What has been the most significant technological development of recent years?
The most recent one.
Humankind’s ability to develop technology is core to our very existence. All technology is significant and limiting ourselves to one perspective on any single technology is meaningless. Penicillin applied right now in many areas of the world would be ‘significant’ and the recent Space X flight is probably also a ‘significant’ moment.
What has been the most influential legislative change in recent years?
My sense is that the will of the people drives the legislature which acts as a sort of sweeper behind these memes/waves. The wave currently building is that we need to sort out a transition to a low carbon economy so we see action by well-funded legal groups suing for corporate fraud where, for example and as I understand what has been purported, in 1985 Exxon and others built the Troll offshore oil platform 2m higher to allow for a rise in global sea levels whilst at the same denying global warming existed.
How do you see the legislative environment changing through to 2040/2050?
Unfortunately it would appear that the scientists have been telling the truth since 1985 when Mrs Thatcher told the world about the dangers of global warming in her speech to the UN (http://bit.ly/1HAnE9R). Therefore, we are going to see some unpleasant and life threatening events in the period leading to 2040. The wave of public opinion will get very large and the legislature will need to be very robust behind that.
How has the perception of cleantech, energy, environment and efficiency evolved in your view in recent years? What do you envisage for the future of the sector?
Our UK industrial strategy needs to create jobs and economic prosperity, and in many ways the development of new industrial technology is more vital today than it has ever been. In the finance sector we need to work harder to make capital available in the gap between early, Innovate/EIS-type funding and growth capital (which often looks like equity returns for a debt risk). Patient Capital, if you like. In the Turquoise response to the Treasury’s Patient Capital review, we called for a Patient Capital Obligation (PCO) on large institutional investors (e.g. pension funds, insurance companies, possibly also banks) requiring them to invest a small proportion of their overall assets in long term, patient capital funds that target industry sectors that match government priorities. There are various examples of government using such a mandate including in the energy generation sector with the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO), Renewables Obligation (RO), etc.
For more on our views on the limitations of ‘Cleantech’ see: http://bit.ly/2D9LM7i.
How important are entrepreneurs and leadership in meeting the challenges ahead?
To build business from scratch to becoming major enterprises (leaving aside the desire we all have for a unicorn in the portfolio), requires leadership and entrepreneurship and it seems odd that, like parenthood, there is no real training for this. Yes, there are MBAs (I have one), and some mentoring programmes but mainly the entrepreneur-leader is asked to be a pioneer (you know, the dead guy lying in the mud with an arrow in his back). Whilst most new business fail, entrepreneurs are generally over-confident of their ability to deliver – which may well be a requirement for the job! We see about 100 businesses a year or more at Turquoise, many of which are not investment ready but very few realise it. As the ‘Resident Entrepreneur’ at Turquoise, having co-founded Utilita (a company now employing over 1,200 people), I am always interested in opportunities to get involved with management teams that are struggling with the multitude of issues all new businesses face.
From a global point of view, what impact (if any) do you think political change is having on the energy, environment and efficiency sectors? How do you think this will change?
In my lifetime, I have never experienced a period like now where global stewardship through political office is being enacted by such second-rate people. With a (very) few exceptions, the political class is out of date, detached from the realities of modern life and careerist.
This needs to change and, as an innovator, I would like to see the digitalisation of democracy. Why should the House of Commons spout about productivity whilst still manually counting who walks through the left or right door to vote?!
The Brexit referendum has been held up as an example of why not to have referendums. I disagree; we have engagement, politicians have to do real work, we should exchange the once-every-five-years voting system for perhaps one-every-five-minutes (alongside votes by elected politicians) so many of the actual decisions made by a genuinely cross-party parliament. There has been, and continues to be, very little difference in approach between the parties on most issues. Take Brexit: on one side, ‘we don’t know’, and, on the other side, ‘we won’t tell you’.
Under a reformed system, the electorate would vote for far bolder mandates for industrial technology to meet the global warming crisis than is currently the case.
Describe your career journey in a few words
Journey is the right word in my case, consisting of many stations and the final destination not yet in view. I built my own car at 18; that got me a job with Shell International where I worked in offshore gas. I then discovered my independent side so turned down an MBA sponsored by Shell for a funded-by-me MBA at London Business School where they asked me if I was a ‘corporate’ or ‘entrepreneur’ MBA. I said the former; however, as it turned out, for the next 25 years I was mainly an entrepreneur who went on to found four businesses of my own.
What are the key ingredients to delivering innovation?
Bravery, ambition and, sorry to say this, luck.
What’s your biggest business tip?
Spend sufficient time at the water cooler, photocopier or coffee machine. What I mean is: start networking when you are 6 and never stop; it is your network that brings the biggest rewards.
What is your proudest business moment?
In the 1990s, whilst working for National Power, I was appointed CEO of Karaganda Power in Kazakhstan. During that time, we rebuilt the city’s heating system on which hundreds of thousands of people depended for electricity and heat. As an entrepreneur, I wanted to meet our customers directly; however, the largely ex-soviet power company staff were convinced I was insane. Nevertheless, we booked the Coal Miners Institute and, to everyone’s amazement, some 2,000 customers turned up. One lady, a ‘babushka’, stood up in her fur coat and said: ‘Mr Casale, last year my apartment was so cold I wore this coat inside all winter. Now, since you have made all these improvements, I walk about my apartment naked.’ A moment that has never been surpassed.
Who would you like to have dinner with – and why?
My grandfather – he was killed in WWII before I was born.