Day in the life of Barbara Flesche, CEO
Barbara Flesche became CEO at Solarcentury in late 2020, having previously led the company’s development and project financing teams. She tells us what makes her tick.
How did you end up working in renewables?
I’m a trained banker and started my career focused on M&A, structured finance and corporate finance. I gained experience of renewables by financing development activities for offshore wind farms in the North Sea.
I thought, if I can structure deals and bank facilities, I might as well structure project finance for renewables and support the energy transition. So I joined a renewables company – one of the pioneers in the industry. Here I structured wind, solar, biomass and hydro projects and ended up focusing on solar – managing global project development, financing and execution.
The execution of every single project – big or small – is still one of the most thrilling moments. I absolutely believe in teams. Getting international team members for a project together, all focused on that one objective, managing solutions for all kind of challenges and being jointly successful is one of the aspects which makes this job absolutely exciting and exceptional – there is no such thing as a boring day.
There are other thrilling aspects of this job; the different requirements and activities, may it be analytical skills for the modelling, communication and strategic skills for negotiation, a little bit of accounting, tax, maths and legal expertise to structure and execute a successful transaction, dealing with different cultures, business approaches and characters.
What was your route into Solarcentury?
My former boss was working with Solarcentury to set up development activities in Germany and he asked me to support him. I had just finished a consulting job developing a route to market strategy and implementing a JV in Japan, and looked forward to an opportunity to work for a British company.
During my consultancy time Solarcentury did a major restructuring, with a larger focus on international development activities. As part of the restructuring process they were looking for somebody to manage global project development and finance activities. With all my years doing nothing else, it looked like I was the right candidate for the role.
Three years – and a few executed deals later – I was asked to take on the role of Deputy CEO and later, CEO. This is an amazing opportunity – continuing the international growth path with all the teams in- the countries and central London seems too good to be true. But here I am – highly motivated and energised to continue the Solarcentury journey, to make a difference in the energy transition and make this world a better place.
What are the typical challenges you face in your role?
My biggest challenge is that often there are not enough hours in the day. Finding the right balance between times for meetings and times to “read – think – conclude”. Meetings with people are a very important part of my job, because it’s only by making time to listen and discuss ideas, situations and proposals that I can get all information and opinions, thoughts and suggestions.
These meetings also allow me to “feel” the emotional status of the teams – is everybody feeling ok? Are they aligned with the strategy? Do they understand process, culture and business approach? What do we need to change? We are active in a very competitive and super-fast-moving market and we need to have an agile, robust and flexible organisation in order to not only survive, but to always be one step ahead of competitors.
And what’s for sure is I also need time to digest it all in order to make the right decisions.
And what about when you are not working?
I have to admit that I really love what I’m doing – partly because it allows me to pursue one of my favourite activities: travelling. I still find it very inspiring to travel to different places and experience different cultures and meet as many people as possible. There is so much to learn and once you’ve seen a few places you realise how blessed we are living in such a healthy and well-organised environment and that this comes along with some responsibility. You can therefore understand that being grounded during Corona has been tough.
Another big thing in my life is food – where does it come from, how to make the best out of it, how to serve it… this includes kitchen appliances! I love to host friends and family and present nice surprise menus.
Unfortunately, that hobby comes with required sport activities in order to keep – at least a little bit – in shape. When I was younger with much more time, I pretty much spent the whole afternoon and weekend playing or coaching hockey. Now, a few years older with less time I prefer sports without moving parts like a hockey ball, and those which allow me flexibility – without a team who rely on you. So I try to run regularly and spend time in the mountains – hiking during the summer and skiing in the winter with my husband.
What’s your recommendation for someone interested in working in solar?
Anyone who wants to be involved in the renewables industry should have a passion for the sector. Irrespective of your training and route into this industry, whether it be engineering, legal, finance and so on, being successful requires flexibility and resilience. It’s a very fast-moving environment. Facing all kinds of challenges almost every day requires agile, out of the box thinking and a creative attitude with strong communication skills. Being a team player is definitely key.
This industry offers the chance to really make a difference. For sure, it’s not the right place to just do a job.