November’s FACES is dedicated to our Chief Strategy Officer, Michel Muurmans! Michel has a pure entrepreneurial spirit, and solid all-around leadership experience in both start-ups as well as corporate environments. Over the years he has been involved in the development and the market introduction of numerous early-stage technologies, ranging from internet/e-commerce, decentralized energy infrastructures, and energy service solutions while now he is dedicating his working time to NET2GRID’s leadership team. He shares with us the secrets of what it takes to be a good chief strategy officer and how to have an impact on the energy sector.
1. Usually, C-suite executives have strategic responsibility for their respective domains, with a focus on the day-to-day responsibilities of running the business. However, you need to balance day-to-day needs with making sure that NET2GRID remains relevant for the energy market not only now but also in the future. What is your approach to that?
First of all, strategy is not only about the far-away future; it is rather about how we are going to achieve next year’s goals. So, what I am trying to do is get an overview of the activities of all teams and match them with our goals for next month, next quarter and next year.
And yes, I sometimes also try to visualize where our place in the energy transition is in 3-5 years. That is actually a lot of fun to do as well.
2. You started as a corporate finance consultant, then migrated to the internet/e-commerce sector and soon after to the energy sector and new technologies. How do all these experiences come together and how do they inform your current role as Chief Strategy Officer at NET2GRID?
That is a good question. Corporate finance is about understanding business models. During my time in e-commerce, I learned about digital platforms, and then I went into developing decentralized energy assets. The energy transformation is about all three. For NET2GRID, I think it is important to understand the changing needs of our customers (due to digital and energy transformation) and have propositions that match their needs. So, those experiences do come in handy, indeed.
3. In the past, you have worked in important corporate roles, such as Investment Director at Eneco, one of the leading Dutch energy retailers, and as part of the strategy team, a job that required a rigorous approach and a strong customer-focused mindset. But, at the same time, you are bringing an entrepreneurial spirit with you, which led you to experiment with setting up your own company. What are some important lessons that you learned along this journey?
The most important thing is that I found out that I like working in agile organizations. Furthermore, I have learned I do not excel in politics. Also, I do not believe that people can be categorized as either managers or entrepreneurs. For a start-up company to succeed, it needs agility combined with professionalism and experience. During my time at Eneco, I learned a lot about how big corporate organizations operate. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from that, and I treasure that. Having said that, I am very relieved that I am now working in a fast-moving environment, where the solution to a problem is only a ping or a call away.
4. One of the things that the NET2GRID team is known for to our partners and clients is their devotion to the company’s mission which is to accelerate the Energy Transition. What does accelerating the Energy Transition mean to you personally?
I changed industries (from e-commerce to energy) just after 2002 when my oldest daughter was born. It gave me another perspective on the life I was living and it became clear to me how energy is the ultimate driving force behind prosperity and wealth. Moreover, I believe that the current fossil-based economy is a dead-end, for so many reasons. I found out the hard way that people and societies do not like changing. Now, I guess, the world realizes it has to change and I am very motivated to be part of that.
5. Will you reveal the latest strategic decision that you took at NET2GRID and some early results of the implementation process?
Hahaha, my latest decision and its impact? The most visible one is buying plants for the office in Zeist. The result is: everybody likes it a lot!
Working with the Leadership Team on the strategy and budget for next year takes up a lot of my time right now. Also, we looked at our Product Market Fit and concluded to rearrange the ingredients into a new Product Suite that will communicate more effectively what we are about. The outcomes look promising and we will be presenting them to the Supervisory Board and the rest of the company in December. I am anxious to find out the effect it will have on the company.
6. If you had one piece of strategic advice, for an energy retailer at the moment, what would it be?
“Stop talking about it, start doing it.” The main reason why incumbent energy retailers are so slow in changing their models (i.e. going from commodity sales to services) is that they still earn a lot of money. With energy prices soaring, as we have seen recently, the question is for how long that will remain the case. On the innovation side, a lot of 'proof of concepts have been launched but only a few have been given the chance to become mature services. So, stop talking about it and start launching new services NOW, because it will take time to transition.
7. What are the most prominent market trends you see coming in the energy industry in the next 10 years?
For the residential and mobility market, it is electrification. Everything will be electrical, heating, driving, etc. The need for more electrons in your home requires a decentralized energy system that will need to be automated to the full. The fuel for that automation is data; unlocking the data for the energy transformation will be the key driver of the changes the world needs :)