October 29th, 2010

Why Are There No 24-Year-Old CEOs in Cleantech?

Chris Williams

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The question hit me two weeks ago. Why are there no – well, virtually none, as I can’t thing of any off the top of my head – ridiculously young CEOs of cleantech companies? The thought came to me while I was watching The Social Network. The film I’m sure most of you have heard about, about the network that we’re almost all on, Facebook. Mark Zuckerburg is 24, and he’s managed to stay CEO since he started the organization. It made me think, with all the interest in renewable energy, cleantech, and green building from young people, why do we not have as famous young CEOs yet?

Cleantech vs Tech Leadership

In Boston, there is both a huge tech scene and cleantech scene. Both groups are equally passionate, numerous and filled with both youth and lets say more experienced professionals alike. However, when you look at the tech scene its not uncommon to see a company comprised mainly of individuals under 30 in the whole company and in management roles. While on the cleantech side, you don’t notice the same trend.

The conclusion, albeit not a huge one is; tech, was and still is inventing an industry. Being young actually gives you an advantage over someone who is 20 or 30 years older then you because as a youngster, we ‘get it’, the internet that is. Why is Mark Zuckerburg still the CEO, because with 6 years of experience, he knows the most about social networking.

Unlike Tech, Cleantech is Mature Industries Gaining a Green Tint

With the increased interested and buzz around cleantech, renewable energy, and green building, it may seem like we’re inventing an industry like the tech guys, but we’re not. Cleantech is comprised of mature industries that are getting a green tint. In the large industries that comprise cleantech; material science, finance, construction, engineering, energy management, etc., you need to put in your time, and gain credentials in order to gain credibility. Whereas in tech, if you can code it and people like it, you’re the man.

The Challenge

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing, its just a fact. As a young person myself, its useful to know that I’m probably not going to go straight to the top and that I shouldn’t expect to.

However, here’s where I think the real challenge is. How do we channel and nurture the young crowds passion so that they don’t get bored, feel like they’re working toward a glass ceiling, and leave the industry to do something else?

The reality is we need all the talent, energy, passion and people that we can get to work on and solve these energy issues.

The Answer?

Personally, I don’t know. I have a couple ideas that I’ll be exploring in the coming months but I’m interested to hear your thoughts and feedback. If you’re a young professional, does this fact make you uneasy and want to work in another industry?

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Chris Williams

About Chris Williams

Chris Williams is the editor of Green Light Distrikt and Chief Marketing Officer at HeatSpring . He has experience in business development, prototyping and new venture research with a focus on geothermal heat pumps, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic technologies. Chris is an IGSHPA accredited geothermal installer and NABCEP certified solar installer. Chris is focused on solving customer facing issues in the creation and adoption of clean energy technologies and products. Chris has installed over 300kW of solar and tens of geothermal systems. He's invented the PV Pal , developed many trainings at HeatSpring, publishes the NABCEP Study Guide , the Hitchhikers Guide to Cleantech and has done due diligence research for Urgent VC . Feel free to connect with him @topherwiliams , on Linkedin , or through email about new ventures, collaborating, writing, research or whatever is on your mind.

  • http://twitter.com/KenOatman Ken Oatman ☼

    Personally, using someone’s age as a litmus test seems odd, although I did it when I was a 26-year old CEO.

    Now I just think about how brightly your light can burn at different life phases. The right 24-year old will pop up in the right place at the right time in clean tech, or a 14-year old or a 90-year old.

  • http://www.thegreenlightdistrikt.com Chris Williams


    I very much agree that at every stage of life you can provide real benefit to any organization or community and that there is room for everyone.

    I wouldn’t say I was using it as a litmus test, as I agree to your point that it just depends on the situation. It was just a phenomenon I noticed that I feel represents a larger difference between the two industries, not good or bad, it just exists.


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