Ben Robinson, business development manager at BayWa r.e. Solar Systems Ltd, shares his experiences of the sector
Ben Robinson, business development manager at BayWa r.e. Solar Systems Ltd
How did you land your current job?
Before my current role I was a director at Dulas Ltd and was part of a board of directors that went through the process of divesting the wholesale part of the business to one of the major German distributors as it was going to need significant investment and time to be able to compete with them. They in turn were owned by BayWa r.e. – so I had a good knowledge of the sector and business already and applied for the business development manager role when I saw it advertised.
What has helped you get where you are in your career?
Enthusiasm, ambition and effort! In my last role I started as a trainee on a six-month placement but eventually worked my way up to director level, helping to shape and grow the company and develop the brand. Being in the industry and involved in Solar PV since 2000 means that I have lots of experience in the ups and downs of the industry and stop start nature of the market.
Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers in sustainability?
Perseverance, patience and a keen eye for opportunity! The sector is still up against it with reduced fossil fuel based electricity prices and difficult market conditions due to changing policies. In the long run we are inevitably going to have to rely on renewables for our energy so it’s just a matter of time.
What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way?
The occasional colleague who might not have had the same vision and needed convincing as to my way of thinking, the reliance on government support and therefore often stop start nature of various grant and incentive schemes without the strong legislative commitment to ensure targets/legal/C02 reduction requirements are met.
What stages of your career have been the most challenging?
Proving my worth in the early days and having to work very hard for very long hours due to office locations with limited budgets. Joining BayWa r.e. after the 2012 FiT cut and having to demonstrate in a much reduced market that I was able to bring in new business and products that would prove successful in the long run.
The most rewarding?
Succeeding in presenting the company/brand even with tight budgets by applying imaginative design ideas; beating larger, better resourced competitors in securing significant contracts with major clients; exceeding personal goals/milestones significantly and growing a successful business and respected brand.
What is key to getting the most out of your team?
Ensuring that they know they are indeed in a team with everyone working towards a common goal, demonstrating a strong work ethic, providing strong leadership and support when required, empowering team members with responsibility and ownership, encouraging innovative thinking, providing training and teaching when required and encouraging career development and opportunity.
What have been the ground-breaking instances or milestones in the solar installation industry that have really changed the way you have to work and how did you adapt to these events?
The introduction of the Low Carbon Building Programme Phase 2 and securing Framework Supplier Status with the government alongside major utility companies by teaming up with smaller installers to secure the position. The introduction of Feed in Tariffs and the step change that brought to the industry and therefore the need to divest at the right time due to aggressive, strong competition before the value was lost. Significant increase in competition due to the FiT and requirement of appropriate products to meet the market demands.
What qualifications have been necessary/most beneficial in your career?
Having an industrial design degree helped secure my traineeship and meant I could cover technical drawing and design but it has also been the experience I gained from learning from colleagues and growing with the market that has helped me progress in my career.
Have you had much continuing professional development, has this been useful?
I have been through all kinds of training, from ISO, management, health and safety for directors and finance for directors, to technical presentations from manufacturers. I have also regularly attended sites to see first-hand how things are done in real life situations and have hands-on experience with installation procedures.
Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?
Solar PV is now mainstream so everything has changed – from the technology to the kind of companies involved and people are aware of the technology now and have seen systems first hand whereas in the early 2000’s no one would understand what you did for a living!
What does the future have in store for your industry – choppy waters ahead? Or a fruitful and secure future?
Choppy waters for sure in the short term due to significant FiT cuts, weakening legislation, market consolidation and lack of investor confidence but over time the costs will continue to fall and fossil fuels will diminish and as we are a company that is in it for the long term we have to sit tight and weather the storm…..whatever its name is!