Interview: Sonnen MD resigns, launches start-up

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pv magazine: Philipp Schröder has been the face of  sonnen for the last three years, working as the point of contact for many of your partners. He has also been heavily associated with the incredible transformation that the company has undergone in recent years. Are you shocked by his departure?

Christoph Ostermann: I’m not shocked. Of course, I’m sad, because we were friends long before sonnen. My grief is dampened by the fact that Philipp will not go completely away, but still remains, as planned, a long-term advisor for the future. I brought Philipp from Tesla to sonnen, so that he could help us during a very important development phase. It was all about building up the brand and making it known. He was, as you say, the face of sonnen in this task and role, and of course he did that very well. But we knew from the beginning that it would be a temporary collaboration.

Mr. Schröder, why are you leaving?

Philipp Schröder: What nobody in the market really knows: Just as Christoph says, we know each other for a long time, are good and close friends. Christoph is also involved in the new company I am starting now. The relationship between us is very good and it has always been like that.

Christoph approached me back at the start, and said: ‘Hey, we have something big at sonnen, come on board.’ But it was always clear to both of us that at some point there would be a moment when sonnen is more than an individual – and we’ve just achieved that. That’s not a decision we’ve just made a month ago, but we’ve been very cautious about bringing top people into the company over the past six to 12 months, and now have a good second row [of leadership]. We have grown exponentially, and have achieved a lot. And to be honest, I’m so proud that I’m here to stay. This is an important point: I will always remain a Sonnen Warrior until the last day of my life, I’m sure. Only you always have to be honest with yourself and accept new challenges – and I have done that now. I believe that all these speculations come from outside the company.

What will you do in the future?

Schröder: Something completely different. In parallel, in recent years I have been involved in a technology that does nothing else, but compare investment opportunities. It is a free online tool that we are introducing today, which lets you compare all the investment opportunities that exist – from commodity funds to equity funds worldwide. We want to ensure that the prosumer becomes more mature in the area of ​​investments. Of course, we also want to leave a mark on the market, but it is a completely different market. My heart remains in the energy field and beats for sonnen, of course.

Going back to sonnen, the transformation is far from complete. What’s next on the cards?

Ostermann: As we have already said, there are different phases, and for different phases, there are also the right people. We do not have only Philipp Schröder and myself on the executive board; our management team consists of seven people. We have deliberately positioned ourselves well in recent years, because we do a lot of different things, including international business, the Sonnen community, and much more.

The second point is: We have built a very strong second row under the management team. These are people who understand their business and also run the units in Australia, the USA and Italy. It has always been important for us to invest in very good people. Of course, we are looking for a successor for Philipp. But our search is proceeding in a relaxed way. We already have some very promising candidates in the pipeline, and we will certainly make a decision in the coming weeks.

Sonnen is growing very fast and has a big financial need to sustain the growth. How long will your funds last?

Ostermann: We have just completed a €60 million financing round and in May, Shell has been added as a shareholder. With Shell and other investors, we have some very strong investors on our hands who have deep pockets, and obviously stand by us and give us a lot of money. So far in every round of financing, we have had the opportunity to choose the investors we want to take with us. So, we cannot complain about affordability. We know that we are aggressively growing, this is our DNA. That’s why we are not profitable yet. That’s fine, as long as we can finance it – and we can. We can do that over the next few years.

Are there any plans for what’s next in terms of services or new products?

Ostermann: Yes, clearly there are plans for something new. You will hear from us in the coming months for various technological innovations. If you look at the U.S. press today, you’ll see that we’ve just launched a new model in the U.S., the ECO links that are going into the home automation market.

You said at the beginning that Mr. Schröder is still available as a long-term consultant. What does this involve?

Schröder: Due to the fact that I am not moving to another company within the energy sector, I remain involved, hopefully for a very long time, in the long-term development of sonnen. Of course, I will keep my stake in the company. Sonnen warrior: that is what I am. But, the brand is bigger than Philipp Schröder. And what we do is unrivaled, internationally and nationally. That is why I always think it is a bit petty when there is speculation. We will continue here, and I am always on the side of the company, as long as sonnen needs and wants me.

Does not it hurt to go, just when the fruits of your labor are ripe for the picking?

Schröder: No, it does not hurt when you know you have done your job, and when you know that very talented people are now in the second row. They get their space now and that is the way it has to be. You also have to be critical and question: ‘When are new kinds of management skills necessary and when are they not?’ Then you also have to conduct a very open and honest dialogue within management and the employees, and ask: ‘What is right for sonnen?’ We have done it so far and will continue to do what is right for sonnen.

Of course, there is an emotional bond that will always remain. Nevertheless, I am courageous and make my own decisions, and I am ready to dive into new waters. That is what I did with Tesla, when I left. Now I am leaving sonnen, but I can look back and know: There are good people who will do something. I also know that the best time for sonnen is still to come.