The president of Headline Solar, Kevin Gillespie, shares how he made new hires and kept his business thriving admist the pandemic.

My future business partner and I met by happenstance. It was at a small entrepreneurship meetup in Austin, Texas. We were both interested in solar, but didn’t have designs on starting our own business. At least I didn’t. But the connection we formed over common interests became a muscle for mutual action. 

Though we may not have known it at the time, we were developing a shared mission: bettering lives through photovoltaic technology. Don’t worry, that mouthful of geek-speak isn’t on our t-shirts or business cards. But those first two words are our purpose.

Fast forward to February 2020, less than a year after we started our company. We had a staff of 16 people. We were growing on-pace. Sure, there were the normal new business stumbles, but we were doing the work we wanted and creating a legacy we always dreamed of.

And then the pandemic.

Everything in our operation changed: no house calls, delayed permitting, supply chain interruptions, warehousing capacity. General malaise and market uncertainty had our entire team nervous and afraid. What didn’t change though was our purpose: bettering lives. 

We had understood this to be the reason for our business and now the operation of business was in distress. But we were missing a connection. Our people are the operation, and our purpose is what fosters the culture of those people in our company. Our operations could change — had to change — from the pandemic, but our purpose would not.

Since March we’ve quadrupled our staff. We’ve conducted over 350 interviews in the last nine months. I thought the pandemic would put a strain on our business, but hiring so many people so quickly was equally as unexpected a challenge. I’m not complaining. 

With so many businesses, particularly small businesses, struggling, I know how fortunate we are to be growing. High unemployment means that we’re meeting a lot of very qualified people, many of whom had never considered the solar industry as a career. 

To use a pun, solar is still new and shiny. A buzzy start-up company is the fresh start many people crave. There was so much enthusiasm walking in our door. These job-seekers wanted to better their lives (who doesn’t?). But our purpose is bettering lives. It’s an outward-looking effort. We put a premium on references over resumes. We found success in those who could connect their individual task to the collective purpose of the business.

Consider the “Compliance Coordinator.” This is a very detail-oriented job. It is by definition, mundane. The excitement of a fast growing company in a future-oriented industry does not fit neatly on the desk of the Compliance Coordinator. Or does it? We hired for this position on a referral. 

Though completely new to the solar industry, she intuitively understood that if the right forms aren’t filled with the exact information at the start of the project, the homeowner won’t get the financial benefits promised by solar at the end of the project. 

Not only did she make the connection, she strengthened it, creating new processes in our operation and fostering our purpose. The Compliance Coordinator position is vital to our success. And everyone on our team, from sales to construction, knows it.

There’s a saying: hire slow, fire fast. It’s all relative. When your company is growing quickly, you need to hire quickly too. The pandemic focused us to hire better. Better for us are people who share our purpose.

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