The (Green) Hydrogen Executive Talent Imperative

The energy landscape is undergoing a profound transformation, as companies frantically seek solutions that will promote a more sustainable economy; one in which decarbonisation and technology investments will be the key to achieving short and long-term emission reduction goals. One of the most promising areas is green hydrogen, which has the potential to be one of the main pillars of a new energy system based on renewables. Hydrogen could replace natural gas over time, which means it could also help remove coal and oil from energy use.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but it did not emerge as a 100% sustainable alternative until relatively recently. The problem was in production. Burning hydrogen produces only water vapour, rather than the greenhouse gases that come from burning fossil fuels, but electricity created sustainably is needed for the truly carbon-free production of green hydrogen, which occurs when hydrogen molecules are separated from oxygen molecules via electrolysis, using wind, solar, wave-generated, or other renewable electrical power.

Hydrogen is attractive because it has plenty of possible uses, but governments and companies are increasingly turning their attention to how to produce it in a climate-friendly manner. For hydrogen to become a sustainably viable fuel option, the process needs to be clean, and cheap or cheaper. Green hydrogen is the goal, but it remains very costly:

“Currently, producing 1 kg of green hydrogen by electrolysis costs 5 Euro per kilogram. Drivers will consume roughly 1kg to cover 100 kilometres. If production and delivery costs can be reduced to something like 3 to 3.5 Euro per kilogram, then significant benefits over fossil energy sources will be there.” Senior Executive, Global Materials Company, Asia

Governments are racing to incentivise projects for domestic and export green hydrogen markets, working hard to attract the billions of dollars expected to be invested over the coming years. The United States has a hydrogen road map. Germany plans to invest nine billion euros ($10.6 billion), while for France and Portugal the figure is seven billion euros each. The UK plans to spend £12 billion ($16.6 billion), Japan $3 billion, and China $16 billion to ‘green’ their industries using Hydrogen.

However, in order to transform the energy sector and realise the potential offered by hydrogen power, and especially green hydrogen, Pedersen & Partners believes that four pillars must be put in place to support future development:

1. Sufficient capital availability
2. The right technologies
3. Appropriate policies & regulation
4. The right leadership and people.

Although there appears to be widespread discussion of the first three of these pillars, the fourth seems to have been neglected, despite it being an essential if not the essential building block and final determinant for eventual success. The big question is, do the companies involved have the leaders and talent needed for the future?

Leadership & Talent Challenges?

While many of the technological principles and challenges across the green hydrogen value chain (i.e. sourcing renewables, electrolysis, storage, transportation etc.) are relatively well-known, delivering these solutions at the right cost and with the right timing can and will be tricky. Having the right technical people for research and development in your organisation will be a critical factor for success.

  • The hydrogen environment currently offers many investment opportunities, but realising their full potential will require excellent strategic competencies in key functions, as well as outstanding skills in government and external relations, and interacting with other market participants and stakeholders.

Moreover, companies that innovate will need to protect their intellectual assets. This can be especially important with geographical expansion into challenging markets and/or when operating in alliances and partnerships.

  • These demands can only be addressed by executives who have corporate experience and are accustomed to working in dynamic and unstructured environments. They will also need experience in budget management, planning, and reporting based on indicators and scorecards. Furthermore, they must have a wealth of energy sector knowledge, especially in hydrogen.
  • The executives that will spearhead the adoption of green hydrogen will also have to possess a strategic vision and entrepreneurial profile. These dynamic and experienced leaders will need knowledge of the market and new energy trends, with the ability to design and implement a strategy appropriate to the evolution of the sector and consumer needs. A background in innovation development projects will also be a must, with the ability to understand technology and manage both capex and opex. It will be highly valuable to have had previous experience in technological development and innovation projects or have worked in a centre for operational excellence.
  • Leading the switch to hydrogen power will also require judicious and courageous decisions, with a high capacity to identify and promote the changes necessary to anticipate and adapt to unexpected situations. These abilities must be bolstered by strong communication skills to explain ideas and results clearly at all organisational levels.
  • Naturally, these leaders will also require the ability to manage multi-disciplinary teams and employ a collaborative style and inclusive leadership that enhances the capacities of people. A focus on results aligned with business goals will also be necessary, as will a knowledge of the relevant stakeholders at national and international levels.

Although hydrogen development is not an entirely new topic, the scale and nature of its potential future will undoubtedly place significant stress on the relevant talent 'pools'. Of course, many national oil companies (NOCs), energy utilities, renewables players and other similar organisations already have many of the competencies needed. However, it is certainly possible that people will have difficulty retooling for a hydrogen future, and that there will simply not be enough talent and competencies out there to supply the people needed to deal with the pace, content, and scale of a Hydrogen-driven 'net zero' future.

Elisa Martinez de Miguel  - Pedersen and Partners Executive Search

Elisa Martinez de Miguel

Elisa Martinez de Miguel is a Principal at Pedersen & Partners, based in Madrid. Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Martinez de Miguel worked for over fourteen years in the Executive Search industry, and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in leadership consulting, change management, and corporate process redesign, particularly focusing on Recruitment and Evaluation, as well as coaching and management development. Before joining the Executive Search industry, Ms. Martinez de Miguel spent six years at Grupo Taper, a European distributor of medical products in the public and private health sectors, as a Manager in charge of Corporate Resources.

Ms. Martinez de Miguel holds Law, Master’s in Economics and Legal Consultancy & Taxation degrees from the Instituto de Empresa in Spain (Senior Management Program) and completed Coach Training courses at CTI. She speaks native Spanish and is fluent in English.

Chris Barrett - Pedersen and Partners Executive Search

Chris Barrett

Chris Barrett is a Client Partner, Head of Houston and Mexico City offices and Head of Energy - North America at Pedersen & Partners, based in Houston, Texas, USA.

With more than 25 years of Executive Search and recruitment experience, Mr. Barrett has executed numerous senior leadership search mandates in the Oil & Gas, Global Logistics, Supply Chain, Distribution & Transportation, Banking-Internet Security & Fraud, and Compliance sectors. Prior to joining Pedersen & Partners, Chris founded and successfully managed a full service Oil & Gas, Financial Services and IT recruitment company. Earlier in his career, Mr. Barrett held a range of roles, from technical through operations, commercial, contracts and procurement within several U.S. recruitment firms. A significant portion of his work has been focused on cross-border Executive Search assignments for senior executives with an emphasis on CHRO, business partner and talent management roles.

Mr. Barrett holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) in Finance and Financial Management Services from the University of Utah.

Andrew Thomson

Andrew Thomson

Andrew Thomson is a Client Partner and a member of the Industrial Practice Group at Pedersen & Partners. His 25-year extensive international career has covered Consulting, Human Capital management advisory, and Executive Search; he brings significant cross-border and cultural expertise gained in both developed and high growth/emerging markets. Mr. Thomson mainly focuses on the Automotive sector and ‘New Mobility’, Renewables, IoT and Digital/Tech convergence, but he also has a solid background in Professional Services, C-suite leadership, and talent attraction, as well as Board services, talent and business strategy alignment, strategic revenue growth, and business development. Prior to joining Pedersen & Partners, Mr. Thomson held senior leadership roles in top global Executive Search firms, serving a broad range of clients within the Supplier, OEM, and Retail segments of the Automotive value chain. Moreover, he has undertaken projects for a wide variety of other general industrial and manufacturing players, in fields such as Hydrogen and Solar Energy, Consumer Electronics, and Robotics. Mr. Thomson has completed high level searches in General Management, Finance, Operations, Engineering, and Sales & Marketing functions, working closely with Boards and Executive Team members. His earlier career included 5 years with Touche Ross Management Consulting (now Deloitte), and 18 years with KPMG, where he finished his career 'double-hatting' roles as Deputy COO for the Asia Pacific Region, and Head of Automotive for both China and Asia. Prior to his UK relocation, Andrew spent 17 years working in China and Hong Kong, and also lived in Russia, Singapore, and Bangkok.

Mr. Thomson is an Accredited Board Recruiter and Certified Advisory Board Chair and has held several not-for-profit Advisory Board positions. He has an MBA from Strathclyde Graduate Business School and an MA in Jurisprudence from the University of Oxford. In addition to his native English, he is fluent in Russian and speaks basic Spanish and Mandarin Chinese.