An interview with… Jason Howlett, GivEnergy CEO

Jason Howlett knows a thing or two about navigating business growth. Currently spearheading a company experiencing 500% hyper-growth, Jason is a leader with his feet on the ground, but his eyes on the stars.

We spoke to Jason about his business journey, his mission at GivEnergy, and his lessons on leadership. Read on for the full interview.

Jason has a passion for customer excellence, developing teams and delivering sustainable results. What are some of your qualities that have made an impact for GivEnergy?

Being adaptable, listening to the customers, listening to key stakeholders, and listening to my team. It’s important not only to take in as much information as possible, but also to combine that information with data to identify opportunities.

Just as important as listening is open communication back to the team. I believe a CEO should communicate and share success, as well as recognise and reward contributions. It’s about bringing positivity while facilitating everyone else to do the best they can through empowerment, trust, and accountability.

For me, this focus on the people is what matters – not getting tied up in minute details. Building relationships, networks, and partnerships is essential.

I will always prioritise people ahead of everything else – both customers and employees.

This strict focus on people and priorities is key to navigating hyper-growth. It allows me to target results and challenge the team to deliver more than what they think they can ordinarily achieve.

I remember my first director role some 15 years ago when I was sat in the mess room with service engineers who told me, “You’re not really like a director.” This took me aback, and thoughts raced through my head that I was trying my best; I was new to the job; I’d get better. But staying calm, I asked, “Why is that?” To my immense relief, they replied simply, “Because we can talk to you.”

This anecdote underscores what I’ve always tried to be: approachable, and prepared to answer any questions.

Ultimately, It’s not about me, it’s about the team.

What is the main motivation of your leadership?

To make a difference – not only to employees and customers but also to society and the environment. With a degree in environmental science, my focus has always been about sustainability and doing something positive in the world.

Part of this is encapsulated by our core offering at GivEnergy: powering clean, low-cost energy. Another integral piece, however, is our work in creating new jobs and opportunities for career progression. We also help get people into the work in the first instance, through apprenticeships and graduate schemes. It’s about giving everyone a chance, no matter what their background.

Once these new jobs are created, then empowering, trusting and inspiring a team is a further motivation. While I believe in holding people to account, I will always respect that everyone is an individual and try to engage with them in the best possible way.

The role of a leader is not always to be liked, but always respected – with the scope to have a little fun along the way.

Do you have a hobby outside of work that helps you be a better leader?

I enjoy eating great food and drinking a nice wine or Cognac – I’m not sure it helps being a leader (or my waistline) but I definitely enjoy it.

Perhaps in a more healthful vein, I walk a lot with my two border collies. Nearly every morning I’m out for an hour in the countryside keeping connected to nature.

I see a huge variety of animals on my walks – from birds including owls, woodpeckers, buzzards, etc., as well as rabbits, the occasional fox and deer, and farm animals  –  all at peace with the world. Being in such surroundings is a huge opportunity to reflect, drift and let ideas come to mind.

I also love to travel, going to different places and experiencing different cultures which again helps shape and influence my thoughts.

Finally, reading is a key hobby. I know I should say management or leadership training books, but I’ve read countless of those and could now write my own book. These days, my learning comes from my team and gaining constant feedback. I like reading fact-based fiction, Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell in particular.

How long did it take you to find success? Is there any advice you would like to share from your journey?

I’m still not sure I’ve found it, but I’ll keep looking.

To me, success is about what difference you can make to others and your personal happiness.

Yes, that’s brought me a comfortable life too, but it’s all about purpose rather than personal reward – doing the right thing even if that impacts a personal bonus. I’ve never been motivated by personal gain. If your only focus is money, then you can never truly feel satisfied as there’s always more money to earn.

By the time I retire, if I can look back and say I made the world a tiny bit better by being in it, then I’ll be happy.

One piece of advice I would share from my journey, though, is that I’ve used all my previous managers to help me learn. This includes the great ones, the okay ones, and the terrible ones. Do the things that you respect and admire from the good and great previous managers, and don’t do the things the terrible ones do.

Also, it’s vital that you are authentic. I felt I had to behave in a certain way to be promoted early-on in my career. Maybe that works to a degree, but as a CEO you have to be yourself and always be prepared to improve.

What key changes are happening in your industry and how are you navigating the landscape?

The renewable energy industry is booming. I’ve now been managing hyper-growth for the last two years plus, both in my previous role and this one. This year alone, for example, we are forecasting 500% growth.

This extreme growth presents a huge challenge to keep up with demand both internally and externally. The team needs access to resources, while customers need access to stock. The whole world is looking at renewable energy to help solve the soaring prices and energy uncertainty following the war in Ukraine.

At present, recruitment is our biggest challenge. Finding the right people with the right values to join our team is key. Our team works tremendously hard and that, simply, is why we are the number one in the market.

Currently manufacturing is in our Chinese factories in Shenzhen, but we are also focused on a strategy of nearshoring to improve supply for the UK and Europe. Creating a renewable centre of excellence in the UK — and ultimately the unique positioning of being the only true UK manufacturer of lithium ion batteries for the renewable industry — is incredibly exciting.

We have a five-year plan to transform the UK’s position. That includes finding creative solutions to remove people from fuel poverty and improving their energy resilience, whilst empowering them to monitor and track every electrical appliance in the home and business.

We have the most amazing team and amazing solutions – we just need to keep working hard to stay ahead.

How can you dive deeper into digital transformation to increase your productivity and create a better client experience?

The great thing about working at GivEnergy is how we embrace technology and the customer experience. Indeed, we have a (growing) team of 15 whose sole focus is on the digital experience of our customers. We are unique in that we are the only renewable energy storage manufacturer with a UK-based software team to serve global customers.

Our portal and app, for example, are unparalleled in the energy market – granting customers full control and full visibility over their energy usage. The level of data, autonomy, and integrations that we provide via our digital services – presented in the most visually enticing and accessible way – make it both easy and engaging for customers to monitor and manage their energy usage.

This positive experience with our solutions is something we are ever striving to enhance. Through a mix of capturing user feedback, investing in UX, and dedicating resources to ongoing optimisations – we never cease our commitment to the customer experience.

Every industry has become a target for cyber-attacks. How are you lowering your cyber risk to become a harder target for attackers, whilst driving efficiency in your cyber security program?

From an infrastructure perspective, we ensure that our mobile app and web portal adhere to modern security standards and best practices to keep customer data secure. For example, communications between our mobile app, portal, and the end user’s device are always encrypted, meaning that user sessions can’t be listened in on.

Our servers and software are always up to date to eliminate any potential security vulnerabilities. Additionally, we take a ‘block by default’ approach to network security and use ultra-secure credentials wherever possible, making it impossible for malicious actors to gain access to any communication channels that aren’t already intended to be accessed by the public.

What is your primary objective for the company over the next year?

Growth, growth, growth.

We’re aleady incredibly busy with a new manufacturing facility, a new head office, a transition to nearshoring our manufacturing, and an expansion into the European market.

Beyond our bases, we’re also engaging in multiple stakeholder and community engagement initiatives. This includes lobbying MPS, creating links with local colleges and universities, and investing in the local community to reuse abandoned buildings and stimulate jobs.

It’s an exciting scenario: the more we grow, the more we give back to the community, the more we help build a sustainable future, and the more we help mitigate energy security and energy poverty concerns.

What goals are you still working towards achieving?

Personally, my goals are to be the best leader I can be, and to make lives better for those that work with me and the customers we serve. Professionally, it’s staying ahead of the game and keeping up with demand – as well as implementing all our exciting expansion plans.

It’s my mission to empower energy freedom for all. However, it’s also important to educate customers that the battery solutions we provide aren’t just about renewable energy – but also a valuable asset in any home or business to lower their bills.

Ultimately, I’m working towards a world where ‘energy needn’t cost the earth’. 

Any final thoughts that will throw light on GivEnergy and your mission for it?

There are many competitors out there – but we are the only ones that do it the way we do it. We use cost-effective Chinese manufacturing mixed with the highest calibre UK-based development and support. This model is, in part, why we are well on the way to employing 100 people this year, where most competitors have 2 or 3 people.

We don’t just buy someone else’s product and stick a label on it. We control the manufacturing end-to-end. In turn, this allows us to not only be highly responsive – but also to deliver a premium quality product at an affordable price.

Nor do we work with celebrities and pay them to endorse our products, or look to sponsor sports teams so we can be seen with them. Rather, we spend our money investing in the communities and the future of our children.

For example, we’re spending around £0.5million a year for the next three years on our not-for-profit business, GivEducation. Here, we’re working in partnership with Keele University to provide a software solution that supports teachers in delivering better learning outcomes. We have the resource to act as a force for good, and we’re passionate about doing so.

So, while our products are truly market-leading, we’re not solely defined by them. We’re committed to changing the world and giving back – whether that’s giving customers back control over their energy costs, giving back to the environment with clean renewable power, or giving back to the communities we serve.

Further reading

We originally published this interview here: