ERCG continues its ABC leadership interview series with Salvatore Ritorto of GREENCROWN Energy & Water. Sal is partner and EVP at one of the fastest growing ABCs in our industry today. We sat down with Sal and discussed several topics, including –
Sal Ritorto: Before we get started, I wanted to thank you for serving as a champion of the retail energy industry. Like you, I am compelled to ensure the advancement of an industry that has afforded me such a unique and rewarding experience. From early opportunities to cut my teeth in sales and business development on the supplier side, to now serving as partner and EVP at GREENCROWN Energy & Water, there has been no shortage of paths for professional growth.
ERCG: How did you get your start in retail energy?
SR: My retail energy journey started in 2012, when I was recruited by Hess Corporation from Penn State’s Energy, Business, and Finance (EBF) program. For aspiring downstream energy professionals, the Hess Energy Marketing Training program was the gold standard. I benefitted greatly from my experience at Hess and was able to forge an invaluable network of peers; many of whom I still have the pleasure of interacting and working with today. In fact, one of those Hess alumni was one of my first hires at GREENCROWN Energy & Water, and now leads our operations group.
After Hess, I spent time at various suppliers gaining exposure to different functional areas of the retail energy business. South Jersey Industries provided me with an opportunity at a relatively early point in my career to help develop a new territory for the company within PJM, focusing on commercial and industrial sales. After a few years at SJI, I pursued a sales opportunity at ENGIE to help them grow their direct and indirect sales presence in PJM, and later made a similar move to WGL Energy. Each company had exceptional leadership who provided me with the resources to master the nuances of each power and natural gas market in the US, and the training to develop and execute proven energy management strategy. Most importantly, they provided me with the guidance to become a top performing energy sales producer.
ERCG: After so many experiences at top suppliers, what attracted you to the ABC side – and GREENCROWN specifically – and what do you think of your decision?
SR: While my experience on the supplier side of the business offered me invaluable opportunities and professional advancement, I have always been inclined towards a more entrepreneurial career path. My father and grandfather are both accomplished entrepreneurs, and growing up, I admired their passion for business building. I decided at an early age that I would eventually need to pursue the “good fight” and build a business of my own, which I suppose is what served as the impetus for my move to GREENCROWN.
It was clear from the onset of my retail energy journey that the ABC side of the business was where I wanted to be. It was equally clear that to be as effective as possible in a leadership role on the ABC side, I would need the experience and network almost exclusively offered by major suppliers. When I started to feel that my achievements on the supplier side had transcended the goals I had established early on in my career, I started to consider what the transition to the ABC side of the business should look like. Fortunately, I was surrounded by a network that removed any potential friction from that change. Over the years, I had developed some great relationships with ABCs, and had a handful of mentors on the broker side of the business to lean on for advice. One of those mentors is now my business partner and the President of GREENCROWN, Paul Errigo.
Seeking advice for an eventual move to the ABC side of the business, I asked Paul to meet me one day for a beer in Monmouth Beach, NJ. We had no agenda; I was simply looking for Paul’s feedback on my decision to take the entrepreneurial plunge and start my own company. Paul stood out as the most practical resource for advice since he had built and sold a handful of companies over the years and operated his own energy management firm. Ironically, one of GREENCROWN’s equity partners and executives was exiting the business at the time, and the team was seeking a replacement to help lead the business. I was asked to be that replacement.
During my first formal discussion with Paul and Al Dorso (our third partner in the business and owner of State Fair Group, our parent company), both Paul and Al made it clear that GREENCROWN’s culture is one that retains and rewards individuals for their contributions. We were aligned on the direction of the company and most importantly, the firm’s ethos and broader vision. It was an immediate fit.
Fast forward almost three years later; joining GREENCROWN was the best professional decision I have made to date. Paul and Al have given me the resources, mentorship, and autonomy to scale our business quickly, and I am proud to say we have had close to 250% organic growth since I joined the team in 2018. We have expanded our market share, grown our talent pool, introduced new and profitable service offerings, and have enhanced our value proposition as a full-service utility risk management firm. It goes without saying that the operating role is more of a challenge and can often disrupt the work-life balance I appreciated on the supplier-side, but it has proven to be more rewarding in the end.
Perhaps the best part of the decision was the ability to influence and enhance GREENCROWN’s value proposition for customers, and to continue working with my peers in a different capacity. As of today, three of my previous coworkers from the supplier side have joined the GREENCROWN team. One serves as our VP of Sales, another as our Manager of Operations, and another as one of our Senior Energy Advisors. In addition, between our Manager of Operations and myself, eight of our designated supplier representatives are former coworkers. It is incredible how close knit this business can be, further underscoring the importance of growing and maintaining our professional networks.
ERCG: You mentioned that GREENCROWN Energy & Water is part of the State Fair Group. What does this group do and how does that fit?
SR: State Fair is a group of companies with similar ownership, led by our partner Al Dorso. The collective size and scale give GREENCROWN the ability to capitalize on talent and resources in a variety of areas, such as marketing, accounting, operations, insurance, etc. Leveraging these shared resources allows GREENCROWN to not only operate more efficiently from a bandwidth perspective, but financially as well.
We often liken State Fair’s corporate office to an incubator. Each company is afforded an opportunity to interact in a collaborative environment, which results in the exchange of creative ideas, best practices, and customer relationships. I cannot emphasize enough how talented the leadership teams are across all of State Fair’s holdings and am excited to be growing with other like-minded organizations and leaders.
ERCG: Water has been in the news a lot lately. You’re well positioned as one of the few ABCs that specializes in water conservation and management services. What do you offer in this space and why is it so important to GREENCROWN’s strategy?
SR: Water is the latest “precious commodity” in the conservation world and has been for several years. GREENCROWN recognized years ago that if we were going to be in the utility conservation business, water management was the next logical step. This was further evidenced by the lack of diversification among our peers and non-stop saturation of the energy brokering space. At the time, our management team insightfully recognized this “wave” (pun intended), and entered the water filtration, disinfection, and conservation industry through acquisition. This immediately gave GREENCROWN the talent and scale to deliver value to our clients. Currently, we own several patents on a variety of highly effective systems. For some of our more commonly used products in the commercial real estate and multi-family space, we partner with regional public benefit corporations like NYSERDA to structure cost sharing incentives for our patents.
From a strategic perspective, water serves as a major value differentiator. One of our primary verticals is commercial real estate and multi-family. Having the ability to add value to those customers beyond energy management and our UtilityROI™ platform is paramount. In addition, we can bundle the cost of a water conservation project through on-bill financing agreements via electric supply, helping our customers creatively finance their projects and convert a would-be capital expenditure into an operating expense.
ERCG: It seems today, customers expect a lot more from their ABCs than just gathering price quotes. How do you provide a more holistic solution to your customers?
SR: GREENCROWN’s team stands apart from the ubiquitous ABC model by focusing on two primary drivers: our mission statement, and our relentless focus on a transparent and comprehensive solution for our customers.
As it relates to the first of those drivers, GREENCROWN’s mission is to be the nation’s most trusted and professional energy risk management and water advisory firm. Paul and I had several conversations when I first joined the team to shape what truly set us apart from our peers, and we landed on trust and professionalism as being our value drivers from a non-product/service standpoint. Aside from being the right thing for the customer, they represent a set of principles that have stood the test of time for many successful companies.
While establishing and maintaining trust with our customers is and always has been priority number one for us, we realized during our restructuring that an all-encompassing and transparent energy and water management strategy was rarely well-executed in today’s marketplace. Our response to the void in today’s marketplace was a renewed approach that simplifies energy and water management through technology and a comprehensive approach to all things energy and water. Our business units were reorganized to focus on three core objectives, which are to reduce energy spend, decrease energy/water consumption, and drive sustainability. To complement those new initiatives, we introduced our UtilityROI™ Utility Management Platform.
The first of those objectives, reducing energy spend, is accomplished through energy procurement services. Our supplier partnerships and supply-side experience make our team second to none when it comes to structuring products based on customer needs, while taking other energy management initiatives into consideration. For objective two, which is to decrease energy and water consumption, we have a team that manages water projects, lighting and mechanical initiatives, and we offer demand response and peak management to our customers. Our third objective, which is to drive sustainability, is achieved through our renewable services partners. They manage renewable projects from concept to conception and have proven success driving high ROI projects nationally.
To supplement our energy and water management services, we have established a white-label partnership to offer GREENCROWN’s UtilityROI™ Utility Management Platform to our clients. UtilityROI™ is a segment defining SaaS solution that automates the utility monitoring and management process by enabling customers to audit existing electricity, natural gas, & water consumption in real time. UtilityROI™ offers our customers the ability to quantify and justify their return on investment for efficiency projects by providing real time visibility via measurement and verification tools, while also offering unrivaled access to energy, demand, sustainability, and KPI reporting. The platform has enabled us to strengthen our value proposition by helping customers save time, money, and conserve resources while simplifying their energy and water investment decisions.
ERCG: What qualities do you look for in an ideal supplier partner?
SR: The trust we strive for in our mission is not exclusive to customer relationships. Trust and ethically driven operating philosophies are very important supplier considerations for GREENCROWN. The people we work with reflect who we are, so we are committed to seeking out the most ethical, trustworthy, and knowledgeable suppliers in the marketplace. To us, an ethical supplier is one that treats its customers and channel partners fairly and aims to serve in the best interest of the customer. The COVID pandemic has been particularly enlightening in helping us decipher which suppliers are here to do just that.
In March of 2020, GREENCROWN learned that many of our suppliers would be making product and agreement changes. These changes ranged from restricting provisions that our large commercial customers valued greatly, to cherry picking bids due to a higher perceived risk to serve a particular industry or load. We understood and appreciated the reasons for these decisions from a supplier risk perspective. The reality was, however, that our team and clients did not stop transacting. In short, these changes by necessity made us work closer with the few suppliers that were least impacted. It became apparent that these suppliers were the most sufficiently capitalized and, in most cases, the best led. Factors like these have become very important to us over the past year.
In addition to trust and financial strength, we are always seeking partnerships with suppliers that put an emphasis on customer service, flexibility in product offerings (both commodity and non-commodity), and of course, ease of transaction. The main issues that arise from our supplier partners stem from those that have direct sales teams that compete with GREENCROWN’s advisor group. Some suppliers are graceful when a conflict are arises, while others default to a less ABC-friendly approach. Overall, these issues are resolved amicably, and are greatly outweighed by the positives.
ERCG: GREENCROWN has grown a lot since you joined in 2018, all organically. Is there any interest in growth via M&A? If so, how?
SR: GREENCROWN’s leadership team is always open to strategies that make sound business sense. M&A could be a part of that strategy, and we are always exploring and evaluating new opportunities. As noted earlier, that is how we entered the water industry.
Our current growth strategy centers around attracting and retaining top talent. We are always hiring and seeking the next key player(s) as we continue to grow. We live by the “first who, then what” philosophy popularized by Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great. We are proud of our talented team and always prioritize ability when seeking growth or direction, as opposed to finding an exact fit on paper for each role or initiative. This approach has been working for us, but as we continue to grow, other growth strategies will definitely be considered.
For more information, contact Young Kim, Principal at ERCG
Phone: (617) 903-0877
ERCG sat down with leaders of dozens of ABC firms to get their insights on the market and how to build a successful business