Ahead in the Cloud: Kareen Boutonnat, Group COO of Lightsource BP
In this next installment of Ahead in the Cloud we talk to Kareen Boutonnat, the COO of Lightsource BP. Earlier in my career I received a piece of advice very similar to the one she mentions: always hire people better than you. It’s important to keep in mind even as we all struggle with a tough hiring market. In a similar vein, at AWS we often talk about “raising the bar” when we are hiring. Here’s Kareen in her own words:
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on?
The most exciting (and also the most challenging) task on my plate now is our ongoing globalisation. We launched nine international operations in under 12 months and ensuring that these new platforms are successful and thriving is a key focus right now.
Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
Working for the only global solar brand! Our ambition as a company, and my goal personally, is to continue Lightsource BP’s evolution into a worldwide leader not only across the renewable energy sector but across mainstream energy as a whole.
Share someone who has been a mentor to you along the way, and the best lesson you learned from them.
I would probably say David Mitchell, who was President and CEO of webMethods from 2003 – 2007 and undoubtedly one of the best sales leaders I have ever known. webMethods was a very successful dot com company, and the best advice he ever gave me was to do with hiring. He told me that the best way to scale a business was to always hire people who are too “big” for the job, to always hire people who are better than me!
I’ve carried this advice through my career and I am proud to say that at Lightsource BP, we place a huge emphasis on talent and diversity across our leadership and workforce. Our team currently boasts over 29 different nationalities and now as a mentor myself, it’s really amazing to see more women building up their careers across the energy sector which has typically been quite male-dominated.
What’s your favorite Amazon leadership principle and why?
This is a difficult one, as so many of these principles are key features of the way I work, and I have many favourites! But if I had to pick one, I think I’d have to go for “Deliver Results”. Lightsource BP is all about execution and as we only started out in 2010, we had to be completely focused on our ambitions. Now just 9 years later, we are firmly on track to becoming the world’s first global solar brand. The principle of ‘delivering results’ is embedded into our DNA and forms part of the core of who we are as an organisation.
How do you learn about new technology and its potential impact on your business?
I’m a great champion of networking. By meeting professionals and organisations across all the sectors we are active or have interest in, I’ve created an ecosystem that lets me keep up to date on the industry and new developments.
Lightsource BP is also big on innovation. The energy sector is changing rapidly and at pace and in order to be at the forefront we have to keep evolving. I make it a point to maintain a strong relationship with our in-house innovation team and our Head of Innovation is one of my direct reports.
How will technology change your industry?
I think its fair to say that technology and its advancement touches every part of daily life. It’s a sector that I’m very interested in as I started my career in the middle of Silicon Valley in 1993 at the beginning of the internet revolution. I spent 12 years working in the IT sector for US start-ups backed by Venture Capitalists.
It’s taken a while for the renewables power sector to catch up, mainly due to the sector being so new. However, this truly is the opportune moment – the energy landscape is changing so rapidly, and renewables will play a vital role in providing sustainable and clean power to meet global demand.
Being a new player has its advantages as well. We’re not tied down by incumbent systems and we can take a fresh approach to solving problems without worrying about legacy systems. Everything is going to change, from how we source our power to how we use our power, and every aspect of the energy system both locally and globally will have to evolve. The digitalization of energy is the most logical step forward in addressing the future. In almost every aspect, our lives, businesses, services, homes, gadgets and so on are becoming more connected, more intelligent and more efficient. It’s time that the energy industry catches up to this pattern, and it’s doubly vital for renewables, given the significant role we must play in the future.
How do you decide on where to prioritize your technology investments?
We’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how we can optimize our data, how we can bring new technology into play to improve our business as a whole and improve the way we operate as a generator of power. Safety, productivity and reliability are vital to our business, and new technology enables us to be more responsive and available, improving real-time responses and delivering better results end-to-end. Therefore, we’re focused on developing and investing in technologies that will help us reach these goals, such as advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence.
How do you think about the organizational impacts of adopting new types of technologies?
I believe it’s critical to map people and processes first. New technologies need to adapt to your staff and operations and it’s important to raise awareness to ensure staff understand the significance of the implementation. That said, there can be some interesting surprises which reminds us to always remain flexible and open to change. For example, I now rely more on instant messaging to get quicker responses which have a huge impact on decision making and I wonder what the role of email would be for the future. What started out as a ‘culture’ is now being adopted into the business environment and we didn’t necessarily plan for this.
What’s the most interesting thing on your desk right now?
From a technology perspective, definitely AI (Artificial Intelligence) across our sector. There are several companies working on this now, and no one’s quite got there yet, but it is just a matter of time. There are probably unlimited applications for AI, but for Lightsource BP one of the key applications will be predictive maintenance. This could revolutionise the way we run our Operations and Maintenance division, which is a key facet of our business. These developments will allow us to ‘look into the future’, to predict faults in our equipment and dispatch technicians at the point of failure, rather than conducting endless rounds of check-ups and reactive maintenance. Knowing what will happen and when will be a huge benefit to our entire operations, saving us time and money.
What does your morning routine look like?
My work takes me all over the world, so my mornings are quite unpredictable! When I’m at home in London, I start the day by taking my kids to school. There’s often an overlap between this and conference calls with our Australian teams, due to the time difference – my children are usually quite entertained as they are fascinated by the people I speak with all over the world!