CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER | STARSIGHT ENERGY
Tony Carr has extensive experience in developing operational businesses in emerging markets. He currently serves as the CEO of Starsight Energy, West Africa’s largest provider of C&I solar solutions, and was the founding partner and former CEO of MonuRent, Africa’s largest pure-play mining equipment rental business. Tony has lived in West Africa for 10 years and operated businesses throughout the Ebola epidemic. He is a mechanical engineer by profession and has extensive management experience in the power, mining, exploration, civil, agriculture, and transport sectors.
WHO HAS INSPIRED YOU THE MOST IN LIFE?
My partner ChiChi Cheery Keister has been my greatest inspiration. She is Sierra Leonean and is raising eleven adopted children. Her commitment and kindness are what keeps me grounded and inspires me to be the best that I can be.
WHAT’S THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE READ THIS YEAR AND WHAT WAS YOUR KEY TAKEAWAY?
War Doctor by David Nott. It is about a London surgeon who has volunteered as a doctor in major conflict zones around the world. The key takeaway for me is appreciating the risks that inspiring people are willing to take when motivated by ethics rather than financial reward.
WHEN MEETING OTHER LEADERS WHAT DO YOU ASK THEM?
What do you see as the next big innovation that will contribute toward solving a key problem in the developing world? I am very forward-looking and I am always interested in what is next. This ‘next’ thing does not have to be solar-related: I have a keen interest in innovations related to water and food security, for example.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE AND WHAT LESSONS LEARNED DO YOU CONTINUE TO PRACTISE?
When I was 22, I immigrated to Australia where I worked in a position that managed a workforce with a different frame of reference and cultural upbringing than my own. I had to learn not only how to connect with my team but also how to gain their trust and lead them. This has proven to be one of the most valuable skills I have learned as a leader, which I continue to practise throughout my career.
IS A LEADER BORN OR MADE?
I do not think that leaders are born as I believe that leaders are shaped by their early years; a person’s earliest experiences make them who they are. The values that your family instils in you from a young age and your background strongly influence your drive. For example, I came from a very blue-collar background and did not go to university, so I have had to fight against all odds to be where I am today. This innate drive, which is the result of my background, was part of what made me a leader throughout my career.
WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES A SUCCESSFUL LEADER?
I think a successful leader must have the ability to listen and understand people’s personal and social challenges as much as their work challenges. Empathy is an often-overlooked trait of leaders but having led diverse teams across multiple countries and cultures, I can testify that empathy is key to connecting with your team and gaining their trust to lead them.
WHAT INDUSTRIES OUTSIDE OF THE POWER AND ENERGY SECTOR ARE YOU LOOKING AT FOR INSPIRATION?
Water resource management is a keen interest of mine. It is a critical resource that requires innovative infrastructure and planning. Solving such challenges is what inspires me. Another industry I follow closely is the ‘wetware’ industry, which takes biological processes and applies them to technology. Instead of the approach used in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry, which is trying to get a computer to learn what humans do, this sector takes a biological process and programs it to do an action. It is a highly innovative sector, which fascinates and inspires me to always look for innovation in my field.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RISK YOU’VE EVER TAKEN?
The biggest risk I have ever taken was moving from the UK to Australia when I was 22 years old in search of new opportunities. I had no job and no support network. Thankfully, my career took off and continued to develop. The risk was that the results of this journey were never guaranteed and things could have taken another course where I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I have been fortunate to experience.
IF YOU COULD WISH AWAY A CHALLENGE TO YOUR BUSINESS OR THE INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I would make hydrocarbons unavailable to the world. In this sector, cheap hydrocarbons are the bane of our existence and they are the main reason why renewable energy is not ubiquitous. If people had no access to cheap polluting energy sources, they would realise that solar, for example, can deliver the same, if not more, efficient and sustainable power.
WHAT TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES DO YOU USE TO KEEP A TEAM MOTIVATED?
I keep the team motivated by regularly setting new challenges for them. More importantly, I encourage the team to be self-motivated and get them to ask themselves: “What’s next?” This mentality keeps everyone moving forward.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE YOUR AND YOUR TEAM’S PERFORMANCE?
I measure our performance by how we are positioned in the sector. If we are falling behind, then we reassess and get back on track. Keeping our organisation at the forefront of this space is a collective effort by the team.
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH UNCERTAINTY AS A LEADER IN A TIME WHERE LEADERSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER?
I have stressed the importance of keeping everyone on our team informed while ensuring the correct support structures are in place. There has been a lot of inaccurate information out there about the pandemic, health, security, etc. Leadership in such an environment, first and foremost, requires giving your team correct and credible information. Beyond this, we have created a support structure that includes medical support, wellness check-ins and tools, and other systems that provide our teams with the confidence that they are not alone, and we are there for them.
WHAT ROLE DO YOU SEE YOUR TEAM PLAYING IN THE ECONOMIC RECOVERY OF THE 2020 GLOBAL PANDEMIC?
We will play a key role in continuing to expand sustainable energy solutions for consumer and industrial clients. The pandemic reemphasised the importance of affordable and reliable energy as well as the importance of energy efficiency. If the 2021 recovery is based on one energy message, I would want that to be energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is the key to getting the most out of energy resources and powering a sustainable recovery.
HOW IMPORTANT IS SCENARIO PLANNING WHEN IMPLEMENTING ANNUAL STRATEGIES?
We do extensive scenario planning every year and map out everything from ‘doomsday’ scenarios to aggressive African expansion scenarios. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we had another strategy session and worked out multiple ways that the pandemic could affect our business. I am happy to say that we outperformed even our best expectations for how we would fare during COVID-19. Instead of retracting, in 2020 our business grew in Nigeria and expanded into Ghana in September. Ghana, a major market, is the first stage of our multi-pronged African expansion plans.
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT DIGITALISATION, THE COMPLEXITIES AND INTRICACIES, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS AROUND THIS AND HOW IT WILL CHANGE THE SHAPE OF THE POWER AND ENERGY SECTOR AFRICA?
For our company, digitisation means more information and how one uses this information is key. We have a large analytical team that focuses on what we can learn from the data collected by our digital systems. The more information we have, the more we can learn and the better we can serve our existing and future clients. Digitisation is not all about delivering power, but rather delivering solutions, which translate into delivering better services to our clients.
WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR LEGACY TO BE?
I think the world will be the judge of my personal legacy. However, I want my business legacy to be having created a large-scale business, led and operated by a national Nigerian workforce, with an emphasis on younger generations and women leadership. I strongly believe that giving leadership opportunities, not just jobs, to women and younger generations is crucial for future-proofing any business. I want to continue to build a company that does that and continue to empower local citizens in every African country in which we operate.