How do you Deputy-CEO? / Nicole Kuepper-Russell @ 5B
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Over the past 6 six months, I've interviewed 15 CEOs to learn how to do my job better.
It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my own professional development and I hated the idea of keeping all the insights to myself. They all kindly agreed to share our candid conversations so that we can all learn from each other.
This is the second last interview.
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#15 Nicole Kuepper-Russell / Deputy-CEO @ 5B
How do you Deputy-CEO?
Chris (CEO) and I have known each other for 17 years and worked together for 2.5 years. We have enormously complementary skills.
Chris generates and advocates a really long-term vision of product and expertise in delivering technology on commercial solar projects. He’s an inventor, a tinkerer, a real technologist.
I cut my teeth in technology - with a PhD in device-level photovoltaics - and then I built a whole different and complementary set of skills with 10 years in management consulting. Having seen both sides of this - the deeply technical and the highly commercial - I feel as though in this role I’ve really landed in a place that plays to my strengths. What I love doing, and what I do well, is crystallising stories and strategies, to help build consensus and momentum, and liaising with internal and external stakeholders.
I’ve always been passionate about trying to add as much value as I can but have never been particular about my title. I started as Global Strategic Advisor for a couple of hours a week, then became Chief Strategy Officer, then Chief Operations Officer and now Deputy CEO. Obviously, this is a pretty unusual role in some ways, but what’s important to me about it is that I can use a wide set of skills, basically doing whatever the business needs me to, to serve the ambition that I share with so many people here to accelerate the deployment of solar globally.
My top three responsibilities:
Securing funding for the business - at the end of 2022 we finalised the second tranche of our Series B and welcomed bp ventures as strategic investors.
Driving critical proof points as we scale - right now, my focus is to build our first 100MW solar project.
Building a high-performance team - we have an incredible mission that’s hugely attractive to a lot of people - as leaders and managers, we need to help people thrive in what is a dynamic business in a high-growth industry.
Looking ahead to our Series C, we have set a range of critical proof points, and part of my job is to be the thought partner/coach/friendly challenger to the executives who own the delivery of each of those outcomes.
How do you set strategy?
My mind tends to go to the big picture and to complement that, I have to surround myself with people who love details. My personal process is to think about an extraordinary outcome in the long term, and then work back - what do we want 2030 to look like? What does that mean we need to achieve by 2025? If we want to get there, what milestones do we need to achieve over the next 12 months? When it gets to the quarter-by-quarter level, that’s where I stop and others work out what needs to happen.
As a business, we try to focus on what is really important - on the top three things that matter (i.e. sales, product development and critical project proof points) and make sure we’re all driving to what adds the most value. We have also learnt the need to adapt - last year we faced a number of significant headwinds and we needed to pivot our strategy as we learnt what was and wasn’t working. We now ensure that we’re wedded to the outcome but not to the method of how we get there (and have become experts in developing Plans A through J).
How do you communicate the strategy?
We’ve tried lots of different ways as people absorb information differently.
I’m very visual. For example - I created a Series B pitch deck with blank squares for pictures. I label each square as “5B Mavericks assembled in Asia”, “Next Generation 5B Maverick product released”, “5B Mavericks on the ground in Chile, US, Europe, India”, etc and throughout the year as pictures came through I put them in their placeholders. It was enormously rewarding for the whole business and quite easy to track progress visually.
We now also have our strategy on one page with our Series C milestones on it. Everyone in the business can talk to that one page. It is the anchor that we use in all of our communication and we use it fortnightly in our All-hands company-wide meetings and quarterly in our Board meetings. In addition to that, each part of the business has its own slide pack that sits behind its section of the strategy that they use on a more frequent basis.
We also have a quarterly dashboard that we use across the business where we track metrics against our three pillars with traffic lights on progress:
Where to Play
How to Win
How do you set goals?
We’ve tried month-by-month, week-by-week, bottom-up and top-down OKRs.
We’ve done them all.
We don’t have OKRs currently and for this quarter, as we haven’t been able to make OKRs usable for us yet.
When we tried it, we had a hundred goals that were not usable.
We have not nailed this into a monthly and quarterly cadence.
Different parts of the business do it differently.
I’d be very curious to learn from other businesses.
For us right now, we focus on the long-term / end-of-next-year vision.
That’s where we use the dashboard for key business metrics.
We check quarterly whether each initiative is on or off track.
How do you communicate sensitive information?
The feedback from the team is that we’re overly transparent in the business, especially Chris and I. We share a lot of what is and isn’t going well i.e. capital markets, fundraising, sales, etc
All sorts of capital and supply chain challenges meant we had to refocus on the core and had to stop other expansion plans in 2022. Making a number of roles redundant in the business was very hard. We moved through that with as much compassion and support as possible (including providing help to land new roles) and tried to treat others as we would like to be treated. But it was tough. Business is hard after something like that and it took time to bounce back. But we got through the hard times, and now, as we hit critical milestones like closing our Series B at the end of 2022, we can properly celebrate.