CPO Strategy
Executive Insights

EnterSolar: The philosophy of procurement

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Edgar Lim, Vice President of Technology and Procurement, explores how a sound procurement philosophy achieves growth in a “solar-coaster” market. 

Written by Dale Benton

Since 2005, EnterSolar has established itself as a trusted, single source for corporations looking to advance towards clean energy. In the years since, it has become one of the largest commercial solar developers in the United States. EnterSolar’s value proposition is built around long-term relationships with clients to enable a seamless transition to solar while navigating a volatile pricing market. Key to achieving and delivering on this value proposition is the company’s procurement process and most importantly its procurement philosophy. This is where Edgar Lim, Vice President of Technology and Procurement, comes into play. A technical engineer by trade, with a passion for sustainability, Lim worked his way through the ranks from engineering right through to leading maintenance operations and divisions, learning everything he could about solar along the way. For Lim, he feels it created a “white collar/blue collar” combination of experience, which caught the eye of EnterSolar. “I was brought in initially as a technical director wearing multiple hats,” explains Lim. “But I was also shadowing Peyton Boswell the Co-Founder and Managing Director, where I would attend a number of meetings with vendors; watching and observing how he nurtured those relationships with vendors and understanding the role it played in the growth of the business.” 

After close to a year, carving out a procurement function to his role piece by piece, Lim was made Head of Procurement and charged with dealing with all vendor relations.  This is where he feels his strong engineering background, coupled with managing operations, enables Lim to be successful in navigating this complex and ever-changing industry space. “Every other month it seems there’s a new product and each one claiming to be better, cheaper and faster than its predecessor,” he says. “It’s exciting and challenging because you need to understand how to sift through all that noise, work out what’s real and pinpoint technologies that would be a good fit and bring the best value to our clients.”

EnterSolar is both a developer and Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) company and so it goes without saying that procurement forms a significant part of the company’s operations, particularly when it comes to executing a project on time, on budget and up to standard. But while it is central to EnterSolar’s value proposition, the global procurement space is rapidly evolving and becoming a key business driver in any business across multiple industry sectors. Lim has seen this impact his role first-hand. “I find myself sharing and telling the story of our procurement philosophy more and more with teammates on the front lines and other business developers. I’m being brought in more on meetings or conference calls with buyers from finance or technical backgrounds,” he says. “Our combined knowledge and experience allows us to communicate in a language that we all understand so that we can translate what we do into something that can add value. This will continue to be very important, bringing that technical know-how and infusing it into our procurement decisions, so to speak.”

Negotiation is crucial to any business interaction and so this shared language is key and Lim recognizes that he has to try to understand the best interests of all parties involved  in order to formulate and figure out a win-win scenario. This approach starts at the very top and Lim has the support and the trust from them to deliver his procurement philosophy and drive growth for the company. This, Lim recognizes, has been instrumental not only in enabling his own journey, but that of others. “What they have been incredibly good at, is putting the right people in the right positions so they can shine,” he says. “With me, they didn’t just see someone who would come in and do the job, they saw someone that would use that as a stepping-stone to do bigger and better things for the company and take on greater responsibilities.” This is particularly the case in an industry in which he describes as a “solar-coaster”, where Lim has had to deal with a number of challenges out of his control such as policy risk and trade tariffs. “The fact I’ve been able to deliver value and maneuver certain headwinds has built trust in me,” he says. “In turn, it’s given me more rope to do what I need to do for the company.”

Lim has a key procurement philosophy, one he has developed and implemented within EnterSolar through years of understanding and learning from his peers and from connecting with the global procurement space. His philosophy is a simple one: find synergies and operate in a paradigm of win-win with clients and vendors. “I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game. It’s a non-zero-sum and everyone’s out to do well for themselves, to do well for their company,” he says. “This is more important in the solar industry because there are only a few key vendors that you want to continue doing business with. When our clients are purchasing a solar system or getting into a contract for a power-purchase agreement, you know, buying power for long periods of time, they’re investing in us. Simply put, it’s a long-term investment.”

“That’s the same mind-set that we want to have with our clients and with our vendors. The only way to nurture and maintain  successful long-term relationships is to have
a win-win mindset. ”

As part of his role, Lim must “sift through the noise” as to what is happening in the market from a technology perspective. This becomes a task of trying to strike the right balance between implementing what’s right for the company and staying ahead of the competition. As technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace, Lim believes that a healthy dose of skepticism and due diligence will remain key to achieving this. “In a perfect world, you’re always in equilibrium. But entropy, will always find its way into the environment and taking some risks is important for any procurement professional,” he says.  “That sense of skepticism is definitely present but at the same time, we’re not letting it hold us back from being on the forefront of what’s up and coming, what’s new. For me what’s key is really digging deep and understanding what the advancement is and what it entails, and how it affects the manufacturing process and the supply chain. This helps to de-risk the decision a little.”

A lot of responsibility rests on Lim’s shoulders, and he knows it. Having established a level of trust that allows him to drive the company forward through informed decision making and philosophy, Lim continues to educate himself as much as possible through global conferences in different industries and encourages any procurement professional in any industry to do the same. “I think in today’s world more than ever, having interdisciplinary knowledge is crucial to stay on top of the game. Because I think the companies that are able to learn from other industries and see how they do things are the ones that are going to be ahead of the game here,” he says. “Get a picture of some of the tools that other CPOs are using that we’re not and see what’s available and how they’ve added value to these different organizations. Then explore how these tools or processes could be aligned with what we’re trying to do and if there’d be value in implementing them.”

Over the course of his career with EnterSolar in particular, Lim has achieved great success in implementing a procurement philosophy that drives value and growth for the company. He attributes this to an internal drive to continue to learn and continue to challenge and this is something he looks to bring to EnterSolar more and more. “I want us as a business to de-centralize some of our decisions in an effective manner. To help all departments think a little differently in a way that can be shared with others. So that different people can take on different parts of procurement responsibility,” he says. “In order for us to grow we need everyone to grow their skills and mind-sets with regards to procurement so that there’s no threshold limit that we place on ourselves.”

“I always believe there are two circles: the circles of influence and worry. I think having a lot of personal growth has helped me to increase the circle of influence and reduce the circle of worry. This is something we can all achieve.”

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