Interview with Joy Seitz, CEO of American Solar & Roofing | From Policy Wonk to Solar CEO & SEIA's Board Election
In this Green Light episode, Catherine spoke with Joy Seitz, CEO at American Solar & Roofing, about recent solar policy in Arizona & the SEIA Board Election for which Joy has been endorsed by the SEIA Nominating Committee. Arizona is now ranked #5 in the U.S. in terms of installed solar capacity, & with Joy’s 15 years of experience advocating for distributed solar generation in the state, she has lived through all of the ups & downs that it took to get there. Joy also shared how, as CEO, she vets her suppliers to ensure they align with her values like being DEIJ-focused, accountable & kind. Some of her longtime partners that have & continue to align with her company’s values include SMA, Qcells, Malarkey Roofing & BayWa. Joy shared how she is passionate about giving back to the community, including through her work with SEIA, the Environmental Defense Fund & ASU Innovation Open, & why it is critical to do so when in a position of power. Learn more about Joy & American Solar & Roofing: www.americansolarandroofing.com/sustainjoy.
Catherine: Hi, I’m Catherine McLean, Founder and CEO of Dylan Green. And today I have with me Joy Seitsz. Joy is the CEO of American Solar and roofing and she’s joining us from the great state of Arizona. Welcome, Joy.
Joy: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Catherine: So, thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
Joy: Yeah, so I’ve been in the solar industry for 15 years, specifically on the residential DG side came out of lobbying and government relations. And our company is 22 years old. We were the first to grid tie into the city of Phoenix out of the city of Scottsdale been very active in the policy making on the distributed solar side for that 22 years.
Catherine: Prior to becoming CEO, oh, and now CEO of American Solar and roofing you were heavily involved as you mentioned policy work. How did you make your way into the solar industry?
Joy: So when I came into the industry in 2009, in which probably everything in every sector was crashing, except for solar, and so because of my political days and working on campaigns, I had a friend of mine who knew of American and said hey, they’re looking for an assistant manager. of policy. Why don’t you apply? So I did. And lo and behold, I haven’t relaxed since.
So yeah, so I came in on the policy side and worked a lot there and then worked my way up. I became vice president of policy because we were thinking about going into California and they needed a more executive rep for that. And then after we did a buyout of our business partner, it was determined that my skill sets were best to help scale the company and pivot the company into a different direction.
Catherine: Great, and what impact do you think the IRA has had thus far on your business? And like what are some of the key changes whether they be policy related or otherwise that you think needs to happen within solar for it to flourish more?
Joy: Great question. Thank you. I think, for me when I think about the IRA definitely starts with stability. So obviously not having to fight the you know, Cliff, right, the 23% 26% and not having to play the Herky jerky game with our customers and just having consistency is important. I think once you have consistency and the federal government is supporting it anybody who was maybe sitting on the sidelines, which you know, thinking maybe solar isn’t that big of a deal or not that good. Obviously it pulls them off the sidelines and creates credibility, but in general, it definitely just put a mark in the sand. That solar is here to stay and so I feel as though that maybe other sectors that have maybe benefited a little bit more from that, but that’s okay. Every all boats rise. So, my Y and my company is effecting revolutionary change through my employees, my customers in my community. And so if the IRA is going to help the community and then the customers and then ultimately in my employees, that is a perfectly fine solution. So again, having consistency with a 30% tax credit is great having increased you know, having myself buy from q cells so having solar panels be in Georgia, that’s great. You know, our customers love that. So, there are many trickle downs, but a total direct direct effect. I’m still running a day to day company.
Catherine: Right. About a month ago, you made a public comment on the buyback rate for Arizona Public Service and Tucson Electric Power. Can you share more about this?
Joy: Yeah. So it’s unfortunate that we’re having a conversation about it. I think. It was a very heavily debated topic, publicly and online within the docket at the PUC. And so basically what it comes down to is we have a couple of commissioners who believe that they want to open up a value of solar docket and re-discuss a subject matter that really the state and all of the stakeholders who participated in agreed to. So we came together with utilities, with other commissioners, with other stakeholders and we all agreed that what we came up with was exactly how we should go forward for a period of time. And now we just have commissioners that dislike that outcome, just like what previous commissioners had voted on. And so now they’re wanting to reopen it. So my challenge to them was both can be true, right? You can be frustrated at the decisions that are made by somebody else. We get that. For 15 years we are in the business. I’ve heard it from other commissioners that they don’t like to be locked by another decision by another group of people, but challenged them to go to ra plus this year. I said, you know it’s in Vegas. I’m in Arizona. I once hosted another corporation commissioner back in the day and said, Hey, walk the floor with me and they did and I challenge them to do the same, right. This isn’t just a little nimble industry anymore. Right. We’re now talking about the federal administration in the Biden administration in the Congress, investing $500 billion into our sector, and come and see what your talk we’re talking about. And this isn’t little Arizona anymore, and they had an opportunity to have an opportunity and they still have an opportunity because the decision isn’t made yet but they have an opportunity to see that this is really a global opportunity, focusing on Arizona and that’s what I’m really encouraging them to reframe the conversation. It’s not about me anymore. It’s about economic development. Right? It is about onshoring opportunities. It is about making it a viable opportunity for Arizona. What conservative chambers have been wanting, or industry can now provide that. So that’s my challenge. So yeah, that’s why I provided that back at the Commission about a month ago.
Catherine: And what did they think? I’m curious. Were they amazed by the amount of like people and everything that was going on when you took them?
Joy: I don’t think that I don’t know because they really never play their poker hand. I think that they were I you know, I think, again, they’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater, right? They’re saying like, hey, customers who are coming you know, making comments to the docket like you’re protected.
But at the same time, they get frustrated that they can’t get more comments from people who aren’t impacted yet. And it’s like, you’re not going to get comments from people who don’t understand the process. Right? Well, that’s a fourth branch of government, right? So stop thinking that people are going to stop their days of working, taking care of their children and doing their lives to pay attention to something that may or may not impacts them. So again, both are true that they get frustrated. They were overwhelmed by they had to have been overwhelmed by the amount of comments, but they were like, Oh, don’t pay attention to those comments, because the people in the future could be impacted, didn’t comment, so then maybe they just don’t know. So that’s an unfortunate reality that we’ve dealt with at RPC for since I’ve been here. Since 2009.
Catherine: You’ve talked about how it’s important to vet your suppliers to ensure that they align with your company values. Who are your key partners in why so for example, I know you work closely with SMA and Malarkey Roofing, tell me a little bit more.
Joy: So my core values with my company is hunger for achievement, search for knowledge, fearlessly kind, positively accountable. Those are very real conversations when I have an opportunity as a CEO and a female CEO, I don’t have to report to anyone just like you. Right? We get to do it exactly how we want to do it. I don’t have a board member. I don’t have another business partner. I don’t have anybody else in which I have to ask permission. And that’s a powerful portfolio position. That is a powerful position for me to be in, in the sense that every decision that I make is my legacy and I’m making it. I’m making it solely so when I was given the challenge to save my company and quite honestly saved the industry from a death spiral. I just really decided that I wanted to do it on my terms. And so I really do believe you vote with your dollar. I challenge my customers that when they invest in me they invest in everything else that I do. They invest in my community work they invest in my relationships to see if they invest in me having conversations with you. And so I feel the same way about my manufacturers. So when I’m speaking with my manufacturers, I want them to hit the same core values as me on really being forward looking on really setting up an opportunity, even if I’m not here. My customers are going to be protected. If they’re not here. How can I put their product in how they are going to be protected? So I do really deep dives into their warranties.
So SMA has been our partner for nearly 15 years. They’re conservative, they’re thoughtful. They not here for the quick come and go right. They’re not like venture capital funded and in and out they go. And so as Malarkey, Malarkey is my roofing or my roofing product and are hugely committed to sustainability long before anybody else was. Their warranty is great again, if I’m not around, that’s okay. You know, the customers can still be supported by that product. And so it just really is hyper focused on giving my money to the right people for the longevity of our industry, solar and roofing and for the credibility to give construction a good name. And we have a fly by night persona. I just refuse to play in that game.
Catherine: Yeah. I really love that. Like your focus is your legacy. I think if more people thought like that, like what is what are the decisions that I’m making now? Like what are the ramifications of that both in the short, medium, but long term right? One of the things I always say to candidates when I’m trying to help them write their resume is not what are your responsibilities, but like if you what are your achievements, like if you left tomorrow? What would your company be like? Oh, really gonna miss that she did that or they did that, that sort of legacy that you’re leaving behind? And that’s how you should write your resume.
Joy: Yeah, that just gave me I still have goosebumps on my legs. Yeah, absolutely. That’s absolutely I couldn’t have said it best. So that’s exactly how you would want how I would want my employees to feel too. So yeah, it’s perfect.
Catherine: You’re a vocal proponent of greater DEIJ initiatives within the industry. What are some of the ways you’re facilitating this within your own company? So whether it be through recruiting, as we’ve mentioned, executive training, mentorship programs, and supplier diversity, for example.
Joy: Thank you. I’ll start from the end buyer to buyer diversity. I partnered up with BayWa a number of years ago and there’s a great rep over there, Kim. She was my first rep. That was the first time I got to buy from a female. I was like, this is beautiful. They didn’t carry the modules that I had that I wanted. I pushed my team and I said, I don’t care that they don’t have the modules we want. They have a culture that I want and I want to work with a woman so we’re moving to BayWa.
And BayWa’s probably internal staff know to this day that if they came sadly isn’t my she’s still a BayWa but she’s not my rep anymore. I have Christine but they probably all know that if they tried to give me a male rep it wouldn’t work out. So they know if they want American soldiers money that they better keep a female rep online. And so we could joke about that to this day. And they’re amazing partners of mine. Again, we really aligned on the same core values and the long term success of our industry.
And then yeah, then going to internal hiring practices. I was just hiring for a warehouse manager and I saw a name that came across and I thought it was a female. But it ended up being a male. So you know universal names. Resume wasn’t the best Not gonna lie. But because it was a female applying for a male dominated industry. That doesn’t mean that I was gonna have to hire her. I decided I wanted to give her the time to interview with me, right? And at least say something like, Am I missing many things as you just said, if they don’t have you on your side writing a really good resume, right? There could be things that I’m missing and so I am extremely intentional on if a female candidate applies for it. I’m going to call or I pushed my team to call and I was very intentional on wanting to have diversity in the leadership level and we’ve achieved that.
I have scorecards, basically KPIs that are tracked within my company, on a weekly basis. DEIJ is a scorecard number of increasing diversity within it. So it’s important that we are hiring people that don’t look even like me. So I mean, I do focus on increasing females, but we need more diversity and it’s just, again, it’s just I don’t want to do it any other way. It’s just like the right thing to do. It’s what I do. I want more voices. I feel like I just really dawned on me that I’m 46 years old, like I’m really like, Okay, I’m 46 I’m almost 50 it dawned on me even the gentleman who was helping me set all this up, he’s in his early 20s like, like that alone is diversity within a culture, right. And so, it’s just important that, there’s a lot of heated conversations, and I would also feel as though that people especially like white men, like they don’t even know what to say if they want to be an ally. They don’t even know what to say. And as I was talking to another peer of mine, we’re all feeling that right like I am not a gay person. I am not you know, I do not fall in LGBTQ+. So I have to create space, but if at the same time if it’s a male who is you know, is LGBTQ+, he doesn’t know my story as a female so he has to create space for me and I have to create space for him and we just have to be kinder and just create space for stories. I’m going to share mine with you. It’s just a matter of understanding and it’s a matter of creating a culture that people feel safe to do so.
Catherine: Yeah. You know, I think it’s a really good point. Like so many different levels and also like a lot, just for your time out of the LGBTQ community, like a lot of things aren’t obvious about what makes someone diverse, right? Like someone could be half Chinese, but look white, like you don’t have any idea what someone’s story is, like you said or what their sexual orientation is and you know, it’s up to them to want to share that with you if at all right and like right in that sort of safe space where they feel like they can do that, I think is really kind of key.
Joy: And sorry, and I try to be the dumb person in the room who talks about things and like abruptly kind of rips the band aid off. I’m like, so who only likes the patriarchy for the horses. You know what I mean? Like, which camp comes out of the Barbie movie? I talk about my period all the time, just to de-stigmatize what it feels in front of all my male counterparts. Just to de stigmatize what it feels like to be a female. Can you believe that every day my, my hormones change and you want me to stay consistent? Like, that’s not even fair. Don’t even ask me to do that. Just just be like, Oh, I don’t even think about that. Right? Yeah, that’s, that is how I create my culture. You know, it’s just, I just like, just I jack the whole thing up, so that everybody can be like well, not gonna say it as bluntly or as crazy or as weird as Joy says it, but now I know that I can say it to some degree.
Catherine: Sure, sure. My best friend works in investment banking, and she’s always going on and on about menopause. But I feel like it’s such an enormous part, like a huge chunk of like a woman’s life that is really in upheaval. You had kids like it’s the next big thing, kind of thing, is not talked about at all, it’s not any time out, you know to deal with it.
Joy: Right and I’m and its occurring to me, I’m 10 years, I’m 11 years removed from having a kid and I still have a period. And now I’m like, Why didn’t I get a reprieve? Why wasn’t the system built like you could just be like, okay, layover party time and then like go into menopause. No, you just go from one journey into another. So yeah, I mean, it’s just an interesting and I just I love, I love being an owner of my company so that I know that I am allowed to say that and destigmatize it so that other females can hear me say it and feel like oh, Whoa, I can say that. And I can think that way and like, yep, you can.
Catherine: I’m on this thing lately, where I’m 43 so I’m three years younger than you and I’m like, as long as I’m still having one. I guess I should be thankful that I’m still young.
Joy: So I’m in full gratitude that it exists, which is a whole other podcast. But yes, I feel the same way. Yeah, I actually use it now as a business tool. Again, another podcast another time.
Catherine: Where are we? Let’s see. Here. You are fairly involved in your community, including a recent Environmental Defense Fund event, an ASU’s innovation open you attended. How important do you think it is for businesses and business leaders to give back to the community?
Joy: I think it’s my number one job and again, as I’ve said a few times, I am privileged enough to live in America. And leverage all of the opportunities that are given to businesses. Now granted small businesses poof, I can’t believe I’m as regulated as big, big, big businesses, right? But nonetheless, is an opportunity that I have. I gives me joy, it gives me pleasure. It is my why, it is my it is everything that I do so I don’t to tell me that you don’t give back. It doesn’t even like … that doesn’t even… it’s like telling me the sky’s you know, green. You know what I mean? Or pink. I don’t understand why folks don’t give back and again, it’s because I am granted the privilege to sit at the seat. And I also believe that it keeps you humble. It keeps me humble. It keeps me connected. It keeps me listening. It keeps me engaging. It keeps me young. It keeps me if I ever was like yeah, people should invest in my company. I don’t have investors in my company, but it keeps me alive and it keeps me paying attention to the next thing. You can’t just be like I’m in solar forever and ever. I’m going to conferences now about AI. I’m going to conferences now about cybersecurity. I’m going to conferences that are completely outside of solar, because if all I’m doing is running a company and it just so happens that I’m in the you know, solar industry in the roofing industry, but it all overlays. So it makes me a better CEO. It makes me a better community person and it fills my joy. And I would honestly feel like a greedy human if I wasn’t participating in my community.
Catherine: What are some of the ways that you give back to the community?
Joy: I answer their phone calls all of the time.
Catherine: So I’m going to candidates!
Joy: Yes, exactly. I answer their phone calls all of the time. I provide my feedback. I provide my advice if they hey Joy do you know somebody? Yes, I do. I always warn them I’m like look, you can’t just like have me go to all these meetings and then not ask me to do things like you need to get you need to get me in and get me out. So I’m not I’m not there for the long haul. Board meetings and checking a box. I always ask those folks how can I serve you? So I bid from money to exposure to connections on like, like during Veterans Day I sent an email to all of my customers and said, hey during the Veterans Day, please get back to these local you know, not I don’t I don’t know them from I don’t know them. I’ve never met those people. But I went to my own Facebook page and said, Hey, who are the local veterans or nonprofits that y’all think that I should be supporting. And they said This one. And I said, okay, and then I sent them out to my 25,000 connections through my CRM and promoted them. I have a platform. It is critical for me to use it.
Catherine: I feel so strongly about that. I really do like when you do have that sort of social media standpoint, and you can make a difference like it’s just just by writing a few words like so valuable. So the last question I have for you is there’s quite a lot of excitement and buzz in the industry with the new with the, I wouldn’t say new, but the election coming out for SEIA board members. You’ve been a SEIA board member for two years, so a relatively newbie and you’ve been endorsed by the nominating committee. So tell us why you think you should be elected again.
Joy: Okay, thank you. Well, I am a newbie so I am there just there are three elected seats on the SEIA board. So written in the bylaws there are three elected seats. You can hold two two year terms. And that’s it. So I just did my first term and now I’m going to my second and final term. Why I should be elected? I should be elected just because of everything that I just said. I have been sitting in that seat for two years. There’s a handful of us owners, right who sit at the table. A lot of people have large corporations. I’m not seeing your Qcell CEO, right, let’s be honest, or Solar Edge CEO, or there’s many large corporations that sit on that board and the CEOs aren’t showing up. Which is fine. They have bigger things to do. I get that. But I do bring, because of me being a CEO, I am able to speak maybe more honestly right? I don’t have to, again with all due respect to a line of something. I am able if there is a heated debate coming up, I don’t have to be like oh, what’s my boss gonna say if I say this is. Is this what the company wants or not like I know what the company wants because I am the company.
So I bring a different variety to that. I’m also a female, there is not a lot of diversity on there. So that’s important. I also am very heavily involved in Arizona. Arizona, as we just kind of commented about right, being involved in my community. And going to the event with Mark Kelly our senator about the one year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, right. We think that everything that SEIA teaches me from utility scale to manufacturing, to community solar to, everything down and all of the issues that they all contend with. I learned and I’m a sponge and I bring that back. I met AAMCO, a large manufacturing developer at SIEA, he said hey, come and do a tour. I took my time I did my tour, I don’t buy their product, their you know their large tractors in a field that’s not my jam right now but it was important for me again to take what I learned in DC or wherever our board is and then bring it back to Arizona and then promote other organizations and other stakeholders who are involved in this conversation.
Because the Inflation Reduction Act is now something we have to fight for, as we talked about it in our last board meeting. This is like Obama Care, Right? universal health care. As soon as I got past, it was ready for the attack. And Abby the executive director of SEIA is like this is when our work begins. And it’s like, absolutely. We have to live in gratitude of what the administration has done and what Congress has done. At the same time we have to understand that the industry could mess it up or Congress could mess it up like anybody can mess it up. Now we have to cherish it. And I feel as though that my work with SEIA and bringing it back to Arizona, a swing state, is a very critical piece of the puzzle.
And that’s why I feel like I’m an excellent board member is that I don’t just go there, see how it can help me and then come back to my organization. I figured out all the things I could do for the entities involved in the sectors involved of solar and storage, and I bring it back to Arizona.
Catherine: I think it’s such a good point. You’re almost like representing a state rather than representing just one company. And I think that going back to your original point about being women and diversity on the board, I think there’s also just some diversity in geography. Right. You know, like there’s so much activity going on, as we were saying earlier in Arizona. It’s just such a vital voice to be involved in this sort of conversation.
Joy: Yeah. And if anybody finds me on LinkedIn for this couple of weeks I promote endorsements. So I went out to people and said, hey, in my local area will you promote? Will you endorse me and my candidacy? And I do that obviously, because content matters, but really I do it because whether I win or I lose, I love Arizona, the more I travel, and I come back into Arizona, I love my mayor Kate Gallego. I love Cory, I love everyone and everything that everybody does in Arizona. And I just want to also take this time in this platform because SEIA has done an amazing job of growing. I just want to take this time to spotlight Arizona and everything that we’ve done and we’re open for business right? I’m just super passionate about that. And so, this election has allowed me to promote some of my fun allies and friends who I’ve been in the trenches with for nearly 15 years and and will be longer whether I win or lose in Arizona fighting the good fight.
Catherine: Well, that’s great, too. I mean, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. I really wish you all the best with the election and everything that you’re doing for your company in your state in our industry.
Joy: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.