How a climate tech founder is growing his advisory board, including Larry Summers

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Palmetto CEO Chris Kemper

Nearly fifteen years into founding climate tech company Palmetto, Chris Kemper has seen plenty of changes across the clean energy industry, from early solar companies that are now public to Series A startups founded following the Inflation Reduction Act. 

Ensuring that the company continues to evolve in what Kemper calls “a complicated space” has been critical, especially with its goal of having a significant impact on mitigating climate change. 

But meeting that lofty challenge is increasingly not just a function of Kemper’s gained expertise in renewables and clean technology from stints at the UN and financing clean energy projects in developing countries before founding Palmetto, he told us recently. “You’ve got to deal with all sorts of stuff,” he said, rattling off several topics from international and domestic policies to the evolution of AI and building towards potentially becoming a public company. 

Building the proper sounding board is critical for any leader, especially as challenges and opportunities for business are emerging quicker than ever. 

For Kemper, his approach has been to build a network around him where “the world is kind of one degree away.” 

“When I’m looking at part of the business, trying to think outside of the box, or this is the problem I’m trying to solve, I think, okay, who has done that really well? What businesses have operated like that? Who is behind that? That’s my mentality, and then I figure out how do I get to that person,” he said. 

That has led Kemper to build out Palmetto’s advisory board, which includes former commissioner of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Neil Chatterjee, neighborhood-focused social app Nextdoor co-founder Nirav Tolia, and Monica Williams, chief consulting officer at The Equity Project. 

Palmetto’s latest appointment is former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who in addition to holding that post during Bill Clinton’s presidency, was director of the National Economic Council for President Obama and chief economist of the World Bank. Kemper said Summers’ expertise will be crucial as the company looks to navigate the continually murky waters of economic policy moving forward. 

“We decided it would really help us to bring in an advisor who could really help us understand the lay of the land from a macro perspective,” Kemper said. “We were able to meet Larry and talk through how he could be a value add.” 

It also helped that Summers has a focus on climate mitigation, and Kemper said there was a shared belief around how that could have “a material impact on the macro economy in the longer term.”

“We are living in an era of rising energy prices and accelerating climate change. Decarbonization is not only vital for environmental sustainability but also for stabilizing global long-term economic growth,” Summers said in a statement.

Kemper said the company is looking to Summers for thoughts and updates on things like its 18- to 24-month rolling plan, how it should be managing treasury and corporate cash, how it should manage price points to consumers, and private placement of its paper, among other things.

Overall, Kemper looks to make it a point to stay in touch with his advisors at least once a month, and when there’s a particular focus on a particular topic, “we’re grabbing dinner and talking about it.”

Kemper is quick to acknowledge for some large companies the approach might be different, but he said he believes creating an advisory board of some sort is critical for all successful executives.

“Most industries are so interconnected and complex. You have to have some perspective on so many different topic sets,” he said.

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