Helping people and making profits are not mutually exclusive, and a people-driven culture can actually be instrumental in propping your business to new heights. This is well illustrated by the story of Dan Javan, the CEO and President of the Suntuity Group, a conglomerate of global renewable energy, finance, technology, and UAV service companies. He joins Steve Farber to share his one-of-a-kind story. Coming to the US with just a backpack on his back, he has since helped people who started with nothing succeed in their lives. Dan’s emphasis on investing in people has been instrumental in keeping his business dynamic even as the competitors are scaling down.
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Building A People-Driven Culture With Dan Javan
If you’re new to this podcast, you may not realize that the name, Love is Just Damn Good Business, also happens to be the title of my latest book which is called Love is Just Damn Good Business. Is it a coincidence? I think not. That book is available everywhere, anywhere that you can find books, Amazon, etc. and it’s also on audio. If you prefer to listen to your books, you could do it that way as well. I narrated it myself. My guest is Dan Javan, who is the CEO and President of Suntuity Group of companies. He leads a team of professionals who are focused on building a people-driven customer-focused culture. They work in finance, energy, telecom, logistics, and service companies of various kinds, primarily in the renewable energy field.
He has founded multiple startups in his career. He has served on the board of many organizations, and he’s a recognized leader in clean energy in that field which is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. He holds a Master’s degree in Information Services and in his own words, an avid aviator, which to translate means the guy loves flying planes. What you’re going to know about Dan is that he arrived in the US as a young man with, I kid you not, nothing but a backpack on his back. It’s like the archetypical entrepreneur starry-eyed coming to make a fortune in the US but in this case, it is absolutely true and accurate. That is the beginning of Dan’s story. I know you’re going to love reading it and reading the rest of his story in my interview and conversation with Dan Javan.
Dan Javan, welcome to the show. It’s great to have you here.
It’s great being here, Steve. Thanks for having me on board.
I want to talk about Suntuity. I’ll talk a little bit about the solar industry, the whole renewable world that we’re living in. Solar has become a lot more of a popular topic and an important way to generate energy. It always has been, but it seems like it’s even more important now. What I know about Suntuity is you are consciously working on building a culture that attracts the right people and then you have a very particular way of investing in their lives. I want to hear that but I’d also like to hear your own story. You are an entrepreneur and let’s start with a very basic question. This is fraught with all kinds of nuance. Who are you? Tell us about Dan Javan.
I’m a simple guy. Someone that has seen a need in the world for a difference, someone that’s in a position to make a difference, and someone who’s trying his very best to make a difference. As a background, I’m a first-generation immigrant, originally from India. I came to the US decades ago with little or nothing in my pocket and a backpack on my back.
I’m curious, Dan, of that image coming to the US with nothing but a backpack on your back. Is that literally true?
It is literally true. I will even tell you the backpack that I had on my back was a Marlboro backpack with a couple of pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts, with a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket is what I showed up here with.
How old were you?
Eighteen. It seems like a lifetime away. I did first come to the US to get my pilot’s license. My training was paid for but outside of that, nothing else to it. The rest of that is history. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur. I do come from a family of businessmen, so I’ve learned early in life what it means to own and run businesses. One of the things that I learned even earlier in life was humility. My dad owned a lot of businesses, we have three siblings and he’d make us work from the bottom up, which means start with cleaning the floors to doing the books. This is from the time I was ten years old.
What was his business?
There were imports and exports. Learning that from scratch and working with the lowest echelons in the businesses to help run some of the businesses gives you a level of humility and puts you at an even playing field with everybody else. When you break bread with someone that is at the lowest echelons without having any air of arrogance around it, it sets your tone early in life. I always learn to keep my head down and deliver. That’s where we started.
Your dad was the owner, you were the beneficiary of his business, technically speaking and yet you started out to clean the floors. The process of cleaning the floors get to know the other people who clean the floors. As opposed to saying, “I’m the son of the owner.”
My dad owned nineteen businesses. There was enough substance back then including shipping lines. It gives you some context.
When you came to the US with that Marlboro backpack on your back intending to become a pilot, you started your first, how many businesses do you have now?If you focus on money alone, you’re not going to have life satisfaction. Click To Tweet
I’m running at 16 or 17. I lose count.
The proverbial chip off the old block as they say if your father’s son.
My wife gave up about a decade ago. Every time another month would go by, I’d be on another business plan and another entrepreneurial stint. Years ago, she was like, “I guess this is who you are, so whether I like it or not, this is what I’m going to live with. Let’s move on.”
When you say your wife gave up, it didn’t mean like, “I’ll see you. You’ve got to do another business. Go ahead. I’m not going to try to talk you out of it.” What was your first business?
My first one was a technology company that I started in 2000. It did well with that. That was during the dot-com era. I took that business out well and sold that.
What was the technology?
We used to do a lot of the Y2K stuff, consulting around Y2K, programming around Y2K. It was the biggest flop in history. Things did happen. A lot of people didn’t hear about it but that’s also because people prepared for it. That’s when there was a shift in IT where IT became an alignment of business. It moved from IT being everything to IT aligning itself with business, which is what happened post Y2K which is to where IT is now. I still own IT businesses even now. We own businesses that have products that have solutions, and we also do a lot of work with SAP, IBM, Microsoft, MicroStrategy and some of the other people out there.
Suntuity is one of your businesses. It’s not your only business.
The Suntuity Group is one of my businesses and I own about fifteen other businesses.
Are you spending most of your time focusing on this Suntuity Group?
I spent about 80% of my time doing that for several reasons. A lot of our other businesses are fairly well established. They have a good presence. They already have good personnel in place. In the renewable energy, it was a cottage industry until a few years ago. It transformed into a real industry, which means now you’ve got the right capital taking a look at it, the right personnel wanting to get into it. All of a sudden, you have consumers that want it. The demand is different. Before, a lot of it was tree-huggers, a lot of people had wanted from an environmental perspective to look at renewables. Now, people see it as a way to reduce the carbon footprint, help the Earth and at the same time, build a savings model for themselves into retirement which is why you can scale it. We are seeing a lot more traction now because of that.
Was there anything in particular that drew you to the renewables industry or was it simply recognizing the financial opportunity in it?
I’ve been around money, so I have both expressed and dealt with money. Also, I’ve been on the extreme opposite end of it because when I did move to the US, I didn’t rely on any funds from my parents. I built this from scratch even though I had enough of a nest egg to go back to. If you focus on money alone, you’re not going to have a job and life satisfaction. There’s got to be a drive well beyond cash that drives people. My drive early on was what I could do to also give back while I’m benefiting from it. You could go into cigarette sales, for example. There’s a lot of money in that. Is that really what you want to do? Nothing against someone that’s selling cigarettes that they have living their lives.
There are a lot of better things to do in life that can monetize themselves or itself for you while being able to give back. In this situation, you’re helping people and you’re helping the planet. That is something that’s of critical importance because depending on which side of the aisle you’re on, the facts are the facts. The damage is being done, whether you see it the way you should or not, it’s not going to change where the world is going. Even if you feel that there’s some level of accuracy in the facts, you should do something to take your apart. That’s one of the reasons why I moved and pivot towards renewables because this is something that was much needed.
If I’m hearing you right as a serial entrepreneur, somebody a lifelong entrepreneur, given the example that you came from, it would be easy for somebody to draw the conclusion that what you’re doing is looking for, simply put, a way to make a profit. As an entrepreneur, as one to another, although our scope is way different, I would say that’s important. Making money is a big part of an enterprise but what I’m hearing you say is it’s a combination of the money, the impact that you can have through that venture having a positive impact on the world and it was something that you had a personal conviction about and a personal passion for. That to me sounds like it’s a trifecta. It’s prosperity, the ability to make money, it’s personal fulfillment, joy, meaning and having an impact on the world all at the same time, all those three things together. Is that a fair way to characterize how you look at it?
When we formed Suntuity, we looked at it as a 3P venture: People, Planet and Profits. I always tell people in that particular order. At the end of the day, if you can touch someone’s life in a good way and you can do something good for the environment, frankly you don’t deserve any profit. At least that’s my outlook, which is why we’ve aligned ourselves to people first, planet next, and then profit last but not least, in that particular order.
People first, planet next, profit last. That’s not to say that if you had the people thing figured out, then you’re having an impact on the planet, but you were losing money hand over fist, that 2 out of 3 isn’t bad. What you’re saying is all three but the way that you get to the profit is by shifting the priorities to the people first.
That’s right and we’ve been fairly lucky because of the mindset that we have. At the end of the day, consumers see it. They see it in actions not just in words. My employees see it. I always tell people, companies are built on the backs of hardworking people. It’s not how much money you’ve got. You can take billions of dollars and squander it away and have people that don’t feel like they belong and don’t feel they’re appreciated. On the other hand, you can have a company where you have all those pieces of the puzzle and none of the same capital, people will go above and beyond to work in an organization that they feel they belong to, in a culture they feel like they’re assimilated to.
That to me is extremely important. That’s how we’ve been growing exponentially. Within the Suntuity Group, we’re growing at about 250% to 300% on our annualized basis. That is not easy growth for under any circumstance. To be able to control that, I always tell people, companies go out of business, not when you’re not doing well. You also go out of business when you’re doing exceptionally well not being able to control that growth. It’s an explosion, it’s not a detonation. It’s like your car. Your engine has an explosion in it, it’s a controlled detonation that’s why it propelled you forward. You put that in the open and all of a sudden you’re going to have collateral damage. That’s the way we like to run our companies too.
Let me pull back a little bit and look at the Suntuity Group and then I want to come back in and focus on a few specific questions. Give us an overview of the Suntuity Group, what that entails and the various lines of business that you’re in.
Most of what we do within the Suntuity Group is complementary to each other. I’m starting with finance all the way to sales enablement, including ancillary services like drone and UAV. We have a separate vertical into finance where we build, own, and operate project long-term. We have a separate division that does utility and commercial renewables. We have a separate residential solar division, which is Suntuity Solar. We have a UAV service division called Suntuity AirWorks and we do a lot of financing around that. We do a lot of work with first responders. In fact, we do a lot of work with Florida and New Jersey and different states. We also have a not-for-profit with Suntuity Foundation. The not-for-profit was established beyond more than half of the companies because early on, I realized there was a need for us to give back.
At the end of the day, you have to walk the shoes but at the same time, you have to be able to deliver on your promises. One of the first things we did was establish a not-for-profit and we use the not-for-profit for investing in DC wells in emerging countries where someone doesn’t have to walk for a bucket of water 5 miles every day and make sure no one dies of things like diarrhea. That you can make a difference in people’s lives by spending $300 on a DC powered well. Those are huge differentiators. We’ve been doing that for a long time now without advertising around any of this stuff. That’s what we do. That’s a way we give back. We not just talk the talk, we also walk the walk. Those are some of the companies within the verticals that we have.
When was the company established?
The first Suntuity Group company within the country was established in 2008. Within the Suntuity Group at a high level, we’ve got nine different companies. Each one of those have multiple special purpose vehicles and subsidiaries and each doing its own thing.
How many employees in total?
A total headcount globally is a little under 500. We’re doubling that headcount every year now.
It’s a very productive company if you’re looking at productivity as a measure in part of the number of employees. Suntuity Solar is the residential element of this. When you look at the company as a whole, is there a uniform culture from division-to-division, unit-to-unit or are there other differences within it?
No. There is a uniform culture. A lot of our fixed services like human resources and finance is shared across the company. A lot of our personnel at a higher level, are the ones who have shared across the different organizations. It does obviously allow us to bring overhead costs down. At the same time, it propagates human resources, culture, handbooks and things like that across and perpetuates that across the different verticals. It’s like the gel that puts everything together in cohesion.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the company when it was a glimmer in the founder’s eye, the future enterprise that you were going to create. From the outset, had you given any thought to the word that we generically use is culture? We can come up with other synonyms, the environment. Had you thought about the experience you wanted people to have in working at this company that you were building? Was that something that you began to pay attention to further on down the road?
There’s a saying, “Life happens while you plan for it.” The thought of having a culture that was cohesive that was aligned with my personal ideals was always there. You are constantly adapting based on what the needs are. It’s also adapted based on the people that come in. Sometimes you have some people that don’t quite conform to that culture and at times you do. Being able to retain the talent that does do that and eliminating the talent that does not, which again, we’ve been fairly lucky, we’ve not had to do much of that is something that we’ve evolved with over time. I always tell people you can be born with intelligence but you’ve got to earn wisdom, and that takes time which means to have some level of wisdom I personally feel you have to fail. It teaches you differently.Don’t let success go to your head. Click To Tweet
I’ve had failures in life. You’ve had failures in businesses, most entrepreneurs do. What you take away from that is what differentiates your next go around. I’ve seen companies that I’ve worked for before that have failed due to a lack of culture. Due to a lack of this cohesion. I’ve learned from the mistakes that other people I meet. Some of these companies, in fact, I owned. I was a partner and I was not quite in a position to effect change at that level. You’ve learned from that enough to not repeat the same mistakes. Going into Suntuity, I knew what I did not want to do, not what I wanted to do. If I know what I do not want to do, everything else I want to do which now gives me a positive path forward.
What were some of the things you absolutely did not want to do that came to you from your hard-earned lessons in previous enterprises?
One of the first things that I learned early in life was don’t let success go to your head. You see that happening very often nowadays where certain entrepreneurs are fairly successful in a short amount of time and it goes to their head and before you know it, they feel like there’s beeswax. To me, that’s extremely detrimental and I’ve seen that happen. I don’t want to generalize, but when people are fairly young, you see a lot of success, and success is defined differently to different people but a lot of people make some money. They’re like, “I made this money. I must be doing something right.” Before you know it, they’re splurging that money and they’re making more money and it’s a vicious cycle. Those are things that I have seen people personally do early in life. You’re like, “I don’t want to be a jerk that guy because he treats his employees like crap.” We can all be better than this. You can get a lot more productivity by patting someone on the back than throwing money at them. That comes with wisdom and age, which is something that I took away from the companies I didn’t want to be able to replicate. As we built this, we changed that.
I want to get a glimpse of your vision of the future for the company and the people in it. You’ve told me some stories about some of your salespeople that had a life-changing experience by virtue of being at Suntuity. Tell us a little bit about some of these people that come to mind with that small prompt. Is there anybody that comes to mind for you?
At the end of the day, each one has got a story to tell and each one’s story is different and dear to their heart. We’ve got folks in our organization that I feel privileged to call them as part of our organization that started off with nothing. We have people in our organization that was refugees from other countries. We’ve got a lot of people within the US and Puerto Rico. With the hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico that left everything behind because they had nothing left that came to our office in Florida. We have people that immigrated to the US with a degree and nothing else and a green card that they were able to get, that make upwards of $250,000. Some of them even more than that. We’ve had people that have never been able to own their first house because of what they’ve made with us. It isn’t all sales. At the end of the day, I gauge success for my employees, not by how much money they make. It’s by how many people are getting married, how many people are having children. It’s how many people are buying houses.
To me, it tells me that my employees that are doing this have some level of comfort and job security. That’s why they’re doing these things. To me, those are levels of success that a lot of people don’t see. They only see how much money you’re paying someone. I’ve had employees that made as much as $18,000 a week. They spent it the very next week. They’ve gone and bought a Louis Vuitton bag for $15,000 to $16,000 and they’re back to square one saying, “I need to make another $18,000 to $20,000 a week because I want to do this and this.” I always tell people, at the age of 24, if you’re making $15,000 to $18,000, let me help you invest that money somewhere. Let me get you in front of someone that’ll train you on how to take that money and convert that to wealth. That is what we’ve been seeing with a lot of our employees where people that had nothing literally coming to the US with just a shirt on their back and now in a position where they own a house, they have a wife and a kid, they own a car, they’re living the American dream. That is extremely powerful. It tells me that what I’m doing is right. What I’m giving back is things in the right way. That is what I’m seeing as successful. That’s what we’ve been gauging for.
You came to this country with a backpack on your back. Granted you did have that nest egg back at home. You had a safety net behind you but you didn’t rely on that safety net to build your success here. Funnily enough, you’re creating that opportunity for people who are coming here with a backpack on their back, with the shirt on their back literally, with no safety net behind them. I’m guessing here, tell me if I’m wrong, your experience enables you to some degree to be able to see this challenge through their eyes. You’re creating a place where they can fulfill those dreams. This is going to sound either a terribly leading question or a ridiculously obvious question.
To summarize before you answer the question, you want to see them make money but not just to have money to create a life for themselves, to get married, to start a family, to buy their first house, to have a rich life, which to me sounds like over and above the work that they do “for you” when they come to work every day. Here’s the aforementioned odd question. Why concern yourself with that? This is the devil’s advocate question. The bottom line is if it’s a salesperson, how much they make? A lot of sales organizations is all driven by, “This is your quota, these are the techniques that you use, this is the process you need to follow, and you hit your numbers or you’re out. Anything beyond that, what you do in your own time is your own business.” That’s obviously not your approach. Why take that more which sounds to me like a much more personal approach to this whole thing?
When you look at it from a personal approach perspective, I always tell people getting someone in the door is challenging. Keeping them in the door is even more challenging. If it’s money, money is something that’s fairly easy for most people to offer someone. You can shower someone with money and if someone is driven by money, you’re going to lose them in a heartbeat. You’re going to go through a learning curve and you’re going through a retention curve and everything else. Being able to retain someone because they feel they belong and they actually belong to an organization and they’re part of that organization. The success of that organization breeds from their personal success is where you’re going to differentiate yourself. At the end of the day, each one of us in this world is trying to find a place for ourselves.
Each one of us has our individuality and a differentiator. The same thing for companies too. As a company, how do you differentiate yourself, whether it’s your consumers, employees or partners? I work for a fairly large pharmaceutical company called Schering-Plough. That was a different lifetime. The one thing that I took away from our CEO, Fred Hassan, was building trust. You build trust every day with your colleagues first, with your customers next, and then with your partners. You want to build trust and you want to do everything in your power not to erode that trust. That is what leads to success. I look at Schering as a perfect example and Fred hasn’t come in. We are a $14 billion company and in a matter of five years, we’re 3x that which is not an easy task to achieve.
You’ve trained folks and acquired training to reverse acquisition but it was because Schering was attractive and they had a culture of people that delivered is what attracted the company to mark. That is why I do it. You have to build value in an organization. Value in the organization is not just the number of sales you put up and the number of installs you do. If your slate in sales slows down, your install is obviously going to slow down. What you’re going to be left with is the people. The people are the ones who will pull you out of that rut and restart things and rekindle things. You have a perfect example with the COVID-19 situation where most of our competitors are losing people.
Most of them are laying off people. We’re hiring people. We’re getting more referrals now than we did ever from our employees, people that they worked with in the past that are looking. We are attracting some of the best talents in the world and we’re actively building our organization when our competitors are shutting down. When we come out of this, it’s going to be a slingshot effect. When I talk about growth projections, we’ve been growing at about 100%, 150% to 200% each year. Over the next 12 to 18 months, we will double that growth because we’ve been able to attract good talent especially in the industry that we’re in. Renewables is a fairly small industry. There isn’t a lot of talent to go around and the talent that’s there, people want to take care of them so they never let them go. We are sitting on the cusp of an opportunity we never had before and that’s what’s going to lead to success. That’s going to differentiate us.
What you’re saying is that your best recruiters are the people that already work for you. This is a natural thing. If I love working here, I’m going to go out and I’m going to tell everybody, “You should come and work with us.” I’m happy to hear you say that, Dan, because in my work and what we do at the Extreme Leadership Institute as you know, we help companies to, the terminology we like to use is, operationalize love. Simply put what that means is we want to create an experience that our customers love being a part of. They love the product and service and all that. At the foundation of that is creating a culture, environment, and experience that employees will love working in. Even though you haven’t used the word, what I’m hearing is, I’m guessing, if I were to sit down with a number of your employees, which I would love to do by the way, and to ask the question, “Tell me what your experience is like in working at Suntuity?”
Chances are good that people are going to use the L word, “I love it here.” Not consciously, but that experience, when I feel a company is invested in me as a human being, where each one of us is trying to find our place in the world and if I can find that to a large degree at my actual employer, that’s a significant thing. With that as a backdrop, can you give me an example or two of what that experience looks like? The word that you used is trust. We want to build trust in the organization. That’s going to be our foundation for growing. I totally agree. Trust and love are very intimately connected, of course. What does trust look like there? How does an employee experience trust with you guys?
There are different facets of it. If you asked anyone in my organization, “Tell me a little bit about your CEO, Dan Javan,” I can guarantee you, 95% of the people will tell you, “He’s an extremely hard person to work for and work with, but he’s an extremely fair person to work for and to work with, and he’s got your back.” We run a fairly flat organization. What that means is regardless of your title, no matter who you are in the organization when it comes to a playing field, your level from the CEO to anyone else in the organization.
Anybody can walk into your office?
Absolutely, and people do that all the time. People might walk into my office cursing out. A lot of people might get offended by that. My first reaction is, “Why don’t you calm down, take a seat and tell me what happened?” I don’t want to use the analogy but maybe it’s not the right one. When a child is crying incessantly and they’re not keeping quiet, if you just give them a hug, it’s going to change that demeanor almost instantaneously. They will calm down. They’ll start taking deep breaths. To be able to calm the situation, a lot of this also has to be done with my training. I trained as a commercial pilot. When I first came to the US and then I trained as a flight instructor. When I was a flight instructor, I was almost convinced that every single student I flew with wanted to kill me, but I’m still here. I’m building that rapport with our employees and people come to me to talk to me about life matters, not just work matters. “Dan, can I get a little bit of your advice on this?” My goal is to leverage decades of knowledge that I have and resources. What I will do sometimes is I will put people in touch with people and on the outside, they can help them.
I’ll give you an example. This is in real life and I won’t name names, but we had one of our installers. It was a young kid, he lost his license, he got pull over 2 or 3 times. His license got suspended but he had to come to work. He had no choice but to drive, otherwise, he wouldn’t come to work but he didn’t tell anyone that he’s driving on a suspended license. He got arrested. He didn’t have money to get legal representation. What’s worse, he agreed to a plea deal with the district attorney for six months of time for driving on a suspended license. That’s six months of his life gone. He’s got a young child and she’s a few months old. He walks into my office and says, “Dan, it’s my last day. This is what happened.” I’m like, “Why didn’t you tell me this? You know you can walk into my office at any given time and talk to me about this. If nothing else, I’ll get one of our attorneys to represent you and you can pay a fine and stuff. In six months of your life, that’s six months loss.” “I can’t help it. I’ll be signing the agreements, so I have to do it. I’m seriously concerned that I have a wife and a young kid. I don’t know what she’s going to do.”
Long story short, I said, “What’s your wife’s background?” He gave me some background. I said, “Would she be willing to work for our customer service team?” He’s like, “I didn’t think of that.” She started working in our customer service team the very next week. The expression on the guy’s face, the guy was in tears. He came in not understanding what was going to happen. He’s going away for six months on something that easily could have been avoided but that impacted his life so adversely. I relate this to a marriage. When a couple gets married, there’s a transition point in their marriage which solidifies. Some people never go through that and they end up in a divorce. There’s an inflection point where it solidifies a marriage where they own each other’s respect and then you’re married for life. I saw that in his eyes. I wasn’t trying to do anything otherwise. It’s like, “How can I help this kid that got into the wrong place at the wrong time and goes to prison for six months for something that could have been awarded with $1,500 fine because you didn’t have the money to pay?” That is a huge differentiator. When I walk away from something like that, I feel I’ve done, lived and fulfilled my purpose in the organization and that is what I think is going to come back to us.
Is his wife working for you now?
He’s back and he’s never going anywhere.
The next person that talks to him, he’s like, “This is the company you should work for. They take care of their people.”
To be clear, you said this and went by fast, I want to emphasize it. It’s not that in that moment you’re sitting there and going, “This kid is going to go to jail and I’ve got to figure out a way to keep him devoted to this company because he’s talented. I should give his wife a job and that’ll keep him on the hook.” That’s not what the thinking was. Your thinking was, “How can I help?” He’ll never forget that. That dynamic where people feel that they can walk into your office, tell you anything, in his case, he should have done that earlier. Nonetheless, that comes from, it would seem to me, over time establishing a track record of being the kind of CEO that I can trust with things beyond the scope of what’s going on at work.
It also comes with humility. If you have humility, you can relate. If you can relate, you can help.
How does that square up against the other thing that you said? The first thing you said about characterizing yourself is that I’m a hard guy to work for. Tell me a little bit more about that. Why did you say that? What does that look like?
When I was growing up, I went to military school and there’s a lot of discipline. I went to some corporal punishment and back in the day, it was allowed. In fact, now you’d get in trouble, people get arrested for that stuff. One of the things I did learn is for anyone to be successful, you need to be disciplined about your path to success, which means you need to take it seriously. You need to persevere. You need to be resilient. No one’s out there giving this to you. You have to take your share out of it. To do that, I’ve got a steadfast way of being disciplined about expectations. I do not like to promise things I can’t deliver. I like to exceed expectations. I try to propagate that on anyone that’s reporting to me or working for me.
Don’t promise me things you can’t deliver because at the end of the day, if you can’t deliver on something, the only thing you lose is your credibility. Credibility is all you have because if you lose your credibility, you can make money up as much as you want in the future but you can’t make your credibility up. I always tell people, if you give me a deliverable, don’t give it to me for the sake of giving it to me. I’m more than happy if you’ll tell me I can’t do it in this time for XYZ reason. Usually, at that point, I roll up my sleeves and I walk through and work through with them and show them twenty different ways of achieving that. They come back and tell me, “I didn’t even think of that. I appreciate your time.” If you promise me something, deliver it. That’s one of the things that most people that have worked with me, work for me will tell you, “Don’t promise something to Dan that you can’t deliver on, because he doesn’t take that lightly. On the flip side, he plans to deliver everything he promised to you. To do that, you need to have reciprocity.” That’s what you’re going to hear as feedback from most people.
Your standards are high and the expectation of following through is high, which some people would characterize as accountability. It’s a very popular word that we’d like to use, although I’m fond of saying that the way I typically hear the word accountability used nowadays is accountability is that thing that we desperately want other people to take which is part of what you’re saying, the foundation for it is you hold yourself accountable. When you say something, you deliver on it, and then that gives you the credibility to demand the same or better of others. This is so important because a lot of times in the business world, people hear words like trust, support, love and they hear stories like you told of helping somebody out of a fix in their personal life. They equate all that with that’s the soft squishy stuff. Whereas in reality in a business context, this stuff is not soft. It’s very hard to practice these things.
I’ve described it this way in the book and I’ve often described it that love in a business context is kindness combined with high expectations. The challenge here is to raise the expectations, not to lower them, to raise the standards, not to lower them. It sounds like that’s exactly what you’re doing. It’s an accountable place to work so people can make money. They can do well, they can buy their first home, they can start a family and they’re going to be held to account in their performance to make that happen. Have you ever had a circumstance where you hire and the environment doesn’t work for them there?Build value in your organization, not with sales, but with people. Click To Tweet
It’s happened quite a bit. Hiring talent that can deliver on certain numbers is 1/2 of the equation. The bigger portion of that equation is being able to do that in a cohesive manner. If you have a bad apple, it exposes a lot. Sometimes you have to realize that. When I interview someone, I look at both attitude and aptitude. I can’t change who you are. When I’m interviewing someone, the attitude is far more important than the aptitude because I can teach you stuff. Once your brain has already been solidified and you already passed your teens, it’s very difficult for me to change the way you think or the expectations you set forth for your life.
You can change a little bit. I’m always looking at attitude or aptitude and we’ve been fairly lucky so far. When you teach people a certain way and you’ve done it with people that had nothing to begin with and they’ve learned it the right way, they’re going to propagate that all around. They become the living examples of how to do it the right way, at least in my eyes. That is fulfilling to me. As humans, our core function sometimes is to propagate but well beyond biological propagation. What can you do to propagate the right way of living your life and sharing that life with other people that’s equally important?
Tell me a little bit about the way that you’re investing in your employees. This is one of the things that caught my attention when you and I first met and chatted a little bit. When I come to work for you, I’m going to learn the solar industry. I’m going to learn the skills you hired me for my attitude. You hired me for who I am. I’m assuming that means you’re going to teach me the skills that I need whether it’s in sales, installation, support, operations, or whatever it is and I’m going to get something above and beyond in the bargain as well. More so than just learning the particular skills and talent that I need for this industry.
I’ll give you an example. I’m sure you’re privy. We had a Jordan Belfort webinar. If you listen to the series and you are there on the first day of that, Jordan is opening up the door on the sales recruiting side. One of the things that he mentioned in his web series is Suntuity is an entrepreneurial company but they’re not in this to try and make money off you. They’re training you, not just training you on how to sell. Jordan was doing that and that’s why we have him on the straight-line sales techniques. The reason why you need to have a well-rounded training regimen which includes not just your hard skills but the soft skills. What you do with the success of your hard skills is where you use your soft skills. The soft skills are things like leadership which is exactly where you come in. Being able to understand a little bit of life coaching which is why we’re bringing in additional folks to train our people.
When you join us, we will ensure your success by not just empowering you and providing you with the tools, but also helping you retain that success. I’m effecting change at a life level for you. Otherwise, you can make a lot of money in a short amount of time, move on, and blow it all up. You look back in your 40s and say, “When I was 25, I worked for that company called Suntuity. I made $500,000 a year and now I have nothing because I spent all of it,” or you can come back and say, “I started off my career working at a company like Suntuity, I made $500,000 and here I am in my 40s and now I own a $20 million business.” That is what I took away from that. One of the things that I’ve seen and a lot of people shy away from employees that leave them for other better opportunities.
I’ve always told my employees and people in our organization, “If you find a better opportunity than ours. I’d love to retain you and I try my best to do that. If not, I’m more than happy to reason with you. If that opportunity is better, I will empower you to take it.” We’ve done this with several employees that have grown into positions of a VP level or EVP level in the organizations that they’re in and they brought business back to us. They want to work with a company like us not just because they’ve worked for me in the past, it’s because they liked working for me in the past. They are where they are now because they worked with us in the past. The coaching we give them enabled them and we, in fact, persuaded them to leave and go on to bigger and better ventures. They’ve come back and said, “This is the least we can do to give back.” We’ve done tens of millions of dollars of business with ex-employees that have brought that business back to us because of what we’ve done for them and for them in the past.
In large part, you are known by your alumni, which is a different way of thinking about it. Not ex-employees but alumni who will never forget you and will appreciate the boost up for the rest of their lives and end up bringing business back to you. To restate the obvious, it’s not that you’re sending them off, saying, “Don’t forget, when you go out there and become successful, bring your business back to me.” It’s not like a quid pro quo thing. It’s, “Go and be successful,” and the natural result of that is if and when the opportunity presents itself, they come back and they become your brand ambassadors in the world at large.
You’re distinguishing yourself that you’re bringing new people on when a lot of your competitors are letting people go. What I’m hearing is a lot of that is because of your reputation in the marketplace for being a great place to work and a place that I can go then not only make money but prosper in all kinds of ways in my life as a result of the experience and the training and the knowledge that I get from working here. If you take all of the wonderful dynamic that’s happening in the company and project out. As the CEO, I’m sure you’re always thinking about where you want to take this company in the future. Give us a little picture of that. What is the future of Suntuity let’s say five-plus years down the road look like?
I can give you a comparison to where companies that started along with us, maybe a few years after us where they are now. We’ve had companies that have started in renewables years ago that are publicly traded now. We’ve had companies that started maybe a little older than us, that ended up being some of the largest companies in the world in renewables, $10 billion to $15 billion. Where do we go from here five years from now? We now have a regional presence. In the next year alone, 1.5 years, we’ll have a national presence. It’s not just a national presence. We already have an international presence, but most of that is on the utility in the large commercial side.
We expect that to happen even on the residential solar side. One of the things that we’ve been doing is trying to vertically integrate as much as we can within renewables and diversify within renewables because this is the future. As an organization, if we can continue to grow not just in size, but also with how we can give back to our employees and find creative ways to do it, it sets a different culture and different work environment. I’ll give you an example. Most companies have played around with 40 workweeks and things like that. Things that we’re actively pursuing within our organization. How do we do things differently? Working from home, for example. Telecommuting was a taboo word for most companies to build. Now, all of a sudden that’s on you.
We’ve never had a problem with that. We’ve told our employees, “You can be sitting on a beach in Hawaii as long as you’re delivering on your promises, it doesn’t matter.” It’s a very different culture that people are not used to saying, “What do you mean? I don’t have to clock-in and clock-out?” If I’m doing that, I’m like, “I don’t care if you are delivering what you promised me, the clocking in and out doesn’t matter to me because I don’t look at you as an hourly employee. I look at you as an extension of a company. You have to deliver on your promises.” Where do we go from here five years from now? I think our continued pace, we will continue to grow in volume, it will continue to grow in geographic scope. We’re also diversifying more and more into niche markets. If you asked Amazon several years ago where they would be now, I can guarantee you, Bezos would not be able to tell you that because they’ve evolved as the need has evolved.
The culture is still the same. The course is still the same. The deliverables have changed. As I said, life is what you live while you plan for it. That’s what we are doing. When you have aspirations of being one of the most successful residential solar companies or renewable energy companies in the world, and what acclaim degrading with some of the best staff, but it’s also diversifying. We’ve diversified quite a bit, which is why we’re still here, which is why a lot of our competitors that did not diversify no longer exist. We’ve got multiple lines of business and we did that early on because this is my personal experience, coming from a household that owned nineteen different companies, you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You’d diversify that. If you can build a strong base and a foundation that’s well-diversified, it takes you longer to start growing because you’ve been growing wide and not tall or deep.
Once you’ve grown wide enough, you start growing deep, that’s a company of substance. That’s a company someone wants to invest in. We have investors that have been trying to put money into our company left and right. I usually don’t say this out in public, but we have zero debt on our balance sheet. It gives us the ability to make decisions that our competitors dream of. We’ve been self-reliant, self-sufficient, and that’s an envious position to be in. We’ve been able to do that because we are diversified and we did that early on which allows us to weather the storms that we are going through. With these, it allows us to grow when everybody else is shrinking. That’s the mindset.
It sounds to me like, I love the balance that you strike between planning where you want to go is, strategically diversifying but not necessarily even knowing what that diversification will look like. That’s part of evolving. It’s understanding that I don’t have the future entirely figured out. I’m putting words in your mouth now. What I do know is that whatever we do, the foundation of it is going to be built on our people first. The impact that we have on the planet around us and that will lead to the profits, which makes sure that we’re healthy and we have no debt on the balance sheet. Those 3Ps is going to pull back together, those are your words, but the words that I am putting in your mouth are we can take on the future, adapt to it and create whatever we want to create because of the strength of the culture that we have and because of our investment in the experience of what it’s like to work here at Suntuity. Does that sound accurate?
Yes. If you want to use an analogy, you have a patient that shows up in the ER. The nurses and the doctors had their procedures and policies in place, they don’t know what they’re going to end up finding out when they open up the patient. They know if they find one thing, they have a procedure or policy in place and they find something else and something else that comes out of it. The common goal is helping that patient’s life. More importantly, helping that patient thrive which means doing whatever you can without having any long-term harm to that patient. That’s the path that we are following. We don’t know what the future holds. The COVID-19 situation is a perfect example of that. No one saw this. We have the pieces of a puzzle that will enable us to deal with it. Those pieces of the puzzle are the people and the culture that we built because as the team, we know we can achieve things that most other companies can only dream to achieve or can never achieve.
Speaking of the team, I’m imagining there are going to be some people, Dan, that are thinking, “I’ve got to check that place out.” Let’s say I’m in that category and I’m intrigued by that. Maybe I haven’t thought of a career in renewables, solar, or anything that, but this culture sounds amazing. Where can I go to learn more about the company and even talk to somebody about working there?
If you go to SuntuityGroup.com, it has multiple icons for different companies that we have. You can click on each one of those and it will take you to the individual websites for the different companies. If you’re fresh out of school and you are looking for a career path, then you’ve got a degree in something and you’re looking for a job, go out there and take a look at it. Send us your résumé to Careers@Suntuity.com. We have recruiters that take that up and they’ll sometimes even call you in real-time. They’ll see résumés come in and they’ll pick up the phone and call you. That’s the culture we build. If someone’s in front of the computer sending you their résumé, that means they’re ready to talk. If you’re in front of the computer, you see that come in, pick up the phone. Go to SuntuityGroup.com. You can go to Google, type ‘Suntuity’ in there. You can go to News within that and see all the different things that we’re working on. You can go to Google Reviews and see the feedback that our customers have left us. Go to Glassdoor and see the feedback that our employees left us. It’s all out there. It’s all public.
Dan, thank you so much for investing all this time with us. What a great story. You’re a real inspiration and I appreciate you being here with me.
It’s my pleasure being here. Thanks for having me, Steve.
- Love is Just Damn Good Business
- Suntuity Group
- Dan Javan
- Suntuity Solar
- Suntuity AirWorks
- Suntuity Foundation
- Extreme Leadership Institute
About Dan Javan
Dan Javan is a serial entrepreneur, visionary and natural leader. He is the founder of multiple startups, has served on the board of various organizations and is a recognized leader in clean energy, recognized as one of the fastest growing industries in the US.
Dan currently spends his time as CEO and President of the Suntuity Group of companies leading a team of professionals that are focused on building a people-driven, customer focused conglomerate of premiere Finance, Energy, Telecom, Logistics and UAV Service companies.
Dan holds a Masters in Information Systems from NJIT and is an avid aviator.
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