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Karl Boyce c-suite image

Karl Boyce, CEO & Founder, ARC Power

About ARC Power  

ARC Power is a renewable energy supplier, focused on delivering affordable, reliable and clean energy to communities across East and Southern Africa. Their mission is to build a pan-African clean utility company, providing first-time energy access to everyone. This is being done by empowering communities: sharing relevant knowledge and skills with locally recruited teams and driving the expansion of the business model.  

The business has so far connected more than 10,000 people to first-time power in Rwanda and is now starting to connect villages in Mozambique and Zambia, with ambitions to connect two million people to affordable, reliable and clean power by 2027. 

Q. Can you give us a brief introduction to your career background?

A. I previously worked as a Stockbroker for Williams de Broe (now Investec). I had always wanted to work in London, and as a young person, I found it a really exciting environment to be in. Following that, I joined Cable & Wireless (now Vodafone) as a Credit Risk Director, but I always wanted to do something that made an impact and started looking at the carbon markets in 2006, with a view to setting up a carbon trading desk to buy and sell emission reduction credits.

This led me into learning more about the renewable energy sector and I become very focused on sub-Saharan Africa, being the energy-poorest continent.

The big questions

Q. What’s been your biggest success in your career?

A. Receiving the recognition of the Queen's Award for Sustainable Development in 2022 and having the pleasure of a lengthy discussion with King Charles at Buckingham Palace about solar in Africa!

It was one of those great moments where I could reflect on what we had achieved to that point, thanks to the fantastic team and supportive investors we have.

Q. What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

A. Due to the sector we are in, I would say that raising capital is the most challenging thing in many ways.

It can be frustrating when you have complete confidence in your solution to a monumental problem and you just want to move ahead but are restricted by lack of access to funding. It can also be mentally exhausting when you have your team, your existing customers and entire communities reliant on you to ensure the business has the financial resources to continue developing and growing.

Q. What has been the biggest regret of your career?

A. To be honest, I have no regrets.

Everything that happens is part of the journey and is part of the learning process. I have had many very stressful periods in the journey, but have met so many people, often with completely different motives and outlooks, and this has allowed me to learn a great deal.

Q. How do you develop your skills and knowledge? 

A. I try to spend as much time as possible with my different teams. They are the experts in their areas and know more than me, and that is how it should be. 

I am actively trying to spend more time with the different people in the teams. Only two weeks ago, I was in the field in Rwanda, hiking up and down very hilly terrain, mapping out electricity grids with our survey team. This is invaluable when it comes to having an in-depth knowledge of the operations and understanding the challenges to ensure we continuously improve efficiency. 

Q. What has been the biggest learning opportunity of your career?

A. Founding a startup on another continent, in a fledgling sector, without a doubt.

In any one day, you can be reviewing legal documents, negotiating commercial terms with governments, pitching investors, developing financial models or just dealing with the general operational management of the business. It’s the steepest learning curve, but I have found it to be invaluable.

Q. Who have you learnt most from?

A. This is an interesting question.

I have learnt a lot from my children in terms of seeing how valuable it is to step back and take a very pragmatic approach to issues in a business. I think children see the world in a very different way to adults, without the 'white noise' from experience/stress etc.

They often seem to be able to come up with the most logical and unemotional answers to problems in business.

Q. What's the biggest challenge in your marketplace at the moment?

A. Access to capital is certainly the biggest challenge I see.

This has been the key restricting factor in the clean energy access markets across Africa, and with more than 600 million people still not having access to power, this needs to change. We have spent the last two years looking at the challenges of mini-grid models, which are still viewed as high-risk investments, and have developed a new business model, which we have called ‘strategic power partnerships’, to mitigate these risks and increase returns for investors.

I think this will be a game-changer.

Tips from the top

Q. What advice would you give to your younger self?

A. Enjoy the journey and stop worrying about the destination.

I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in waiting for things to happen that we forget to appreciate the things we have and do in the present.

Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring CEO?

A. Try to work in a sector or business you are passionate about and which you believe in. Whether it’s your own company or you are in the c-suite of another company, it makes it much easier to maintain the energy and focus if you feel you are making a difference in any way.

I would also tell them to stop and reflect on their successes every now and then. It is so easy to miss this as you continue striving for more success.

Q. What do you think is key to managing a successful team?

A. Spend plenty of time with them.

This is something I have not been able to do enough and it’s so important. Also, giving the team autonomy is very important if you want them to grow and allow the business to scale. Helping every person in the team to clearly understand the overall mission of the company, and what their role is in achieving that, gives everyone a better sense of ownership and hopefully more motivation and happiness.

Q. What's your top tip for managing work-life balance?

A. As a founder, this has been one of my weaknesses.

I could never switch off, be it at weekends, on holiday or into the early hours of the morning. There was always something going through my mind that we needed to deal with or new ideas that sprang to mind, usually at 3am.

Fortunately, I had flexibility to be around quite a bit, in between travelling, when my kids were younger, and I am becoming more disciplined about taking time out. I am pretty reliant on the gym for both physical and mental health and was recently advised to switch my phone to a 'focus' mode during workouts, which has been amazing.

Future gazing

Q. How do you see your CEO role changing in the next five years?

A. We are in a rapid growth phase and are in that interesting transitional phase, moving from startup mentality towards the more corporate structure. I can see this will change things considerably within my role over the next five years as our management teams grow and responsibilities are devolved.

I am aware that this requires proactive change on my part to ensure the approach across the entire business evolves, whether delegating more, developing more robust structures for process and communications, or simply just improving tools, such as software platforms for the teams to operate on a larger scale.

Q. What technological advances do you foresee within your role?

A. We are already developing our internal software systems to automate reporting, as data is so important in our sector. As the company grows, it’s critical that the management team and I have access to important information.

Love Mondays: at Reed we are on a mission to help everyone love their job

Q. What do you love most about your role?

A. I love the fact that we are building something sustainable with significant impact.

Q. What does your average Monday look like?

A. I wake up at 6.45am, followed by three minutes in a cold-water plunge to get the dopamine levels up. I then have a coffee, take the dog for a walk with my wife and then, if I’m in the UK, I will usually work at home on a Monday.

I start every day with a list and then prioritise the things which need to be done, but the list is always changing. I would estimate that I spend about 40 per cent of my day in calls/meetings, be it with investors, colleagues or potential partners in new markets.

Depending on my meeting schedule, I will usually break at about 4pm, go to the gym and will return, re-energised, for a few more hours of work in the evening. I love the flexibility and find that spreading my day like this is much more productive.

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