The Beam interview series, edition 44: Thierry Lepercq
CleanTechnica publishes some of The Beam interviews and opinion pieces every week. The Beam magazine takes a modern perspective on the energy transition, interviewing inspirational people from around the world that shape our sustainable energy future.
Possessed with an insight that recognized the true power of solar as a future tenet of energy, Thierry Lepercq founded Solairedirect in 2006. Armed with the knowledge that the cost of photovoltaic technology would decrease over time, he pushed the solar agenda to grow Solairedirect into a solar power company that operates across four continents. In 2015, the company joined the ENGIE group as a way to accelerate its international development, and as part of the group Lepercq was appointed Executive Vice President in charge of Innovation at ENGIE in 2017. He now leads a host of startups, using his talent as a disruptor to help steer them on the path to success. We spoke with Thierry to get an insight into how he got to where he is today, and where he is going next.
I think it’s amazing that Engie took you in to lead a host of startups, and it’s a breakthrough solution, in my opinion. What can you say about that decision — where it came from and what you’re planning to do in the role?
The first origin of all that is a person, and that person is our CEO, Isabelle Kocher, who took over a year ago. She has the raw vision, the vista, that says ‘The world of energy is entering a revolution.’ She doesn’t use the word ‘transition’ any more, she uses the word ‘revolution.’ It’s her term, and the way it’s translating is into putting together a team at an executive committee level. She said she needs people with different backgrounds, and in order to match what is necessary on a technology side it has to be an entrepreneur. I was in the group having sold my company Solairedirect to Engie, and she asked me to join.
What do you think she saw in you?
I’m a disruptor, which is not always an easy thing to be. At the same time, if you’re a disruptor you know how to align interests, which is necessary. In a large organization you always need to understand what is at stake — the big objectives. We’re talking about 150,000 people and 200 years of history. You can’t just say “Hey, this doesn’t exist,” quite to the contrary. If you leverage, if you have the entrepreneurial drive and leverage on it, then there’s no limit.
Where did your revolutionary, disruptive style come from and how has it guided your career?
The first company I started was in 1999. I had previously worked with technology entrepreneurs for a number of years, and listed their companies. At one point they told me I should start my own company. I said I was in banking, and no one starts businesses in banking!
You came from banking?
Yes, technology finance was my first thing. Then it was innovation consulting with the second firm I started, and then solar power. I teamed up with some great people who knew about solar and we put together a team which is still running 11 years after it was founded.
What is that drives you in your work, what’s the endgame?
It’s changing the world. The incredible feeling that we had in the late 1990s with the internet bubble was that we were changing the world. Not to become rich, but to change things for the better. This is a conviction that I’ve always had. When I got bumped into solar PV 12 years ago I realized that it was the only electronic form of energy generation, and that it was Moore’s Law in operation. From then it was an easy call to say that the most expensive energy source would in due course be the least expensive one. I even wrote about it, and people said I was a visionary, but I said I wasn’t and that I had just looked at it and understood.
Did you have a tech interest?
I’m not a geek, I’m not among the early adopters. I’m fascinated by it from a sociological standpoint, but what I want is impact. I always remember discussions I had personally with Bill Clinton in 2012 at the Clinton Global Initiative. I had the privilege of having a personal one-to-one discussion with him for over 20 minutes, he’s an incredible person. He was talking about impact, and he said “What we’re doing is impacting 400 million people.” Well, that’s impact, that’s changing people’s lives. When Solairedirect won the first competitive bidding in India in 2011 at super low prices the Indian press said “Solairedirect is bringing solar power to the common man.” That was impact too.
Interview by Zachary Shahan
Watch the interview here.