% female. And I’ve also seen the annual gender pay gap reports that Lightsource bp has published. So can we talk a bit about how you all have been able to successfully foster greater diversity and inclusion and what some initiatives are that you’re pursuing to continue to foster diversity inclusion, particularly among BIPOC?
Emilie: Definitely. So yeah, Lightsoure bp started in 2010, in the UK. And so that organization, the UK office, is much more advanced and has already had programs and really introduced a lot of diversity programs for a long time. Overall sustainability, and diversity and inclusion have always been core to the Lightsource bp philosophy. I think where there are sometimes more challenges, you know Lightsource is growing rapidly. And as you move into new regions, including in the US, when we started in 2017, when you grow really rapidly, people are tapping their networks. And if you have leadership that are men that are tapping their networks, they may have more men in their networks, because it might already be what historically white male. And so I think you have to make a conscious decision to say, we’re going to change our recruiting practice. And we’re not going to accept if there’s not a diverse pool of candidates in that process. And so what we’ve done in the US, for instance, has said, we’ve literally stopped the practice and said, okay, when we’re recruiting, if there are not sufficient BIPOC candidates in this process, then we’re going to reset. And it’s not about saying we’re forcing some sort of diversity. It’s truly just saying, Let’s make sure we’re going outside our near term networks and tapping the extended networks, and we’re tapping the real talent that’s out there that we just might not have had a chance to meet yet. And so I think that’s really important. The other thing we’ve done and I’ll toot your horn for you, is we worked with recruiters like you who specialize in bringing in diverse candidates because at the end of the day, it might not be the easiest thing if you’re just if you’re just going out and posting, certain people might have more access to the posts. And say, oh, okay, we’re just getting 16 more white men, and that’s fine. They might be really qualified. But if you’re asking me, how are we introducing more diversity, that’s how we’re doing it. And then it doesn’t mean we are not going to hire, it just means that we’re trying to introduce diversity. And, and part of that diversity is all different types of people, not just based on race or color, but it’s also based on thinking. And then that really does introduce more inclusion. Since 2017, we have greatly improved in the US. We started out a little bit heavy one way. And we’ve really tried to work hard to introduce a more diverse pool of employees, which has led to a more inclusive culture.
Catherine: Yeah, I think it’s a really good takeaway there. I think also, every situation is different, like every search is different, you’re being adaptable, something may work for one search, that might not work for another, constant changing your strategy, I think is also important. I applaud you for making an effort and being deliberate about it, because that’s where it starts. And that diversity of thought is so important, like you got that shot to get into BD without having that background necessarily. So Emily, you’ve been involved in winning, you and your team have been involved in winning some awesome business lately. Tell us about some of the recent deals that you’ve done?
Emilie: Sure. I think one of the things that you mentioned, and I’ll just slowly get to your answer, the first thing is just wrapping up our last question. We do have this central team in the UK that started this company in 2010. And since then, they’ve grown a global organization. And so a couple examples are they first moved into broader Europe, then they moved into the US, and then Australia, and then Brazil. And now they’re starting to move into other countries as well. And so you’ve probably heard about our recent growth in Portugal, which is great news, because not only are we creating codevelopment relationships, but we’re also introducing opportunities for quick turnaround to contract on the off-take side. So there’s been really a lot of growth on the global side, which just means that we have an opportunity to gain efficiencies, from a cost perspective, as well as we’re also introducing a ton of diversity across the organization and just getting a lot more ideas of how to grow the company globally. And then one in the US that would kind of hits more home to me, is BP recently acquired a 9 gigawatt portfolio from 7X Energy. And what Lightsource is going to do is we’re actually going to develop those projects on their behalf. And so that’s really exciting for us. And then we’re taking on all the employees. And so we are growing, we’re doubling our pipeline that we’re working on, we did that in a day by BP moving this. So we had our own 9 gigawatt pipeline. And now we’re developing this other 9 gigawatt pipeline. So collectively, we’ll have 18 gigawatts, which is pretty amazing from itself, because we were already working really hard on the nine gigawatts, and now we’re gonna be doing 18. So that’s, for my team personally, and for me, that’s really exciting, because it means we’re one of the largest players in the US. It was a long, hard process. And my team worked really hard to do the diligence to work with BP to make sure we found the right portfolio for them. And we’re just now excited to have the team members join us and move it into implementation. So for me the reason why that’s particularly exciting and why it’s a real opportunity for growth for Lightsource is we are actually going to be developing these on behalf of BP. BP gets to directly invest, but we also get to grow and take advantage of that scale, much faster than we would have been able to do if we were just organically growing.
Catherine: That’s really great. Thank you so much for talking to me today and for all your insights.
Emilie: Of course. Thanks so much, Katherine.