Our very own Chief Executive Officer, David Bywater, is passionate about building enduring companies and winning the fights that truly matter. Brett Pinegar, host of the Seeking Excellence podcast, recently interviewed David about his role as CEO at Vivint Solar and how the leadership lessons he has learned throughout his career have prepared him to disrupt an entire industry.
Here are some highlights from David’s interview with Brett:
Passion and Sense of Purpose at Vivint Solar
Brett: Tell me a little bit about the company.
David: “At Vivint Solar we're trying to change the world. We're trying to bring green energy in a cost-effective way, to get rid of a lot of the pollution that we have today. I love the passion that we have at our company. Out of all the companies I've been associated with, I've never felt like I was changing the world, one household at a time.”
David discussed how rewarding it is to talk with his children about his work with solar because what he’s fighting to change in the energy industry is so important. Although there is broad bipartisan support for renewable energy in the United States, clean energy advocates like David still face opposition from large utilities and traditional energy lobbies. “[My kids] are literally like, ‘Are you winning or losing?’ And, ‘Dad, it's too important not to win.’"
Lessons In Leadership
Brett: Talk a little bit about your first introductions to leadership.
David: “I’ve always considered myself really fortunate, because I’ve had great mentors. From the first days, Steve DeLano at Monitor taught me a lot about failure to be honest with you. And probably one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in leadership is that failure is a really good tool, it’s a great teaching tool, and to not be afraid of it.”
Luckily for the future of sustainable energy, David has plenty of experience with effective leadership - and a commitment to doing things the right way. He explains how one of his professors at Harvard Business school introduced him to the idea of the “tyranny of OR” versus the “genius of AND,” and says it’s been a life motto for him ever since. “We can achieve our numbers AND do it the right way,” he told Brett.
Under David’s leadership, Vivint Solar’s customer base has grown to over 132,000 across 21 states. It was also named a Best Company to Work For by Glassdoor and Business Insider and this year won four Stevie Awards for excellent customer service. David has also forged relationships with industry leaders like ChargePoint, LG Chem and Vivint Smart Home to streamline a whole energy ecosystem for Vivint Solar customers. Every company success brings David closer to his goal to change the world by making it easier for consumers to choose zero-emissions electricity.
Creating a Culture of Innovation
Brett: What do you do, culturally, to create an environment where failure is not only understood but valued as long as you’re failing forward?
David: “I think it starts from the top. You gotta talk about it, you have to let people know that we’re after full potential...and they’ll still do it within the confines of numbers and budget, but they find ways to fund their innovation...When you learn about innovation after the fact you're like, OK, I think I have a culture of this. And, I think, if you're not seeing that, you should ask yourself, ‘Have I created a culture of fear to experiment?”
David says he strives to follow Steve Jobs’ advice to change the world by “thinking different” - something Vivint Solar does well. David explained his practice of Frontline Fridays to encourage creative thinking throughout the company and to help him stay in touch with day-to-day operations. Every Friday, he spends part of his day doing frontline jobs with his employees - sales, installations, customer service calls and so on - to see how the work is done and what kinds of innovations team members have created to do it better.
In a rapidly-changing field like solar, cultivating a space for employees to innovate and excel in new ways is vital to success - and seeing creative solutions is something David says he loves about being a leader.
Vivint Solar employees will vouch for the supportive culture of innovation. “I like how visionary and inspirational the leadership is, and how they rely on their employees for great solutions to problems,” says a senior instructional designer.
Staying in the Lead
It’s easy to see why David, with his passion for innovation and improvement, is a force for good in advancing clean, sustainable energy. To maintain the drive he needs to stay on top of such a rapidly changing industry, David says he focuses on why he does what he does: his family. “It’s about knowing your ‘why,’” he says. “I work hard for my family.”
More About David
Outside of leading a top solar provider and spending time with his family, David also serves on the board of Youthlinc, a Utah non-profit organization that offers local and international service experiences to young people. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
To watch or listen to the full interview with David, check out the Seeking Excellence Podcast.