Turnaround Tactics

Jeff Camp discusses putting Cinium back on the fast track for growth, the power of the right people, and his latest foray into the world of solar

What was instrumental in helping you turn around Cinium?

Jeff Camp: When I stepped in as CEO of Cinium, the first thing I did was get the whole company together—all of our employees—and spent two days going through what I perceived as Cinium’s core problems. But I wanted to involve all of our employees in identifying the company’s problems and creating their solutions. I wanted to hear from people about how they could improve what they are doing. You have to address the problem in a manner that brings the company together and gets everybody behind the same goals.

Investors are more cautious about the credit market after the subprime crisis. How do you pitch to investors the idea of Cinium’s business model—primarily dealing with loans for small businesses?

Camp: Within all crises, there is opportunity. With Cinium, what we saw was the opportunity to help bring credit back to small contractors. We felt that we could do that in a way that was not risky to us and would benefit the small business at the same time. With any company, you have to provide a service or product that your customers find valuable. We set out to identify these experienced capable contractors who are having difficulty in financial markets to help them to grow their businesses.

How do you coach the young leadership team? What qualities are you looking for when it comes to recruiting and promoting talent?

Camp: You want to make sure that you have the right person for that job. It’s important to understand what job responsibilities you are asking people to take on. In promoting people, I try on each level to push people to do more. I work very closely with our employees, trying to see what they want to achieve in their careers and how I can help them get there. We have a set of core values where we define how people are expected to work and perform at Cinium. With peers it means that we share credit when it is due and acknowledge the contributions of others. And with subordinates, it means we are fair and objective in compensation, advancement, and conduct. We know that success is shared with the team and that failure lies only with oneself.

How important is it to build a culture at a start-up company?

Camp: The culture you define is going to set the tone for your company. Start-up businesses need people who have the ambition, desire, and work ethic to move things forward and achieve things others might not be willing to take on. We don’t pursue growth for the sake of growth. We will only be as successful as our clients are. For this reason, we constantly look to improve and see how we can add more value to our clients.

What are your reasons for starting the company Universal Power Light (UPL) when most big players in the solar market are struggling to turn profit?

Camp: UPL addresses two forms of inefficiency in the solar market. It was difficult for the large utilities to deal with the smaller commercial projects—the one megawatt or two megawatt projects—from the scaling prospective. We want to make it much more efficient for them to transact these small commercial projects. At the same time, developers who are trying to build these projects don’t have the experience and scale to deal with large utilities. Because of that, they weren’t able to get access to this valuable source of capital. We made that process much more efficient for contractors and provided a full financing package. It starts with whether there is a fundamental proposition we are addressing. And we should be able to implement the idea.

What is your approach to investing in start-ups?

Camp: Every investment is like a problem you need to solve. Over the course of my career, I have focused on developing an investment process—the problem-solving, decision-making analysis that goes into making a decision. You never have 100 percent certainty about anything. What you are really trying to do is minimize your risk of failure. I have a basic framework that I have used for years to analyze problems, which is breaking the problem down into smaller and smaller parts and understanding what the is risk that I am taking.

Start-ups are very risky. With each one of them, I look to do the same analysis—what are the opportunities, and what are the risks that I take that might lead to failure? I spend a lot of time understanding what financial numbers tell me and understanding the operation work related to revenue and expenses.