“Its all about the people.” CEO Q+A: Vicky Brown, Cool Planet Experience

Business, CEO Q&A, Renewables | Wed 3 Apr | Author – Business & Finance
Vicky Brown, Cool Planet Experience

In our next CEO Q+A, Vicky Brown of Cool Planet Experience speaks to us about climate change, becoming globally recognised and building an effective team.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

The purpose of Cool Planet is to accelerate planet positive impact, behaviour and new lifestyle choices for everyone. To deliver this, we need to become a globally recognised, respected and trusted brand that brings exciting, diverse and innovative ‘planet positive’ initiatives to all people. As a new experience that has been open for one year, our priorities are clear – to build an effective and innovative team, to achieve scale nationally, to implement the strategic plan for international roll out, to continue to build a strong recognised, trusted brand and the values that underpin it whilst at the same time achieving financial sustainability.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

One of the most significant challenges for Cool Planet is how do we collectively understand the size of the problem, the severity of the issue but also the fantastic opportunity that exists in embracing planet positive behaviours and initiatives. There is a constant tension between maintaining the essence, or secret sauce that is Cool Planet whilst positioning us for growth both here and internationally. We need to build external awareness but bring a sense of what is possible to the issue of climate change.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

My team are all driven by our purpose so I have no trouble in motivating them. In fact, their passion and belief in what we are doing motivates me. This is a fast moving organization and we have very specific type of culture which I want to maintain. Overall, I trust my team to be accountable, to be responsible for their job and the tasks in hand. If they are performing I am very happy to let them shape their role and take real ownership whilst providing support and direction if needed. I believe in open communication whereby everyone gets to voice their ideas and approaches and we can work together to deliver them.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Our industry is climate change, so the biggest challenge facing us is time and the ticking clock. We collectively need greater ambition and courage from all corners of society. More and more, at Cool Planet we understand that people need to experience and feel the issue, so the challenge is how do we bring it into peoples daily lives. The scale of the challenge we face is unprecedented. We need to cut our emissions and become net-zero by mid century. The action required is monumental and requires us to change the way we live, work, farm, eat and consume our energy.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

In the sector of climate change there are so many! From the consistent improvements in renewable energy to some of the more unusual ones like a vegetarian burger that looks, cooks and tastes like meat but is 100% made from a plant based protein; the demise of the combustible engine; solar paneled roof tiles, solar roads; solar back-packs (re-charge your phone!). In our direct industry of creating experiences, we are now seeing how technology can deliver other ways of connecting us using VR and augmented reality.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Yes, firstly stop fossil fuel subsidies. Ban all future oil and gas exploration world wide. Invest heavily in supporting the renewable energy future, including storage. And we need a greater emphasis on land use, forestry and how we farm.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

We are an immersive experience so we are busy recruiting people who are able to facilitate that journey. To date we have been able to find people who can do this however as we grow we may seek other skill sets and those who can help us expand our message to alternative audiences.

We have created our own education programme on climate change which has been very successful and in time we may end up recruiting some of these people to Cool Planet.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Our strategy was developed due to the severity of the climate change problem and because we are driven by a purpose to bring a greater awareness and understanding to this gigantic issue. The consequence of climate change is relevant to the banking sector and will have knock on implications both to the economy and to banking.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Climate change knows no boarders to therefore global warming will affect us all, regardless of Brexit or not. It’s not dependent on a passport!

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

To understand success, I have to understand what I am doing and why. I’m driven by the purpose and belief in what Cool Planet is doing to address climate change.

One of our first ‘successes’ at Cool Planet was the arrival of our first investors cheque. Then more investors followed – and more success. We went from a 8 page power-point with no money to €3million project that opened to the public last March. Its important to mark the smaller successes too –the eleven year old boy saying he wants to study climate science after visiting Cool Planet. Or our first 5 star review on Tripadvisor. We are currently the only Irish museum shortlisted for the European Museum of the Year, so regardless of the outcome at the awards in May, we view that as a big success given how new we are. I am driven to succeed through my relationships with my team, with Norman our founder and our need to become a globally recognised, respected and trusted brand that brings exciting, diverse and innovative ‘planet positive’ initiatives to all people.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Based on my own experience, you have to work extremely hard and provide an excellent service. As a start up the best advice I received was to re-invest every cent you make in People, Technology & Sales & Marketing. Look at the long-term goal. You will need to prioritise depending on where you are in the life cycle of your business.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Nomination for European Museum of the Year, the only Irish museum to achieve this; Richard Branson officially launching us – that was a crazy as we only received final confirmation of his attendance about four days beforehand and we had invited over 100 guests including many CEOs from leading Irish companies; Training our Cool Planet Champions and seeing them thrive in their roles out in the community inspiring others to take climate action; consistent strong feedback from our visitors and school groups.

Q. What’s next for your company?

Cool Planet Global. We need to create more opportunities for Cool Planet to reach and engage outside of Ireland.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Our vision is for Cool Planet to a global business that unites a collection (Movement) of progressive, experimental, entrepreneurial and meaningful ventures driven by the same purpose. Our ambition is big, yet we do not have an open chequebook so we will need to be clever with our assets.

Climate change knows no boarders to therefore global warming will affect us all.