ElectraTherm CEO John Fox on renewables, his firm’s strategy
Name/title: John Fox/Chief executive officer, ElectraTherm
Number of years in this job: 4.5 years
Years in this profession: 10
Education: I have a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Penn State University, a master’s degree in engineering mechanics from Penn State, and an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh
Favorite movie: We don’t watch movies; we watch sports and the cooking channel
What’s on your iPod: Zero music. I have Sirius XM portable radio I use and listen to Alt Nation or reggae.
Spouse, kids or pets: My wife’s name is Theresa. We have been married 21 years. We have two kids: Natalie is 15, and Luke is 12.
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about ElectraTherm and the duties of your position.
John Fox: ElectraTherm focuses on turning waste heat to power. A lot of power production, industrial processes, mining, farming, wastewater treatment plants, they all have waste heat. We can convert that waste heat into electricity. I am the CEO, so I run the company.
NNBW: How did you get into this profession?
Fox: I worked at United Technologies for 15 years at Pratt & Whitney, building, testing and blowing up jet engines, ice ingestion, all for FAA certification. I had an opportunity to go to UTC fuel cells, which wanted to diversify into a power division of UTC. I got into distributed generation, waste-heat-to-power, etc. in 2004.
NNBW: What’s are some of the main challenges you have in getting customers on board with ElectraTherm’s products?
Fox: Since it’s new, and it’s a niche market, adoption is really the hardest challenge. At first, four years ago when I joined, it was developing a product. Now we have a product, we have 44 units out there operating, and now it’s getting attention to those units to grow market acceptance and awareness across the globe.
NNBW: What are some of the strategies you put into play to get new customers and show them the potential of your company’s Green Machine?
Fox: It’s all about finance — what does it save and how much does it cost. Ninety percent of those decisions are made on cost and payback, so we have to go where power is valuable, which may not mean the United States which has lower costs for power than the a lot of the world. That’s why we are in Europe, we just signed with a distributor in Korea and we are trying to break into Japan. We go to places where the value of power is high, and that gives a return on investment. We also are making inroads into Italy, Hungary, Germany, Belarus, Eastern Europe and expand that success into other locations throughout the world.
NNBW: Where do you see the next stage of ElectraTherm’s growth headed?
Fox: We really have to point at the success of the fleet, which has over 30 years experience now. We also have nine different applications of the Green Machine where the waste heat is in a different form. We really have to do now is pick and choose where we want to focus. For the natural gas compression and oil and gas industry in the United States, we have a larger product coming out that fits the North American profile of waste heat.
NNBW: With products located across the world, what are the challenges associated with global operations?
Fox: The two obvious ones are time zones and language. You could be six time zones away and upside down on the time zone for supporting and talking to them. Our VP of sales flies a lot because face-to-face always wins. The language barrier, fortunately a lot of our customers speak English. It may be their second or third language, but they do speak English. What we found, especially in Europe, is that the culture and knoweldge about renewables is more aggressive in the United States — they are probably a decade ahead.
NNBW: What’s the most fun you have at work?
Fox: Just continuing to make progress. We have a small group and a great team. I like putting people in a place where they can be successful.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Fox: I was 13, and I worked in one of the largest junkyards in North America stripping cars.
NNBW: How do you like to spend your free time away from work?
Fox: With my family. We try to vacation a lot; we like to ski and camp.
NNBW: If you could have a do-over on any part of your career, what’s one thing you’d change that might have made a difference between where you sit now and where you might be sitting?
Fox: I look at as the opposite way because no one has ever shown me the rewind button. I don’t spend a lot of time on things I can’t affect. I look at the decisions that got me to be the CEO of a small startup and leaving a $50 billion corporation where I had a perfectly fine career. There were lots of decisions made along the way to get me to where I am.
NNBW: What did you dream of becoming when you were a kid?
Fox: An engineer. With my dad, there was no way I was not going to college. I was always a hands-on kid — I worked in that junkyard from 13 to about age 20.
NNBW: What’s one thing you can do that no one else can?
Fox: I can laugh at just about anything.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Fox: No. If you don’t like your job, and you don’t like your boss or work, you think about retiring. If you like your job and what you do and see a future, you don’t think about retirement.
NNBW: What’s the last sporting event you attended?
Fox: Penn State versus Ohio State in football.
NNBW: What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
Fox: No plans, no wallets, everything paid for, with margaritas on a beach.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working/living here?
Fox: Ninety percent of the United States I wouldn’t come to. It had to be outdoors, good weather and near skiing. I have to be near the mountains. The weather and climate here, 300 days of sun, no bugs, 7 inches of rain, you can drive to skiing in your shorts — that’s all great.
Q-and-A with UNR President Sandoval: ‘We’re going to strengthen our relationships with private industry’
“Economic diversification is inextricably intertwined with higher education and the university,” former Gov. Brian Sandoval told the NNBW last week. Read more in a Q-and-A with the UNR president, in which he discusses the university’s role in the economy and what opportunities are on the horizon in 2021 and beyond.