Claudia Wentworth has vivid memories of her three kids sitting in front of the television at home while they put metal nuts and bolts in small plastics bags. The image captures the self-funded beginnings of the solar mounting company Quick Mount PV.
Wentworth and her husband at the time, Stuart Wentworth, founded the Walnut Creek, Calif.-based company in 2006. The two worked to develop and manufacture Quick Mount PV’s primary patented technology, which is aimed at stopping the roof leaks that can happen over time as a result of drilling holes to attach the hardware needed to keep a solar system in place.
The innovation that the company developed was the ability to create a waterproofing barrier around an elevated bolt that helps lock down a solar system to a roof.
Although the Wentworths have gone separate ways in their personal lives, Claudia Wentworth remains CEO of Quick Mount PV. Under her leadership, the company has seen more than 20 percent growth year over year, and brought in more than $20 million in sales last year.
Today, Wentworth is looking to change the way solar installation is done. “I personally want to bring the price of solar down a minimum of $1 a watt,” she said.
To accomplish such a task, Wentworth has created a mounting system that does away with the traditional rail-based system that requires four layers – roof, mount, rail and panels. Instead, she has built a system where installers can attach solar panels directly to the base mounts using clamps. Wentworth says the approach increases the speed of solar installations and decreases the price of materials and shipping costs.
While Wentworth has pushed Quick Mount PV forward, she has also spoken publicly about the experience of being a female leader working across two male-dominated industries, solar and manufacturing. In a candid moment, Wentworth spoke last month on a solar women’s leadership webinar about dealing with men who wouldn’t take her business negotiations seriously.
SolarEnergy.net spoke with Wentworth about her plans to bring the cost of solar down, and the challenges she has faced doing business when she is the only woman in the room. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the major stumbling block mounting and installation companies face in the race to make rooftop solar faster and cheaper?
There are so many repetitive points throughout the entire process. To get an installation done you start with the acquisition of the customer and you move it silo by silo, through design and engineering, the permitting processes, procurement and delivery, and installation. And then you have the long-term maintenance cycle to maintain. As well, there is financing that might get tied into all that. Where companies waste time and money is they keep repeating the exact same process again, and again and again.
What’s your approach for changing the solar installation paradigm?
As a businessperson, I realize that historically we have put all these things in different silos, and we have this department and that department, this process and that process, much of it repetitive within each silo. How we commonly approach business efficiencies is we keep trying to drill down the cost within each silo.
I’ve taken a look at it from a broad perspective to see how we can refine the system of all processes of an installation. What a company would typically have to touch three, four or five times, we have refined the process down to being able to touch that portion of the project just once.
What have you and your company been working on to streamline solar installation?
One of the things that I’ve been really taking seriously is how can we make things happen live, in real time, utilizing technology, allowing the solar project to live in the cloud so it can be updated and changed at any time when necessary.
For example, our newest solar roof mounting hardware product that we just released is for rail-free mounting, called Quick Rack. It has a design and engineering software tool that we are just releasing online. You log in, and you design and engineer your system to an actual rooftop. You can design on a dimensional diagram or via satellite image. It then downloads all the building codes and fire codes for that area. So via ZIP code, it will define what is the egress needed for fire, what is the wind zone, what is the snow load, and bring all of that information into the variables used to engineer the system. Then it will spit out a bill of materials and all the line drawings. And when you are at the site, if you find there is an obstacle in the way on the rooftop, you can actually redesign on the fly.
You have talked openly about being the only woman in the room at business meetings. What’s been the most difficult aspect of working at the top of two industries where few women hold high-level executive positions?
Feeling intimidated. That’s been the biggest challenge for me. You get into meetings where literally there is a sense of being pushed and intimidated into making a decision. It’s interesting. There are points in time when I choose not to react. I have to go home and sleep on it, and wake up the next day and reassess. Often it ends in, “Nope, nope. It’s not going to go that way.” Sometimes men are just big and full of bravado, and a woman has to stand strong and face it while thinking through all the variables to make a win-win situation.
Where have you sought professional support and feedback?
I’m in the Women Presidents’ Organization and I am lucky enough to sit around a table with about 15 incredibly brilliant, strong women running mid-sized companies. And that’s a huge support for me. It’s candid. It can be tough. But these women are all in similar situations having to make difficult decisions that affect people’s lives.
As CEO you may have to do things that aren’t always liked, understood or appreciated. You have to make hard decisions and be aware of consequences and the potential of collateral damage. It’s all part of being a leader. And that’s where professional support really comes in handy, in making those hard decisions that you can’t really discuss with anybody else. You can discuss long-term or difficult strategic issues with this group of women, all who are having to face, or have had to face these same hard decisions and then work through the outcomes. And their experiences are something really wonderful to learn from.
What advice do you have for women who are experiencing feelings of intimidation as they work to break into an executive level boys’ club?
Do your job and do it well. Believe in your vision. Listen to others. Delegate. At times, you just need to support yourself, trust your own judgment, and make hard decisions and don’t expect to be liked for those decisions. Growth adds a lot of process and structure that needs solid support. Be that solid support. And when you feel intimidated or pushed, strive for clarity, look for the “win-win,” ask plenty of questions and push back. Always check in and find what is genuine in yourself, your belief and truth, and move with that while continuing to keep an open mind and acceptance toward change.
Photos courtesy of Quick Mount PV.