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She’s pushing a inexperienced, digital, various future. And this CEO would not care who the president is


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When Helle Østergaard Kristiansen joined the Danish vitality dealer Danske Commodities a decade in the past, the chief admits it was one thing of a special world.

“To start with, the vitality market was not as liberalized as it’s at the moment. The manufacturing aspect was very, very completely different,” she says. “As a result of we didn’t have the renewable combine we’ve got at the moment.”

Margins have been larger, as a result of the competitors was decrease. The buying and selling was completely different: extra standard, much less digital. Now, she says, virtually all of the buying and selling on the 16-year-old firm is automated.

The workers has modified, too—away from standard merchants, and in direction of PhDs in software program engineering. A 3rd of the corporate is in IT, Kristiansen says, and the common age is 33. And what was then a small firm within the coastal metropolis of Aarhus is now a part of the Norwegian vitality big Equinor.

That acquisition occurred in February 2019, Kristiansen’s first yr as CEO. She is now spending her second yr within the midst of a pandemic and an financial disaster.

Regardless of the challenges of the pandemic, Equinor has been busy. The corporate turned one of many first legacy oil giants to aim for near net-zero emissions by 2050, and formally mentioned they’d goal for internet zero earlier this month. It’s a dedication different European majors, together with BP and Shell, have additionally made this yr.

Danske Commodities, which trades gasoline and renewables markets throughout 39 markets, together with the U.S. and Australia however principally in Europe, is now within the ever-evolving enterprise of buying and selling a deeply advanced, finely balanced energy market, with all of the fluctuations of wind and solar energy that entails, throughout a whole continent.

It additionally expanded to the U.S. final yr, with a brand new workplace in Stamford, Conn. to facilitate its enlargement into buying and selling in U.S. vitality markets.

Because the votes have been tallied for the U.S. election and Europe went again into lockdown, Kristiansen spoke to Fortune about managing by a disaster; how lockdowns form vitality patterns; and the way U.S. politics will—and gained’t—have an effect on the enlargement of renewable vitality.

This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.

What has stunned you this yr about easy methods to lead an organization by a world pandemic?

In a optimistic manner, it has stunned me how a lot we will function from a distance. That has been going surprisingly effectively. We haven’t seen a slowdown in our actions. It’s commonplace to do 14,000 trades in a day. And after we despatched individuals dwelling, I requested to have that statistic on a regular basis on what number of trades we’re doing—simply to have an outline—and I may see that nothing modified there.

In fact, one of many issues that we’ve got to adapt to is, how do you innovate while you’re not collectively? How do you collaborate? And so one of many issues I’ve achieved is that I’ve insisted on enterprise as standard, but additionally accepting that there are issues we have to do otherwise. And in addition, as a administration group—talk clearly, and in addition present that you just care. And positively present that you just attempt. I believe it’s okay to fail so long as you present that you’ve tried.

Earlier this yr, the nationwide grid within the UK advised Fortune concerning the radical shifts in vitality consumption they skilled within the early days of the pandemic. How have you ever seen vitality consumption patterns shift this yr?

Our enterprise mannequin could be very a lot about prediction of manufacturing and consumption, after which we’ve got varied fashions and merchandise round these two components.

Usually, consumption has been pretty straightforward to foretell as a result of the historical past, the consumption patterns—you know the way a standard Tuesday is in Germany, for instance. The manufacturing aspect, with all of the renewables coming into the market, is more and more tough to foretell. And that’s the place we’ve got our aggressive edge—with analytics, scientists, methodologists—which might be excellent at predicting climate patterns, and the way it’s shifting into the manufacturing.

However with this pandemic, it’s all of the sudden the consumption aspect that altering rather a lot. We are able to, for instance, see {that a} regular Tuesday in Germany all of the sudden has a consumption like a Sunday—we at the very least noticed that within the first close-down. We noticed that it modified very, very quick—the consumption aspect—after which we noticed [in the summer] that it stabilized. After which getting back from the summer season trip, it elevated quickly, sooner than we had predicted, and now we see that it’s taking place once more, because the nations are closing down.

If Biden wins, what does this imply for your small business mannequin, and in your skill to increase within the U.S.?

For us, it’s good if there’s a inexperienced agenda. Investments in renewables can be good for our enterprise mannequin. In that context, it could, in fact, be good if it was Biden that gained the election. I’d, nevertheless, say—and we’ve got seen that additionally the final 4 years—that it’s extra the states which have their very own agenda. And I imagine that it doesn’t matter what, that can even be the case sooner or later… So, the states are additionally driving their very own inexperienced agenda, [regardless of who] is the president.

Will non-U.S. firms be those pouncing on these alternatives?

This market has grown to be very, very aggressive. And that additionally signifies that in case you’re ranging from zero now, it’s important to put in an enormous funding to be on par. So I believe the competitors within the U.S. shall be worldwide.

You may have an enormous presence within the U.Ok. in offshore wind. How will a post-Brexit world impression your organization?

We have now ready for it in any manner we will. So [that means] dealer agreements, clearing banks. We have now gasoline setups, bilateral counter-parties. We made certain that we will act [either] underneath a tough Brexit, or no. After which there may be the final half the place you’re attempting to organize for the unknown unknown. As a result of the problem is, for instance, round how do you transport energy between the continent and the U.Ok.? We all know that it could possibly’t be the present guidelines, however nobody has determined the longer term guidelines.

So right here you’re making ready. You already know that one thing goes to occur, however you don’t know what. However on the identical time, we additionally imagine that that might give us some alternatives. It’s not good for market effectivity. However at the very least for a buying and selling firm—I can’t say that it gained’t give alternatives. However in fact, it’s unusual to be in a scenario very, very near a possible arduous Brexit, the place you don’t know important issues like that.

Are there dangers to the safety—or the soundness even—of the U.Ok.’s vitality provide consequently?

I don’t suppose we may have that scenario. I believe it’s extra attention-grabbing for us— what would be the funding urge for food for renewables within the U.Ok. sooner or later, if they’re standing alone? What is going to the subsidy schemes be? How will the funding urge for food be, and issues like that? And that’s extra long run.

At this level, are politics even a risk to the adoption of renewables?

I believe years in the past, they have been very, very weak to political choices, since you wanted subsidies to make them worthwhile. I believe at the moment, the motion is there—as a result of it could possibly compete with different [kinds of] manufacturing. That manner it can proceed now—regardless of political agendas. 

The press have been fast to say you’re one of many few girls within the government ranks of vitality buying and selling. What do you anticipate for the way forward for girls in your trade?

Actually, I don’t suppose it has modified rather a lot. It has by no means been a problem to me to be a lady within the vitality sector, however I believe I’ve additionally been in very, excellent firm. This dialogue about girls within the vitality sector could be very a lot about expertise. I believe we are going to, over time, compete with different sectors as we have gotten increasingly digital, and so forth. I noticed a survey from Boston Consulting saying that worldwide, the vitality sector only has 22% female employees. For us as a sector that’s a problem—that we don’t faucet into the entire pool of capabilities and qualification, and solely part of it.

It’s, in fact, a spotlight for me. I wish to have entry to one of the best expertise—the entire expertise pool—that’s for certain. We attempt to do rather a lot in DC [Danske Commodities] to enhance this. As one instance, we’ve got launched paid parental depart [for both men and women]. And that’s not low-cost in an organization with a median age of 33, and 78% males. But it surely is part of recognizing that in case you sit in entrance of ladies or males, it shouldn’t matter. You’re not afraid that they’d go on maternity or paternity depart.

We are also very a lot targeted on our job advertisements. As a result of beforehand, it has very a lot been within the wordings, like “doing what it takes,” “go the additional mile.” Which isn’t perhaps very interesting to a feminine dealer. Now we focus rather more on describing what {qualifications} they want. That’s really the incredible a part of being a part of a buying and selling firm. It’s very a lot about qualification, and also you’re measured in your outcomes, nothing else. For feminine candidates, it needs to be an attention-grabbing sector to affix: you’re a part of the vitality sector that’s shifting so quick, it’s so vital for the way forward for each considered one of us.

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