“I prefer jumping through the hoop to holding the hoop up – I’m excited about execution.
Ever since his undergraduate days at Harvard, Joe Abel has been pondering the consequences of global climate change. “When you think of the things that have the potential to cause trouble,” he says, “all of them are made worse by climate change. It’s a colossal problem that’s just going to get bigger.”
Two years at Bain & Co. gave Joe an insider’s perspective on the connections between energy and climate change, one that became even deeper when he took on multiple roles at Sungevity, a small but innovative solar energy business in California. “In California, it’s cheaper to get electricity from the sun,” Joe explains, “but there’s a huge up-front cost.” To overcome the obstacle, Sungevity packages panel-installation and financing together, offering customers a solar energy purchase similar to a lease on a car. “When I started, we were doing maybe six to eight homes a month. By the time I left two years later, we had covered almost two thousand homes.”
HBS opens a global perspective on global warming
Like many MBA candidates, Joe came to HBS to diversify his skill sets and expand his range of experience. His FIELD 2 project, in Chennai, India, extended his reach both literally and figuratively. “I had never been further east than Israel,” Joe says. But the real expansion came with an insight he had while traveling through India’s rural countryside. “You see all these subsistence farmers whohave very little margin of error. If the rainfall is a little too much or too little, it’s very difficult for them to compensate. For them, climate change is a life and death issue. The scale of the issue is very different in India. We talkabout putting more Priuses on the road [in the United States], but how will thatoffset all the vehicles in a country like India? HBS has helped me understand the breadth of the challenge – just putting solar panels on wealthy people’s homesis not the answer.”
As his overall thinking about climate and energy has become more strategic, Joe is also weighing his tactical options. “HBS gives me the time and space to consider the right role for me,” he says. “At first, venture capital was appealing. But as I talked to the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists here, I got more excited about operations over investing. I prefer jumping through the hoop to holding the hoop up – I’m excited about execution.”