May 24, 2021 – Andy Towne is CEO and co-founder with Bob Hobbs of Hobbs & Towne. They pioneered ESG and sustainability-focused executive search, building the firm into the undisputed leader in the clean tech and climate tech category.
HTI is a boutique advisory services firm, which includes talent, deal sourcing, leadership assessment, interim management, and M&A advisory, with 15 partners, five operating partners and a team of 40 spread across offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto, Philadelphia, and London.
Mr. Towne specializes in working with transformational growth companies, with an emphasis on mobility, energy, food, agriculture, and water. He has partnered with many of the premier investors around the world, including Breakthrough Energy Partners, Khosla Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Oaktree Capital and Platinum Equity, to build top-tier investment teams and leadership teams for transformative companies. With a 59 percent growth rate in revenues in 2020, Hobbs & Towne took first place in the exclusive Hunt Scanlon Top 25 rankings as the fastest growing search firm of the year. Following are excerpts from a recent conversation with Hunt Scanlon Media.
Andy, how important is government, in particular President Biden’s plans on infrastructure and climate change, on our having a viable sustainability and clean tech sector?
Government is having a big impact. For us, we have seen a 50 percent-plus growth rate in the last five months since Biden was elected. So, Administration support is critical to transforming this sector. Nobody likes to pay more taxes. But if tax dollars are being utilized to improve infrastructure, to improve climate initiatives, that will create jobs. This investment into the sector will be a win-win for everyone, no matter what your political persuasion might be. It will, we believe, help to create a healthier economy. And, importantly to all of us, this investment is going to give our kids and our grandchildren a better world to grow up in. People whom we have been involved with – investors, founders of companies, and board members – are already playing active roles in this Administration.
Anyone we would recognize?
Yes. For example, we placed Jennifer Granholm on the board of Proterra, which is an electric bus company, four years ago. Proterra went public recently. I was speaking with Jennifer about another board role in November and she sent me a text to let me know that she was about to get busy for the next four years. She became President Biden’s pick for Secretary of Energy. Another person is Jigar Shah, the founder of Sun Edison and a co-founder of Generate Capital, and who has done very meaningful invest- ment work. Now he is director of the Department of Energy’s $40 billion Loan Programs Office and will be one of the bigger players in Washington, D.C. helping to develop clean energy technologies. So, government will play a big role. And Administrative support is critical globally as well. If we are going to truly be able to transform industry, we need that push in place from the government. We are also seeing the GOP publicly discuss climate impact, and a willingness to meet in the middle now on some initiatives. Climate was a big part of this last election, from the primaries all the way through. It is now front and center and mainstream with the population. And well it should. We all live on one planet and we are all in this together.
Were you discouraged during the Trump years?
Yes, and our historical numbers are evidence of what happened in the category. In post-election 2016, the spigot was turned off for about six months, and then there was this circling of the wagons of investors. It was led by people like Bill Gates, Vinod Khosla, John Doerr, and many of the long-term committed climate investors. They decided to get the wealthiest people in the world committed, the wealthiest families in the world, and they were going to invest enormous capital to begin the push. And from 2017 through the election there was this building momentum in the category. The Administration change created the perfect storm. It was going to happen regardless, but with the Administration change and the support of government, it’s just happening all that much faster now. What an exciting time.
What was the pandemic like for your firm?
We were having a record year through middle of March last year. Then, like everyone else, we found ourselves locked down and working remotely. We were preparing for furloughs. We advised our team to prepare for a quiet summer. It was quiet for about a month. And then it was like we were shot out of a cannon in April. And, so, we did close to a record year, a significantly up year, which was surprising coming through the pandemic. And then 2021 has just been an explosive growth year, just explosive. We happen to be in an industry that is growing at enormous scale right now. And we are in a business where you can operate remotely. As a result of the pandemic, our efficiency has risen. Our average search time has gone down by about 30 days as well. And that is great news for our clients who require speed and efficiency from us to meet their talent demands.
What roles are most in demand?
Great question – and the answer is being impacted by the SPAC market, as well. But the roles that are most in demand for us are chief financial officer and chief people officer. And, as I mentioned, we have seen 50 percent growth since December 1. A big part of that has been on the financial side. Many of these companies that thought they were several years away from transitioning into public entities are now looking at a time horizon of 180 days. That means preparing to be SEC compliant. Same thing with governance, and preparing all the required rigor necessary, from HR and communications to investor relations, sales, board makeup and so on. All of this means more mandates streaming into us to fill vital C-suite roles across all of these functions. It has meant endless work for us.
How many searches is the firm doing each month?
We are doing about 30 searches a month. That is an incredible pace for us. But we are stepping up. And those searches are a mix of all the roles I just mentioned. It is CEO searches, building out boards of directors, and the C-suites and direct reports of every functional discipline. And there is a lot of specialized advisory work that comes along with those searches. And that is what builds the knowledge base of the category – to be able to go out and represent effectively when you are going out to talk to CFOs that maybe are not familiar with the technology, or they are not familiar with the industry. So more often, than not, they are turning to us for advisory and consulting advice. That is our biggest opportunity ahead, frankly. It is our strength.
What are some notable searches the firm has completed?
We just placed the CFO of SOURCE Global, Nate Myer. Nate came from Platinum Equity, where he had been for 10 years. He will lead the company through their public process. We just placed Kelcy Pegler as the CEO will FlexGen, which is an energy storage company that is going through a massive commercial scale up right now. We just placed the head of the EV business for Shoals Technologies Group, which is an Oaktree Capital deal. They went public earlier this year and raised $1.9 billion. They have a market cap of about $5.5 billion. We just placed their head of EV to build their electric vehicle platform. We placed their head of marketing, as well as their CTO. We recently placed the chief scientific officer at Impossible Foods. We were involved with this client from the beginning 10 years ago when they were spawned at Stanford University and built their scientific team there. We continue to work very closely with them today. They are getting ready to file for a $10 billion IPO. Not all of our clients are going to be mainstream. But Impossible Foods was in that category at one time. And back in the day when we worked with Tesla nobody cared about electric vehicles. They thought only tree huggers had electric vehicles. Today, there is not a transportation company on the planet that is not designing an electric vehicle right now.
You see any challenges ahead?
The biggest challenge for us right now is how fast can we grow. That is No. 1 for us. We have over 20 years of history in the category and we have an unmatched talent network. From that standpoint we are in an excellent leadership position. But like any professional services firm, the challenge becomes scale. And we have always grown methodically. As founders, Bobby and I have done an exceedingly good job of growing a boutique firm. And now we find our ourselves in the middle of the hottest category on the planet. For us, it is all about making the right decisions on growth and managing our bandwidth. Our sector is now well beyond being a movement; it has reached transformational status in our society. We will work hard to maintain our leadership position in the category.