The CFO Journal “Who Is”
Where: CleanChoice Energy was founded as Ethical Electric in 2011 by Tom Matzzie, after discovering the complexities of buying and installing solar panels for his own home. In 2014 it became CleanChoice Energy, to reflect the company’s expanding offerings. CleanChoice allows customers to purchase electricity from green energy sources, without physically changing anything at their home or business. Customers still get power from their utilities, with the promise that their money will go to supporting renewable power sources. CleanChoice has helped their customers avoid 1.9 billions pounds of carbon emissions to date.
Joined: May 2016.
Based: Washington D.C.
Qualifications: John earned a BS in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts, and a MS in Accounting from Bentley University. A rich and varied career of 30 years in financial management followed. He has worked for giants like Constellation NewEnergy, a $10B+ retail gas and electric business, but also with zero revenue startups. More recently, John worked in West Africa as the CFO of the Liberia Electricity Corporation.
Formerly: CFO at Liberia Electricity Corporation; CFO at Truelight Energy; Consultant for Ram Power, Corp; Senior Vice President of Operations at Constellation NewEnergy; Senior Vice President at Provant Inc.; and CFO of The Frontier Group.
In His Own Words
1. What is the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Early in my career, I had a supervisor who encouraged me to always think about what the boss is trying to do and then do what you can to make the boss’ life easier. The immediate benefits are stretching beyond your role and learning a lot in the process. If you are successful, you will free your boss to assume more responsibility and assure his/her success. Aligning yourself with a successful boss has its rewards.
There is also a painful corollary to this rule. I had a manager working for me who was struggling mightily. When I talked to him about what was going on, his biggest pain point was a subordinate who never brought anything to closure. The fact that everything was ninety percent complete left him overwhelmed. Don’t be that subordinate.
2. What would you consider the turning point in your career?
I have been working professionally for more than 30 years. There is no single turning point but rather a series of turning points. Each of them an opportunity to build on what I had done to date and use that experience to access new opportunities. Some examples include –
-Making the transition from public accounting to corporate accounting. I had developed a lot of expertise in accounting and taxation as well as several positive professional relationships. Together these led to opportunities that exposed me to the financial markets through a series of public offerings, as well as several corporate acquisitions.
-Taking an assignment to do planning and integration work in a recently acquired subsidiary of a Fortune 150 company. This assignment gave me significant exposure to the energy business. My energy background then led to a couple of international assignments which gave me exposure to Central America and West Africa.
3. What is the biggest challenge you and/or your team are facing now?
I am currently the second CFO of a start-up business. My predecessor deserves great credit for leading the financial birth of the business. As the business gets bigger, some of the flexible approaches that enabled the start are becoming more challenging. Today, we are looking critically at a lot of the processes in the business and looking to improve their efficiency, integration, and sustainability. This can be challenging since the existing practices are part of a cherished past. That said, we are moving quickly past our corporate birth and adolescence to a more mature organization. As is often the case, you need to be the change or be left behind.
5. How would you describe the culture of your team, and what (if anything) do you do to foster that?
The central part of our culture is a passion to spread renewable energy. We seek to sustain this passion for the cause (and subsequently our business’ growth) by looking for that zeal in every new hire. As the business grows, getting things done right or done in a sustainable way becomes more important than simply getting things done. That cultural shift is difficult, but necessary. The key to success is leadership and guiding the culture to evolve and respond effectively to the changing environment.
4. What is something new you’re excited about in the coming year?
We will secure another round of financing and launch a second line of business in the next twelve months. All the while, we will be strengthening the business already in place. Any one of the initiatives would be exciting, doing all three will be exciting cubed!
Industry Rundown: The switch to renewable energy
Renewable energy saw another record year in 2017, with a 29% increase in solar capacity and a 30% increase in offshore wind worldwide. Nevertheless, the United States contributed just 14% of global investment in renewables, lagging behind Europe and China. Much of this investment has been driven by private corporations that, despite the US’ exit from the Paris climate deal, are continuing to honor the agreement. While this is partly good PR, wind and solar prices continue to fall, which means it is also good business.
Similarly, communities, small businesses and families are looking for energy alternatives for both moral and financial reasons. Increasingly, utilities are offering customers the option to pay for a green energy mix using renewable energy credits (RECs). Others, like CleanChoice Energy, specialize in renewable energy solutions, whether via RECs or direct access. Other US companies with a renewable energy focus include Green Mountain Energy, 3 Phases Renewables, Momentum Solar, Champion Energy Services, Puget Sound Energy, and Cypress Creek Renewables.
Recently, CleanChoice Energy has set itself apart for both consumers and workers. In 2017 the company was named one of the best places to work by the Washing Business Journal and, just a few weeks ago, it announced the launch of CleanChoice Community Solar. This platform will connect people with local solar projects, with online signup and no upfront fees or installation.
Photo by Gustavo Quepón on Unsplash