top of page

Q&A with Milan Koev, CEO @ Hexagon Holdings

Updated: Jul 24, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Milan Koev, CEO @ Hexagon Holdings

How could you describe your career path in few words ?

There are no “few words for this”. My career in the solar industry started some 13 years ago by a pure accident. In my late 20s I was working in IT, in London. One day I woke up and I realized, I was so desperate to escape that place, that I started immediately applying for jobs all over the world, without even reading the content of the job posts. And so the first job offer came from a small city in China, from a company manufacturing solar panels.

I also have an official version of this story, which I sometimes tell when I am asked to speak at conferences. The official version is still true, it just happened later in time.

I was in Spain, at a friend’s house, who has 13 bedrooms and he keeps the aircons of those rooms on at all times – 24/7. I asked him why he is wasting so much electricity, while there is millions of people all over the world without access to any. He replied it wouldn’t make any difference for them even if he switched off all appliances. Instead, he said, he runs a small startup that provides power to communities in Africa with solar and storage equipment. Back then storage was not a thing, so this really impressed me I remember. In the context of climate change however, this way of living is still not acceptable to me.

Since that time, I never turned my back on solar, even though I had to go through a lot of ups and downs. Our industry is often referred to as a solar-coaster, because its dynamics over the years could really be associated with a roller coaster. It was a very policy centric industry in the beginning and I recall I have lost two jobs because of bad policies – first by the European Union, which imposed anti-dumping tariffs for Chinese solar equipment and second by Donald Trump in the peak of his trade wars.

I have seen so many companies go up and down. The biggest then manufacturer, a young startup, at some point became the official sporsor of a UEFA world cup. In Brazil I believe it was. Just a few years later, the company is gone – nowhere near top 10. Thousands of companies in Europe shat down. But hey, let’s look in the future. And in the future, someone predicted, the next 1,000 unicorns will be from industries fighting climate change. And renewables is really high up there.

I was lucky to join the industry when it was just picking up commercially. First in Europe, but soon after all over the world. It was amazing experience to see how lobbyists from coal or oil&gas would slowly lose their voice over the years. It was super funny to experience how the Big Oil changed the narrative from “there is no climate change” to “we are one of the leading renewable energy companies today”. Funny and sad though. But better late than never some say. So the fight is still going on.

Very soon after I joined the industry, I realized that climate change will be in the center of the solar universe for a long time. I did a lot of marketing in the early years and to my surprise (I was young and naïve I suppose), the management of those solar companies I dealt with, didn’t really care much about saving the planet, but a lot more about the annual profits. Those were the so called “cowboy years” of the industry. Back then literally everyone was starting a business in solar. Companies popped up like mushrooms. Literally shoe and umbrella manufacturers switched production lines to make solar panels. There was so much cash. Mostly from the governments, who were subsidizing renewable energy producers with generous tariffs. Investments’ payback time – 2 years. Contract term – 25 years! Who wouldn’t do this? It was probably as good as selling weapons. Or drugs. Just completely legal. In fact not only legal, but super popular. People were praising you in those years for simply being involved in the industry.

Every artificially created industry starts with subsidies. Solar has been created artificially, because when it started, there was no economic need for it. Coal power cost was 4 US cents per kWh (kilowatt hour). Solar was close to a dollar. Absolutely insane economically. But it was clean power – scalable, with no moving parts, deployable everywhere. In those days the biggest projects were around 1 MWp in size. Today they are 1000 times bigger. The cost for a solar system in the beginning of the commercial days, in the early 2000’s was about 5 US dollars per watt peak. Today is 50 cents. Installation volumes worldwide were 200 MW. Today they are 200,000 MW. And still growing.

So the “cowboy years” are over now. Solar is a US$ 300 bn industry per year. This year solar reached 1,000 GW of installed capacity. It is now the cheapest source of new electricity generation capacity in many geographies around the world, particularly in the Middle East, where 1 kWh of solar power is being sold at close to 1 US cent. This is much lower than coal, nuclear or anything else. It’s been so much fun to experience this growth. I can only imagine what the future has to offer. Someone estimated that if solar grows with the same rate, in 12 years from now, the entire planet can be empowered by solar power. This of course may not happen, but the trend is clear.

What was your most challenging experience and it has changed your mindset ?

I think behind the visible in life, there is a lot more invisible. Like the iceberg if you wish, of which you can see less than 5% above the surface. This invisible force in life, some call karma, others God, luck, fate. Not sure what it really is. But life has proven, to me too, that the most challenging situations could create the best outcomes. I was working for a company, which acted more like a kingdom than a market driven business operation. And this is the reason why the company has kept being resold to new owners 3 times in the last 10 years and has never been profitable in its most recent history. I had a job which I liked a lot. I am not into politics and I always make sure people know exactly what I think on a certain issue. Constantly voicing out though has caused my contract to be terminated. In the first 2 hours it was a rather shocking experience. But by the end of that same day, I had a lesson I learnt, I made an action plan and the very next day, I rolled the plan out. I have basically decided that it is time for me to start my own business. I needed to pick up some skills, which I did in the following 6 months and started a company, which for the past 3 years was and is still doing quite well.

What’s the most important key success factor for you based on your experience ?

The most important success factor is being able to impact people’s lives. On the contrary people believe that success at work is to become a CEO, to grow your salary, to get awards or to be respected. This is all non-sense. Let me ask you this.

The latest scientific discoveries show that for 1 second the universe is expanding with approximately the space which is 1000 times the size of the Milky Way. I repeat – the universe is expanding for 1 second with 1000 times the size of our Galaxy. So, in this vast, vast universe, we have a tiny, small, little speck, which is the Milky Way. In that speck, there are approximately 400 billion stars. Around one of the average sized stars, a micro-speck, there is a tiny little planet, called the Earth. On this planet there are around 200 countries. In one of those countries is your company. And in that company you are a big man. How big of a man are you really? So all this ego feeding non-sense of achieving success is absolutely useless. Because even without the most successful person out there, or even without the 10 million most successful people in the world, the planet will continue spinning around the sun, wouldn’t it?

But impacting one life, or multiple lives, making people happier, or smarter or stronger. This is success. And unfortunately I have only realized this a couple of years ago. So going forward this is my entire focus in my career.

What would be the major pitfall that may undermine the success of a leader?

Those, that are self-created. Ego is the most common one by far. Of course there will always be people who are doing their best to undermine anyone. But that is ok. A blissful, joyful, honest, humble, dedicated and intelligent leader cannot be undermined. Because such a leader would be impacting people’s lives positively every single day. And I know this will be disagreed by many, but let me ask? Was Steve Jobs a successful leader? A lot of people are celebrating him as a legend, but those who worked for him, say, they lived in hell. Would mobile phones be any less advanced if he was a nicer person? Wouldn’t the Koreans or Chinese figure out the technology anyway even if Steve Jobs didn’t exist? So again, defining success is the key. But the more one detaches themselves from the material success, from their ego, the less likelihood there is for pitfalls to be efficient against them.

282 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page