GlobalBSG recently interviewed Boudewijn Neijens, Copperleaf® CMO, to learn more about Copperleaf’s business model, challenges, and company culture. GlobalBSG uses its extensive international network in top-executive event management to bring together industry leaders, lawmakers and experts. Each year, they organize the Annual Asset Management Summit for Electricity Providers.
How do you describe Copperleaf and its mission in a few words?
“Our mission is very simple: building a better world, one decision at a time.”
How has the company changed and/or evolved into its current state as one of the fastest-growing and best-managed companies in Canada? Can you give us an insider perspective about that?
“Copperleaf was started about 20 years ago as a small consulting group advising power utilities on how to develop defensible long-term capital plans. At the time many utilities were simply applying a growth or inflation factor to the previous planning cycle’s budget and re-submitting it for approval to the regulator—who was understandably asking for something more rigorous. This led to the development of the bottom-up methods most utilities use today, where you model the future degradation of each asset and compute the resulting asset risks as a justification of funding needs. As we developed these methods, we discovered that spreadsheets were inadequate, and nobody was offering a ready-made software solution to address this challenge. So about 12 years ago we decided to become a software company, focusing on capital planning. This has fueled our rapid growth, from 20 people ten years ago to about 400 now, based all around the world.”
What are the strongest management values of Copperleaf’s company culture? How does Copperleaf evaluate employee engagement and compassionate leadership?
“When we switched gears to become a software company, we took advantage of an opportunity to also rethink our company culture. Some of the management team had worked together before in another Vancouver-based high-tech company and we knew how important culture can be in such organizations. We involved all employees to define our culture and made it very visible to all. In summary, it’s all about delivering exceptional value and providing extraordinary experiences—both to our customers and to our employees. Every year we evaluate everybody—from the CEO to the most junior employee—using a 360 review that focuses on how well each of us adheres to the culture.”
During our research calls for the 2nd Annual Asset Management Summit for Electricity Providers event, we heard Copperleaf’s name from many speakers. They all talked about Copperleaf in a very positive way, and this was the reason why we approached Copperleaf to talk at the event. How do you build your company reputation, especially in international terms?
“Well, I’m flattered to hear that. I think our success came through a combination of factors: first, you need to hire the absolute best people, so that you can take on the challenges your customers will present to you with confidence. Then, you must be humble—as a 20-year company we’re relative newcomers in a century-old industry, so you must listen carefully and learn from the experts. The advantage of being a newcomer is we can sometimes bring fresh ideas to the table and think about problems differently.
Growing internationally is relatively easy in the utility space: everybody knows and respects the utilities that are the innovators. If you work with these utilities, you are generally welcomed around the globe. We also decided early on that we needed to get involved in the development of asset management by volunteering our time at ISO, IEC, Cigre and other international institutions. This work has been invaluable: it has allowed us to learn from specialists in all domains, contribute to the industry, and make wonderful friends.”
What are the current challenges with your work as an asset management solution provider? How do you remain competitive in the market as the number of solution providers grow?
“The challenges keep things interesting! We started by solving the bottom-up development of long term capital plans, only to discover that many of our customers had an even more pressing problem: managing the yearly budgeting process. One could qualify this as being a top-down process where management sets the objectives and constraints, and asset managers must select the portfolio of projects that honours all constraints and delivers the highest possible value. We solved that problem too, and it is now our most popular software offering. The current challenges revolve around leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate and refine the decision-making processes.
Remaining competitive in high-tech means staying ahead, which requires a sizeable research and development (R&D) team, and listening carefully to your customers. At Copperleaf roughly half the company works in R&D, which means we have close to 200 engineers and programmers developing tomorrow’s solutions. To make sure we work on the right problems we have a very active customer community with a yearly multi-day summit in Vancouver, and many regional and specialist meetings over the year where we collect ideas and feedback from all our customers.”
What are the current actions you are taking to meet sustainability goals and regulations?
“Being a software company, our footprint is relatively modest and we are fortunate to be based in beautiful British Columbia which is overwhelmingly powered with hydroelectricity. Vancouver was the birthplace of Greenpeace, so everybody is very aware of sustainability challenges. Sustainability is also part of our mission: building a better world. The current pandemic has proven that we can operate remotely – to the point that we have reduced our office space significantly as we expect many of our employees will want to continue working from home, thereby further reducing our footprint.
The current push for Environmental, Social and Governance considerations, and the need to report on them, has heightened to need for decision support solutions such as Copperleaf. This has proven true at many of our customers, and we actually use our own software to help us make better decisions at Copperleaf too!”
Boudewijn Neijens will present on ‘Risk vs. Performance’ at the 2nd Annual Asset Management Summit for Electrical Providers, organized by GlobalBSG, coming up in April 2022.