Always finish what you start. Take pride in your work. Do what has to be done. Antiquated life lessons from a bygone generation or a solid business model?
Today, advances in technology and communication have ushered in an information age that renders the old way of life obsolete, inefficient, and slow.
Those who fail to adopt that modern train of thought are often labeled as out-of-touch, old-fashioned, or irrelevant.
Bucking that trend is five-year-old wind energy independent service provider RENEW Energy Maintenance.
Disillusioned with the typical service provider business model, energy industry veterans Jim Mikel and Gary Fish founded the group in 2009.
The pair shared a unique vision for their company. Instead of specialization, they sought to offer a comprehensive suite of services, with an emphasis on quality and innovation. The result was an imaginative wind service provider that would employ modern methods and the latest technology, while never straying from its solid, “old-fashioned” ethical foundation.
Shaping the core of that foundation is a set of principles drawn from the code of the working cowboy and outlined by author and former Wall Street financier Jim Owen in his book “Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West.”
“What Owen said was that Wall Street would be better if they would abide by the Code of the West in their decision making,” said Fish, who serves as Chief Financial Officer for Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based RENEW. “When I read the book and saw the Code, I thought: ‘This fits Jim and I. This fits the kind of company that we would like to build.’”
While the rural, open landscape may be the most noticeable parallel between the cowboy lifestyle and the wind industry, RENEW’s intent in operating under the Code lies in its dealings with others — its customers, employees, and shareholders.
“It goes back to how cowboys would treat each other in the West. We just took the ten principles and applied them to this industry,” Fish said. “It just gives us some guidance — not only in our daily operations, but in our strategic thinking of where we want to take the company, and how we want to treat customers and employees.”
Following those principles, RENEW has grown steadily since its inception. Since the company started, its workforce expanded to 113 — 90 of whom are technicians. RENEW’s sales in its first full year totaled $3 million and grew at a consistent pace for the next three years. In 2014, sales jumped to $25 million — up significantly from $14 million at the end of 2013. The company’s client base includes 18 of the top 25 U.S. wind asset owners, as well as four of the top 10 OEMs.
RENEW attributes that growth and success to its ability to meet a customer’s many different needs through its broad range of services spanning multiple functions in the wind energy O&M segment. While in the past, owners had to deal with hiring and coordinating the efforts of multiple service providers, one call to RENEW could now handle the majority — if not all — of their needs.
“There probably isn’t any other third-party service provider that offers the same range of services we offer today,” said Mikel, RENEW’s Chief Executive Officer. “A lot of them specialize in the O&M side or end-of-warranty inspections. We’re a one-stop shop. We can manage cranes, perform end-of-warranty inspections and construction services. If something needs to be done, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”
Beyond reducing time, effort, and scheduling, that philosophy translates into cost savings for the owner. “It’s that type of quality and innovation that our customers are looking for — that we can do uptower repairs and minimize that crane cost. In the past, a lot of these gearboxes were just coming down-tower, getting sent to a shop and rebuilt, and just put back in,” Mikel said. “Our philosophy — not only in the gearbox, but with the generator or any other type of major component — is to do what we can to minimize that cost to the customer.”
“It’s a little bit of a different business model from that standpoint,” Fish added. “We provide a broad level of services to the wind industry. That is a little unusual for a company of our size, but it has worked out very well.”
RENEW’s services segments include: construction and field services; remanufacturing; specialty field services; operations & maintenance; supply chain services; and asset management. Recently, RENEW has added composite/blade services and mobile oil changes to its services portfolio. (Comprehensive services listing located adjacent to this article.)
Regarding the level of services and type of services that we provide, we started out really with construction support,” Fish said. “We also have our specialty field services, which comprises of major corrective work, end-of-warranty inspections, some mobile oil changes, and a variety of uptower field services — primarily focused on the gearbox.”
The company’s 32,000-square-foot facility in Sioux Falls is also home to its gearbox remanufacturing facility. There, customer gearboxes undergo a complete remanufacturing process—from teardown to assessment and engineering to rebuild.
“With our remote locations, we have about 100 turbines that are under long-term O&M contracts on various terms of three to ten years. Recently, we’ve also added supply chain services and support.
“Late in 2014, we also added field blade services. We acquired a small field blade service that was based here in Sioux Falls — Logical Energy Solutions. That acquisition further broadened our service offering to the industry.”
Performing those services requires a lot of skilled manpower — often in situations and environments that can be dangerous.
RENEW considers employees its primary asset, and has built a strong safety culture into the fabric of the company. In October of 2014, the company was recognized by the South Dakota Safety Council with a Meritorious Achievement Award for its workplace safety program. At the time of this writing, RENEW had celebrated its 661st day without incident.
“We have a very strong safety track record, and we continue to emphasize a strong safety program,” Fish said. “Even though we’ve gone through a fairly steep growth pattern, we’ve been able to really embed a safe culture within our organization. We believe that safety is not only good business for our customers, but obviously it’s good for our employees, and for the company.”
Further illustrating its commitment both to its employees and to the Code of the West, RENEW in December 2014 began an employee stock ownership program. “We are in the process of becoming an employee-owned company also,” Fish said. ”We believe that’s a very good business model for us, and that it will align our customer-shareholder (which will include our employees) interests on a long-term basis.
Regarding the employees’ roles in living and communicating the Code, Mikel said: “Employees are the face of RENEW. When they’re out in the field and they’re living by these ten principles, our customers see it, and that’s why we get a lot of return calls. It’s our employees, our technicians that live by this every day and customers understand that.”
And for what’s next for the growing service provider, the company is optimistic about its future in the wind industry. Table 1
“We think that the industry — services for the installed base — is going to grow long-term at about a six percent clip,” Fish said. “Maybe six percent isn’t all that impressive a number, but when the general economy grows at about two percent, that’s a pretty attractive metric. The installed base is aging also. The installed base creates the opportunity. We’re obviously not an OEM, but we also see that the OEMs have less interest in the older projects. Once they get to be over five years old, we’re very competitive.”
“That’s why we’re in this business.” Mikel added. “We’re looking long-term. How can we keep these turbines running through their 20-25 year life cycle.”
For more information on RENEW Energy Maintenance’s portfolio of wind energy maintenance, repair, and asset management services, call (605) 275-9666, or visit them online at renewenergy.com.