Interview with Jessie Robbins & Marisa Sweeney, Generate Capital
Interview with Jessie Robbins & Marisa Sweeney, Generate Capital
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me a couple of senior ladies from Generate Capital. Jessie Robbins is the vice president of structured finance and tax equity. She’s based in the DC area. Welcome Jessie.
Jessie: Thanks for having me.
Catherine: And Marisa Sweeney is in San Francisco, and she is the director of the investment team there.
Marisa: Thanks so much for having us.
Catherine: I’m so excited. This conversation all got started, or this interview got arranged because Jesse and I were at an event together in DC. And we were talking about how passionate she is about project finance. And so I was saying, Well, doesn’t Marisa work finance, like more kind of M&A work. And so it’d be really interesting to kind of like talk about the juxtaposition of the different roles that you guys have? Because I think there are a lot of younger candidates who are getting into the industry who aren’t sure what direction they want to go. So I’m looking forward to having that debate about what’s the perfect career opportunity for them. So first, I want to say congrats, Marisa, for recently being recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30, In Energy list, well deserved.
Marisa: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Its awesome. It’s a really big honor. And I was honestly just psyched to even be in the running. So it was great.
Catherine: Yeah. And so I want you all to start by telling me a little bit about your role as at Generate, do you want to start Marisa?
Marisa: Sure, I’m happy to. Just to give some background, I joined Generate in 2016, when we were a relatively small team at the time, so we were about 18 people, less than 10 on the investment team. And we’ve since scaled up to being over 150 people across four offices, as of like January of this year. So I’ve been with the team from the beginning. And I started as an associate on the investment team. And I’ve since been promoted up through being director on the investment team, which as you might guess from like general banking and private equity structuring it kind of is your typical triangular deal structure where you have like more senior folks running deal processes and negotiations on like, as the further you move up, and more junior people like associates running down diligence requests, writing items, etc. So I’ve kind of grown up through Generate in that sense. Since being hired at Generate, I’ve actually had the opportunity to work on a number of different markets and technologies within sustainable infrastructure. So when I initially started, I was more focused on our solar projects working in tax equity, like Jessie specializes in, we’re so grateful to have a tax equity specialist now. Absolutely phenomenal total luxury compared to when we first started. And these days, I’m more focused on the waste sector working on investments within the circular economy and also renewable natural gas. That’s an area that really piqued my interest because I saw it as being kind of the next frontier in terms of sustainable infrastructure as we think about decarbonisation, and the landscape for what will be required in order to get to like netzero. So that’s right.
Jessie: Yeah, so I joined Generate, just over a year ago, just past my one year mark, and it’s flown by, and I came on board the Capital Markets team to spearhead our tax equity efforts. So all Marisa sits on the investment team, I’m on the capital markets side and our team was responsible for resourcing the company for all of its capital needs from our corporate raises both debt and equity to project finance, where I mainly specialize tax equity and some project finance debt as well. So I’ve gravitated towards that spectrum for tax equity that primarily means solar and other energy assets, solar plus storage fuel cells, God forbid if we get a standalone storage credit one of these days really whatever is going to be incentivized at the federal level probably incentivized with tax benefits and that requires putting in equity partners and kind of doing some complicated dances around how you set up that capital stack. So I love those asset classes I have my background is in solar but I’ve had a blast working on some some newer verticals for me that generate is you know, deeply steeped in so I love talking to Marisa about the waste value verticals and working with our team that’s looking at EV charging the charging infrastructure, the mobility thesis and many other areas that you know, probably have some opportunity to to bring additional benefits with with tech structuring investments.
Catherine: Great. Thank you for that. So tell me a little bit about the projects or the work that you’re most proud of at your time at Generate so far. And what are you most excited about working on this? Do I just keep the order?
Jessie: You have a long list. I only have one year to look back on.
Marisa: Yeah, yeah, I’ll take some highlights. There’s one project, which actually was the first project I was even staffed on when I started at the firm. And we basically completed the acquisition of a development pipeline of projects in New York City that were based on city schools. And this was a project that was certainly near and dear to my heart. And I don’t know how much y’all buy into like fate and things being like fated. But I remember it was my first day Generate, I got to the desk and they’re like, “Hey, we’re looking at his portfolio of projects in New York City, you just moved to San Francisco from there, take a look and let us know what you think.” And for me, I was like, “Oh, wow, this is awesome.” I was just working on distributed solar in New York City pricing some deals in New York City. So I actually had an opportunity to know what I was doing on the first day of working, which almost never happens. So I felt like that was very lucky. And I pull up the project list. And I sorted by like size of project, the biggest project on the list was a high school that my parents taught out together for over 15 years. They’re both New York City school teachers. And there it was, like the Channel High School at the top of the list, I was like, wow, this is a good sign. I don’t know what to read into it. But this is a great sign. So that was a power purchase agreement that we entered into with the city of New York, and then went to build several sites across the city on public school. So that is certainly like a project that I’ve saw through like kind of start to finish, we’re still in construction. So we’re still building some of the sites. But that was a project that I was like, wow, this is kind of meant to be. And then bringing it kind of more recently, I’m super excited about all that we’re doing within the waste space, our team just acquired a couple of like big deals were announced by our team, we made a major investment in Amp Americas, which is a renewable natural gas company that’s based in Chicago, we also made a material investment in Atlas organics, which is a composting company. And I’m also excited I cover the area of kind of like advanced recycling, and other sorts of like plastics, reformation, etc. And just kind of broadly like, that’s an area that I’m super excited and passionate about, because I think we’ll have to very quickly start dealing with like the circular impacts of our supply chains, etc. So that’s what I’m working on. And that’s kind of what I’m excited about.
Catherine: I think that’s super exciting. I mean, you don’t hear as much about it as you do, like, some of the other technologies, I think that’s going to be a massive growth area for jobs.
Jessie: There’s just so much more out there than just energy. Yeah, it’s so exciting to work alongside folks that are focused on that. For me, I’m just so proud of the team over the past year, and really pre-that for the whole COVID period of how volatile and crazy the world has been. And just the team shown amazing resilience and flexibility to just adapt to these constantly changing project timelines and capital markets conditions and tax equity is available, and then it’s not and then you know, we’re handling project deployment targets, and just the team’s risen to meet all these challenges. And I really enjoyed working with the investment team, too. The investments that I highlight is our near community solar platform. So different New York projects, these are in the theater in them programs in New York State. And just that has grown to be this immense machine, I guess have all these projects sites across the state. And we’ve really gotten it down to just this well oiled machine that’s deploying and financing assets as they roll off the pipeline. And then another areas are fuel cell activity, which I can’t speak about too openly. I don’t think we’ve made many public announcements about that. But that’s been a big plus for me this year, and I’m very proud of the work there.
Catherine: Cool. And so I want to talk about what we discussed right in the beginning on why we originally decided to do this interview, which is project finance versus M&A. So I’m a student, I’m just joining the industry. I’m trying to figure out what I want to focus on. Marisa, why do I want to focus on M&A?
Marisa: It’s so funny, I would say, to reframe a little bit, I would just be excited if you’re a student who knows that you want to work on sustainable financing, whatever that means. And I find, especially, one of my strong areas of interest outside of my day job is just kind of encouraging the pipeline of women and people of color to just even get into the space to begin with. So I would kind of just start with like, are you interested in finance? Have you thought about clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, decarbonisation finance? And then from there we can talk about project financing and M&A. When people say M&A that can kind of mean a bunch of different things. In a sense aspects of project finance do have like M&A, like characteristics, you might not be merging companies and having to do like the analysis around integration and synergies and potential structures around valuation like that approach is like a different approach. But the process of buying and selling things in a sense, like a company like Generate, where we’re an operator. And when we acquire projects, we’re bringing them onto our balance sheet. Even if it’s a ring fence SPV that mostly contains a community solar farm in upstate New York, you’re still having to think through what are the business operational impacts of taking on that portfolio. So my kind of initial thought, and I don’t mean for this to be a cop out, particularly for more junior folks, don’t get too fussed up whether or not you got a project finance role, or an M&A role if you have under call it five years of experience. Because the important part is that you found subject matter that you’re interested in, and the fundamental skills that you’re getting from that work, whether it’s getting into the details of documentation, understanding, just negotiating dynamics, from a psychological standpoint, understanding financial modeling, etc, etc. Whether you’re modeling companies versus projects, at the end of the day, it’s all cash flows. So I think especially at the junior level, folks shouldn’t get like to bust up about whether or not they’re doing like, I think that sometimes there’s a thought, like, oh, I want to do sexy M&A work, or sexy corporate financing work. And I’m kind of like, well, if you’ve picked like a strong subject matter area that you’re genuinely keenly interested in, are able going to are going to be able to track with like passion, excitement, engagement, that’s kind of like be what drives your career, not whether or not like, you hit the jackpot on your, like associate recruiting coming out of banking, and like landed a spot on a buyout team for like energy. I think people sometimes, especially I find the most high achieving junior people get really fussed up on the distinction. Whereas I think there’s merits to both so long as you have an open mind to leverage the skill set.
Jessie: And you do need both. And what I try to share is whatever role you think you might want, you can find it in energy, whether that’s whether we’re parsing different versions of finance, or whether someone’s interested in an HR role or market, like you can find it in energy and sustainable infrastructure. So that’s hugely encouraging, just find what you like to do, and go find a way to apply that skill in the industry. When it comes to M&A and first project finance, you need both you can’t you have to understand the assets, you’ll never regret getting that experience to really get your hands dirty, go on that site visit everything’s going swimmingly, and then you get a call that like a bird flew in your transformer and like blew the fuse, or you’re going to commission like these things have you really get an appreciation for the operations of these assets. Asset Management is a wonderful place to really get a lot of experience. And then similarly if you are building a career as an investor in energy technologies, you also can’t ignore the impacts of debt and tax equity and how those play in the capital stack in your evaluations. So you can’t, you kind of need to do both anyway. And a lot of folks end up kind of bridging that and different ways across their career. And if you’re at a good company, and especially in this industry, you’re not going to get pigeonholed, things are growing too quickly and moving too quickly for you to get pigeonholed.
Catherine: Yep. But I want to hear from you. What it is about what you do that you love because you were so passionate, Jessie, like when we met. I don’t know, maybe it’s because you had a glass of wine, I didn’t know. But you were so passionate. I love people that are passionate about what they do. So what is it that you do that you love?
Jessie: Yeah, for sure I can share this number so that you can push back. You’ll keep me accountable. So I’ve done both. I’ve done CNI project acquisitions which in like 2012, and that was the Wild West and, and I’ve done project finance, I’ve gravitated towards structured finance. For me, they’ll repeat relationships and the ability to form those partnerships with banks, investors, other institutions that you can work with year over year, establish a lot of trust, and then and then innovate and continue to build on that to do cooler and better things in your career. I think that’s fascinating. I really enjoy that aspect of my role, which isn’t to say you can’t do that in the M&A space, but that’s just different kinds of relationships there. And the second piece that I really appreciate, I think that for young people, especially thinking about what role they want The industry, they should be honest with themselves about their ability to tolerate risk. And their risk tolerance in terms of you go in and you work on something day in and day out, are you okay? If that falls apart, or you have a high higher, or a low, low, and I, I don’t have the risk tolerance that folks who are out there bidding on dozens of deals and you know, and I like a little bit more consistency in my work. And that goes back to the relationships as well. So I enjoy building those. And again, you have to deal with on the project side, too. It’s maybe just a little bit more in one direction versus another on the risk spectrum.
Catherine: Okay. Anything you want to say, Marisa?
Marisa: Yeah, I really also just think it depends on what level of your career and I can’t stress enough that like, I don’t think it matters a ton, so long as you’re under five years experience, because what’s important is that you found your way to the sector that you enjoy. And you can worry about strategic positioning, if you become more interested in either direction. So say that you’re working on a big bank working on large, like debt transactions for renewable energy projects, that isn’t no way going to be like bad experience. Now, I could see you’re like, being in that seat and thinking to myself, like, wow, like, I’m really curious what the sponsor side looks like for these types of transactions. And I’d like to get that exposure, etc. But I think like the skills that you’re getting in an analyst or an associate role, it’s pretty similar, like, across the different roles, if whether you’re in a capital market seat like Jessie, or an investor sponsor suit, like me, like, at those certain analyst associate levels, it’s relatively similar. And I think that that’s kind of like, to me the important part is that you’re interested in and engaging in mastering those detail orientation and technical skills at that level that’s what people should focus on, not so much the directions. I will say, though, to argue, and I don’t want to, I really don’t want to bash it, because people are gonna throw up the equivalent of like rotten eggs on LinkedIn comments, but I get your position. Totally, I think that, at least in my experience, compared with debt financing, or, goodness forbid, attacks, equity financing, the acquisition work is pretty exciting. And you’re and yeah, and to Jessie’s point, there is like an element of risk there is sometimes like an element of like, you’re building the plane as you’re flying it, you don’t necessarily, you’re not necessarily sure what’s going to happen. Valuation isn’t negotiation, everything’s up for negotiation until it’s pinned down. And yeah, absolutely, it can totally fall apart on you. Whereas if you’re sitting in like a debt financing seat, and the project is one day away from COD and barring like failing the witness test, like this thing is going when you get that term sheet in hand to finance the debt on that project for the back leverage facility, you can have that certainty of closing execution, whereas, Yeah, absolutely. Some M&A work is a bit more pie in the sky. But you can burn months of your life on something that may not happen. But the point is that you kind of have to go through the exercise of trying and getting the repetitions around doing that, that make you better at it, watching what’s happening in the market, etc. So I think that there’s definitely, again, I don’t want to call any finance role creative, that is reaching a little bit compared to actual creative professions. But I would say it lends itself to kind of more creative structuring, as opposed to like certain standard types of Tax Equity structures or back lever structures, or the kind of the more regular way, financings that you see in project finance.
Catherine: It is funny that you actually mentioned the word creative because I was taking a spec the other day for managing director of origination, he used that exact word, he and he said the same thing is I know that sounds weird. He’s like, I just want someone that’s like creative environment, putting the deal together. And I think it is a good word. I think it does take some creativity to get these deals done and thinking outside the box.
Jessie: Especially when you’re working on, you know, I don’t want to say new technologies because the technologies themselves are new, but the business models by might be near the application, my new and Tax Equity gets the worst rap for this and often it’s well deserved, but if it’s not widely done, no one often is interested in doing it. And that’s where you do have to bring in that creativity to- how do you explain, how do you pitch, how do you communicate, how do you pull on those relationships to really help folks understand and come along with you that this is a good investment. But the fact, Marisa, that you use the word exciting to describe the space that’s how you know you’re in the right role, right. And to underscore Marisa’s earlier point that one is not better than the other and early in your career. Frankly, you should probably try to get exposure to both and just to find what you actually enjoy and are good at and that’ll work well.
Marisa: The only thing I would build upon that point, Jessie is just to say, if you take a market to your point about business models, I think that’s actually a really excellent point. If you look at the community solar market and call it 2015, it barely existed, like Colorado had a program and a lot of other states were talking about having programs. And I remember doing a market mapping, one of my first tasks to do when I worked at Onyx, renewable partners was to create a market mapping for the community solar opportunity. And really, when you get into the weeds of those projects, and those specific programs use jurisdiction, whether it’s Minnesota or New York, etc, they have their own rules and functions of a differently. And then if you transfer that over from a financing perspective, there’s kind of this process of educating the financial markets on well, how do we think about community solar back leveraged debt provider compared to a power purchase agreement with a commercial and industrial off ticker? And I think that that’s actually the beauty of Generate is that we’re, we were founded around this idea of creating what Jigar still calls the bridge to bankability, which is like, how do you allow for innovation within a space based upon proven technology, and move it forward? Even when you’re having slightly different business models that are emerging? So I think that’s actually like, an interesting example of okay, this is not any technically any different from any other solar project. This is just a new business model. And from an underwriting perspective, whether you’re the sponsor, the tax equity provider, or the back leverage provider, you’re gonna have to get comfortable with a new set of risks and kind of re contemplate your underwriting. And that’s the part that’s the work at Generate, that I found exciting was really that kind of pushing the market. And that’s not specific to the financing type. We were still doing project finance, but what we were doing was almost like the earlier stage market building. And that’s the aspects of my career that I found kind of the most exciting, regardless of structure.
Catherine: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the clean energy Marisa?
Marisa: Yeah. Totally. In college, I was very unsure about what I wanted to do. But I’ve always had this strong desire to preserve maximum optionality until I have more information. So I went through college, I went to SUNY Binghamton. And I started and I thought that I was going to major in prelaw, whatever that meant, and become a lawyer, because I knew what lawyers did. And I was pretty good at English and critical reading, and all those things. I was like, “Great, I’ll be competent at this.” And the bar was not, I won’t say low, but I just had a very general idea of what I thought it meant to be successful. And that’s what I wanted to do. It turned out that Binghamton had a pretty phenomenal undergraduate business program, and I had a lot of AP credits. So I added on a business degree. In parallel, one of my extracurricular interests had always been environmental activism and work, I was the president of Blue Marble, which was my high school’s environmental club. But it wasn’t clear to me how that translated to a job. So I always kind of had to put it to the side of my mind, like okay, I’m going to have to figure out how to weave that in. When I was doing my, I ultimately ended up being an integrated philosophy major, I was doing a lot more applied philosophy really focused on environmental ethics, but also like tracking along and doing my investment banking, recruiting. And again, I’m in my head, I’m like, “Yeah, again, walk the path, preserve optionality and figure out what you want to do.” Yeah, my first job, I worked in the risk group at Goldman Sachs doing credit risk advisory and structuring. So I’m basically telling investment bankers No, which was like, a really frankly grueling job from a finance perspective. I was just like, wow, these people are crazy. And you have to work really hard. That kind of taught me that if I’m going to be in this career for the long haul, I need to figure out a sub sector that I actually care about otherwise I’m probably going to lose it, have a mental breakdown in five years and have to move to Fiji or something to recover. And it was within that year of working. I connected with a friend who was one of the early employees at Onyx Renewable Partners, doing solar project development, which at the time, I didn’t know what the word Tax Equity even meant, to think that there’s even a time in my life where I didn’t know what that word meant. I remember we were prepping for the interview. And he was like, So do you know what tax equity is? And I kind of looked at him was like, No. Then I was furiously Googling, to prepare for this interview. And I really look at that as the transformational moment for me like, wow, this was an option to interview for this job of which I kind of knew I had to really study up on to be credible, but I knew that renewable energy, particularly given my environmental interest was where I wanted to go and something I could dig into and really care about. So I kind of took that leap and haven’t looked back since, thematically speaking. It’s funny, I actually caught up with the former president. And then CEO of that company, and I actually thanked her just like, “hey, I just want to say, looking back six and a half, seven years ago, thank you for taking a chance on me because I love this stuff.” And it could have easily not happened. I could have easily not had this break, we’ve drowned and did some random stuff. And I’m just so grateful that I had that kind of like pivot point.
Jessie: Yep. It’s funny, I mean, I have a slightly different path, but equal feelings of just immense gratitude to have tripped into this space and kind of found your calling. And then also the sense of being in school, having these passions and having no idea what careers are even available. And I hope, I get the sense it is not like that today, if you want to do this, and you’re on any sort of recruitment track, or consulting or banking, or whatever you’re headed towards that exists now. Which is, which is great, but I don’t have a formal background in business. I came into the renewable sector through the environmental science door. And I ended up working for a startup here in DC after graduation. That was doing environmental credit trading. So SREC trading, we just started doing CNI project acquisitions, totally building the plane as we were flying it, but because of that had a ton of opportunity to get experience and learn and grow. We started a tax equity syndication platform that eventually grew into a sponsor fund management team. So it through that the growth of that small company was able to have exposure to all of these different aspects of the industry and really gravitate towards project finance. But I look back and think I could have just as easily taken a different turn. So it’s a little Yeah, I feel very grateful to have ended up here.
Catherine: I think this is what, you know, I speak at a lot of career events and things. And there’s a lot of people who feel like you should have the plan, like a career plan. And I do somewhat agree with that. But I also think like life’s what happens when you’re making plans for it. And I think you need to just be a little open minded to see kind of where the opportunities may arise? Because you never know.
Jessie: Yeah, I fully agree with that, plans are helpful because they keep you moving forward, not because you actually know where you’re at. And you’re where you thought you would be in your plan. It just gives you something to focus on gives you a goal. But yeah, it’s evolved, for me at least and evolved immensely. And the other thing I think that’s helpful is to just remember that things don’t happen quickly, that you may have years where you feel like wow I didn’t see the progress I wanted, I didn’t get the promotion. I think a lot of folks nowadays and early in their career field should be moving around every two to three years. And that is a way to get experience but working, especially on the development or sponsor side. Like it’ll take longer than that to get a project done. So sticking around like you, I’ve learned so much just by sticking. Sticking with the team sticking with the company.
Catherine: Agreed, but as a recruiter, theres nothing wrong with changing jobs either. So the next question, is advice or career success factors. So what would you say are the strongest contributing factors to your career success, whether it be mentorship or having an internal advocate industry groups, such as WRISE, WCS? And do you have any advice for women looking to follow in your footsteps? Marisa?
Marisa: Yeah, that’s a big question. My initial thought is, as far as advice, there’s 1000 cliche things to say. And I think a lot of them are cliche, because they’re true. And they’re accurate. Like, you need to work hard. You need to believe in yourself. And I will say, and I don’t mean to be like cheesy with this soapbox. But particularly for women, I often find and increasingly as I move through my career, I’m in the mentoring seat as opposed to like the mentee seat, right. I find myself encouraging women to be more aggressive. I find myself encouraging women to go for the thing that they may not be qualified for, which again, what their perception of what they’re qualified for is often like radically different from what the actual market standard is that exists in reality. I’m also and I, my younger sister just references six years younger than me and our first couple years of working, and one of the things through our chats that we’ve been having, I’m often encouraging her to just really build up her own personal resilience around her Self Esteem her belief in her capabilities and herself championing for her own abilities because frankly, like, no, it’s no one else’s job to do that for you. And it is something that you will continue to work on for like your entire career and really your life. So it’s something that you need to get used to doing early on, because taking that personal advocacy position is something that is like evergreen, regardless of your role, and it doesn’t get easier if you don’t get in the habit of doing. So that’s a big one that I’ve been really just pushing out to my network or when I’m having a chat with a friend. And she’s telling me how she wants to go for this role as a principal level at an investment firm, but she’s not sure if she’s ready. My first question is always like, Well, why don’t you think you’re ready today? And two what does the six month one year plan look like to actually get you ready? Because yeah, maybe you’re right, maybe you have a very accurate self picture. And there are gaps that don’t make you a good fit, that’s fine. But let’s talk about how we could leverage one another’s networks and support to actually make a plan to get you there, because that’s the kind of activation and support that folks need. So soapbox down, Jessie over to you.
Jessie: I wholeheartedly agree, it’s no one else’s job to advocate for you. And that is maybe something that if we’re being honest with ourselves, a lot of us have to do a lot of work on to learn how to do that. No one’s going to do that for you. And it is essential, it’s not enough to just think I’m going to work with great people, they’re going to be perfect managers, and I’ll get where I need to go. You really have to learn what you want, and how to advocate for yourself in a way that feels authentic to you. I’m not saying that everyone’s going to become the Always Be Closing character from that movie. It’s just that it has to be authentic. But you also have to learn how to do that. I think the only one thing you asked about Catherine is is it important to find mentors are champions within organizations? I think it is. But that’s another sort of generic, it’s something that you hear a lot, because it’s true, I’ll try to make a little bit more specific, I would encourage folks, anyone, really, to find people in your organization or in your industry, who you can trust to give you honest feedback, not just unbiased, but actually people who see you in your day to day environment, people who see how you work, and are willing to tell you like to remove the blind spots and give you some honest feedback. So for instance, I’m thinking of one manager in particular, who’s who wonderful transformative manager at this point in my career, who sat me down and told me at one point, you’re not doing your job, if you’re not pissing someone off, once a month, let’s set it let’s set a KPI once again, and that and that was the perfect, actionable, measurable, and it helps, it helps me that point understand that if you’re not pushing such that folks are annoyed, then you’re probably not being very effective. So whatever that is for you to get that feedback. There are a lot of great managers and nice people who just may not give you that hard feedback. And without it, it’s that much harder to learn and to grow.
Catherine: I couldn’t agree more. Self advocacy, that really really resonates with me. The pissing people off part, I’ve been in sales my entire career, so I’ve definitely had managers tell me that before. I think it’s true, obviously to an extent. [Judiciously, use it wisely]. It really resonates with me because I think, sometimes as women, we’re looking for this knight in shining armor, and not necessarily a guy but anyone..
Marisa: Yeah, Catherine, you want to do it right. You want to do the thing. The reason I was so fussed up when I was an undergrad was I wanted to “be successful.” I wanted to get the ‘A,’ check the box, do the thing. And really, once you graduate, or even before that, the road is open. And you have to carve your own path and be pushing yourself forward because people don’t exist to do that for you. People will support you if you ask them, and have a plan. But you are the master of the plan.
Catherine: Yeah, it really is so true. I think I was guilty of waiting for people to tell you how great you are rather than actually like being thoughtful in how you communicate how great you are. I think it goes back to a confidence issue. That a lot of women, and I’m sure men, have when they are younger and graduate or even when they are older. We obviously have imposter syndrome, it just never ends.
Marisa: Totally, and it layers on. And Jessie, I love that you called out, because that would be my second piece of advice, but actively soliciting hard feedback and critical feedback. You don’t need to be self-flagellating about it. When I say self-advocacy I’m certainly not endorsing a ‘girl boss’ type of mentality, where like ‘I can do no wrong’ and whatever. That is toxic, you absolutely can do wrong and we all have an ability to improve. What I mean is identifying your concerns, no obsessing over them and overblowing them as reasons why you can’t proceed and continue to do well. The appropriate analysis of where we are at and how to move it forward. And I’ll say the same, the best feedback I’ve gotten, generally tends to be critical, which is great because it makes me better and it makes me be more effective. And others are able to see things in you that you cant always see, both on the positive side and on the negative side. So it’s always good to have that person who will give it to you straight. And a person who can give it to you straight, in a kind way, who you respect, and the respect is mutual.
Catherine: I noticed that shortly after Generate raised two billion dollars from investors a few months ago, Fortune Magazine named Generate as one of the 2021 best small and medium workplaces, which is based on employee surveys. I also noticed that the majority of Generate’s board of directors is women and people of color. How important do you think diversity and inclusion are for the success of clean energy companies?
Marisa: I’m happy to take a first stab. And I appreciate you giving Generate the shout-out on our board composition, on our employee engagement, that all stems from the culture of Generate, and is what we’re really working hard to build on every day. We are not perfect but we are going to continue advancing on that because it’s an area we want to lead on and it’s an area where we aspire to be one of the best companies on. Recently, we actually converted to a public benefit corporation, which is a big deal. Not many companies are doing that and certainly not many financial sponsors and traditional infrastructure operators are doing that. So I’m super proud of the work that we do at Generate and in the same breath I can say there is always more to do. I think part of the reason why Diversity Equity and Inclusion is so important within clean energy and the broader sustainability landscape is that we’re talking about a multi layered stakeholder problem around climate change. Women and people of color are the most impacted by the negative impacts, which are most of them, of climate change. And we are going to have to radically reform the way that we run most of the businesses across the globe over the next 20 or 30 years. And that is going to require insight and perspective for tons and tons of different people. I see it as not just nice to have or a fluffy corporate KPI, but really we must. We’re talking about transforming infrastructure, transforming systems. Making a paradigm shift in how we conduct business and you have to a diversity of perspectives, otherwise you’re likely to replicate similar issues and systems that got us to where we are today. I’m super passionate about it and I think that I don’t have to get into all the consulting firm level data that talks about diverse teams and the benefits and the business case, ect. I think that’s all been sufficiently hashed out. I think the problem is, frankly, particularly magnified within an area like clean energy where you’re building infrastructure that touches communities and gives power to people, quite literally.
Catherine: Can you just explain, for people who might not be aware of what a public benefit corporation is?
Marisa: Yeah, I will give you notes on this so you can get the direct filing. It’s slightly different from a B-corp, which is what people are pretty familiar with. For example, I think Ben & Jerry’s is a B-corp. It is not a B-crop, which from my understanding is kinda of an association of aspirational things that companies commit to doing almost on like a pledge infrastructure. A public benefit corporation is a separate legal distinction. So we were Generate Capital Incorporated, we are now Generate Capital PBC. In a sense it ties our corporate mandate and purpose directly to be that of the public benefit. I think from a technical perspective, or at least, from how we thought about it, it didn’t require a radical change in how we generally do business. It was like, we have an ability to do business, we fit within that framework, and it’s something that we wanted to lead on.
Catherine: Interesting. Okay. Is there anything, Jessie, that you want to add to that?
Jessie: I was just going to observe that it was interesting how little we really had to change because so much of our work is centered around a mission already that is aligned around the public interest. So it is more of a confirmation and continuation of Generate’s purpose for existing that is now codified in our corporate organization.
Catherine: Very interesting. I learn something new everyday. Thank you ladies, so much for your time and I really really enjoyed speaking with you all and I hope that whoever is listening finds it as informative as I did.
Marisa: Catherine, can I make one shameless plug at the close? Jessie knows this and a lot of folks who follow me on various platforms probably know this because I haven’t been able to shut up about it. I have launched a group called Women in Climate Investing in Finance. And it’s meant to be a networking organization for, shocker: women in climate investing in finance. We are trying to put together events, currently in San Francisco and New York but will likely want to do an event in D.C. and other areas where there happen to be a lot of women working in the field. I wanted to make a plug for that because we are trying to spread the word and really just grow the network over the next year. So if folks are interested, please reach out to me on any platform, LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever works. I would love to get more women involved and the thought that this is frankly meant to be not just for women who are currently working in finance and investing but those who aspire to. Even if you are mid-career, even if you don’t think you have a background to do this. If this is something that you’re interested in, we certainly need you for the effort. So we would be happy to include you.
Jessie: Great organization!
Catherine: I would love for you to bring it to D.C. Any excuse to get out of the house. See people.
Jessie: That’s why this was so fun! Juse see and catch up with folks. I love it!