Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The King is dead. Long live the King: Unirac hires a new CEO

I used to work across the room from John Liebendorfer, the founder of Unirac, in the late 1990's.  We were one of many who passed through Zomeworks to start our own solar companies.  John came up with a rack design that was universal.  This clever universal design would accept any bolt pattern.  It overcame the problem of custom punching each rail to match a specific module bolt pattern.  Errors were rampant.  John left Zomeworks & over coffee at Einstein's Bagel asked me if I was interested in helping sell Unirac.  I declined.  My reasoning was that racking represented 5% of the PV system cost but 50% of the parts count.  I figured I was smart focusing on the other 95% revenue and fewer parts.  What I overlooked was that racking had the highest margins in the solar manufacturing.  It's one reason why today so many companies like Conergy are producing their own racking.  Today you make 5% to 10% making modules but to 40% making racking.

When I started in solar it was still headed by dreamers & visionaries like Windy Dankoff & Steve Baer. John Liebendorfer and his partner Hal Newman were the next generation who professionalized management in the solar industry.  John & Hal sold Unirac and the new owners took it to the another level by hiring Doug May from Trace/Xantrex (now Schneider). Unirac is the now the dominant brand in the US market for residential PV racking.  The new Unirac CEO Peter Lorentz has an impressive resume including a seven year stint at McKinsey.

I miss the dreamers & visionaries but not enough to want them back.  Let's keep their vision & passion but we need the clear eyed professionals to help grow the industry and navigate the next decade.

The king is dead.  Long live the King.

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