Thorsten Heller | Chief Executive Officer | Greenbird

Who was your role model during the pivotal stages of your life?

Peter Habeler, the first man (together with Reinhold Messner) on Mount Everest without oxygen. Peter was my first skiing instructor when I was only 3-4 years old. He would always set aside time to teach me before his long daily training for his Mount Everest climb. But he taught me more than just skiing; he demonstrated that you need to work hard to achieve something. You have to dare to achieve big targets while still remaining human.

This article first appeared in the Global Smart Energy Elites 2019. Read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.

What do you think makes a successful leader?

Many people don’t understand the difference between a leader and a manager. In my view, a leader has a strong vision and the emotional intelligence to get people to follow them. A manager will dictate and shout orders, whereas a leader will motivate and talk to the team’s heart and soul.

What are your greatest strengths?

I am a hardcore geek that can speak business. If you think about Steve Jobs, he never talked about how many gigabytes your iPod has; he spoke about 1,000 songs in your pocket. I am able to adjust to my audience by explaining complex ideas simplistically. This strength allows me to bridge the gap between the technical minded and the businessman to achieve a holistic view of the vision.

You have to dare to
achieve big targets
while still remaining

What are your greatest blind spots and how are you improving these?

Saying “no”. As a young developing business it’s challenging to say no to new projects that may present exciting opportunities; however, the risk is that this can lead you astray from your core business focus. I am working on exercising this word, which hurts me. It’s really hard [laughs].

What is the one thing in your opinion that people misconceive about your character?

As a leader, the expectation from my co-workers, partners and clients is that I am always performing at my peak with solutions to their problems, but sometimes I don’t have all the answers. Many people think of me being in a good mood, extremely positive and motivated but I don’t think people understand that I can also be in a bad mood. People think I am always at my peak when presenting with little to no preparation. This is definitely a misconception; you are not always 100% in your best shape.

What tips do you have for keeping a team motivated?

It’s always about the vision. I often tell this story: If you are a young boy or girl playing soccer in the street with your friends and you don’t think about playing Champions League if you don’t dream about playing for Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich, for example, you are never going to make it. As long as we as the team share the same vision, it is easy to motivate people. Another important point is to see your team as individuals with individual strengths and values and not see them as a number. By achieving a balance between the vision and showing empathy towards your team members, it is easy to motivate – if you care about them, you are going to make it.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

I left my network and job in Germany to pursue a new venture in Norway – this was the single biggest risk in both a private and professional capacity. I started everything from scratch; friends, business, network, everything.

When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?

It’s always People-Business. You never sell or partner with an organisation, you always partner with people. From the personal side, you want to partner with someone you can trust and enjoy. Even if you have the opportunity to partner with the best organisation in the world, if you and your counterpart are not on the same level it won’t work. Secondly, your partnership must share the same vision. On this point, it is also important to note that sometimes the investment will not always be equal, but in the long run, it is a joint effort and a joint success.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future by Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson – I am still reading it. It’s an amazing book looking at all technical innovations from a machine point of view, and on the other hand, it looks at what the crowds and society are doing and how the two are integrating together – I think it is a genius book.

What are you most proud of in your professional career?

Having developed Greenbird with a bunch of buddies, as it is now globally recognised as a ‘thought leader’ for the Energy 4.0, the digital revolution.

Which of your leadership skills were the most difficult to develop?

Having the EQ / emotional intelligence, which is important to being a successful leader, is hard to develop if it is not within your innate capacity.

What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?

It’s all about bets. Big bets. Little bets.

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretzky.

How do you achieve balance in your life?

I always think I am a lucky person, like football players, who can say my hobby is my profession – working with innovative software solutions.

To completely relax and free my mind from business, I spend a lot of time outdoors skiing and kayaking.

What trend in the global energy space do you see becoming intrinsic to the overall power network?

More and more utilities have understood the concept of a ‘platformed utility’. Therefore utilities – from an infrastructure and IT perspective – must become a platform operator instead of an operator of a commoditized infrastructure. They have to be able to get local production into the network, completely new assets and devices into the platform; they have to manage assets they don’t own anymore, and that means from an infrastructure point of view they have to be a platformed utility. And from an IT point of view too, as not all of their systems and services will be provided by the utility for the entire value chain. On the other hand, one trend I believe to be completely overhyped is blockchain.

Blockchain is simply an underlying technology infrastructure; so at the moment I feel that way too many organisations are providing solutions to a real, albeit unidentified problem.

This article first appeared in the Global Smart Energy Elites 2019. Read the full digital magazine here or subscribe here to receive a print copy.