At Correlate, our team is our biggest asset and we’re proud to have an incredible group of individuals who bring a wide range of backgrounds and expertise to the table. We recently sat down with Chief Financial Officer Channing Chen to get to know him better, learn what brought him to Correlate and what he’s most excited for as he looks ahead.
Have you always been in the clean tech space? What led you to it?
I studied environmental chemistry as an undergrad at UC San Diego, though I had no idea what a career path would eventually look like. I just knew I was interested in classes like environmental, atmospheric, and physical chemistry.
I first got into the clean energy sector when I joined Solar Power Partners (which was eventually acquired by NRG in 2011) back in 2006. As their third hire, my responsibility was to raise capital, manage finance, and investor relations. The idea of installing solar modules on commercial property and financing those systems with third party capital under a long term power purchase agreement (PPA) was intriguing. It was also a relatively new approach to deploying solar at scale. The opportunity to help launch a startup in a new sector with an emerging asset class and financing solar energy projects was very interesting to me.
How long have you been with Correlate? How did you end up there, and what is your role specifically?
Correlate was one of my structured finance clients before they went public through a transaction with Triccar in December 2021, whereby Triccar acquired Correlate and the team at Correlate became the management team of the combined entities.
Todd Michaels, Correlate’s President & CEO, and I had worked together at Solar Power Partners and have known each other for years. After Correlate went public, he asked me to join as CFO in January of 2022.
With years of experience leading institutional financing initiatives at SPP, SunEdison and NRG Energy, I felt well-suited to leverage my finance and deal expertise with a more strategic focus. Specifically, I oversee all aspects of accounting and finance, investor relations, SEC reporting, and project finance, along with capital raising and negotiating corporate development transactions.
What are you focused on, in your role as CFO, in the immediate future? Longterm?
Our shareholders are our most important constituents and I try to make sure our day-to-day activities drive meaningful enterprise value while ensuring we are compliant on all fronts as a publicly traded company working on an eventual uplist to the NASDAQ.
At a tactical level, managing cash flow is a constant priority, especially for an infrastructure business like ours, to ensure there is sufficient capital to grow the business optimally – whether by organic growth or acquisitions.
Another critical focus area is finding, hiring and retaining good people, who can be strategic thinkers, understand the value of process, are not afraid of technology, and can get things done efficiently.
Our business is definitely less about sitting in meetings and more about execution. It is an exciting time to be in our industry so we are hoping to attract stellar talent to complement our team.
Longer term, it is all about optimization and doing things more efficiently and more cost effectively than any other company in our sector without compromise. None of this is rocket science with the right people in place.
What kind of impact do you think the IRA will have on your role, Correlate, and the broader clean energy industry?
The Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress, is the biggest tailwind for our industry ever with $370 billion dedicated to decarbonization. What this means specifically in my role is more capital being allocated to our sector and for the diverse assets we are developing.
For Correlate, as we continue to relentlessly focus on originating, developing, and building institutional-grade energy assets, there will be no shortage of attractively-priced capital available to us. For the broader industry, the IRA will definitely be a benefit, but more capital can also bring in more unsophisticated players into the space. We all need to be cognizant of that and capital providers, in particular, need to choose their partners wisely, especially when financing long term useful life assets.
What’s your favorite part about working at Correlate?
We build tangible assets that provide critical distributed power for people, communities, and businesses during this renewable energy transition we are in. To me, this is a lot more fun than something like building a useless social media app. Our work makes a real difference and our assets can deliver risk-adjusted returns superior to most other long-dated investment instruments available.
So, not only do we get to provide much-needed and renewable energy to customers, but we can also deliver better financial returns than most anything else out there. Pretty exciting to be on the front end of this.
What’s your team like? What’s the culture like?
I am fortunate to have a team that not only can get things done but can also see around corners. When you empower a team like that there is simply less to worry about. My team covers most of the day-to-day thereby allowing me to focus on more strategic initiatives, corporate development, and capital raising.
Our culture is really execution- and results-focused and this stems from our extensive prior transactional experience. I always look forward to our morning calls where we discuss our goals for the week, as we’re accomplishing a lot with the team that we have. Meetings are typically no longer than 45 minutes and multi-hour meetings are non-existent. When you have the right people in place who can think strategically, then go and execute, it makes everything more efficient.
Are there any causes you’re involved with outside of work?
A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to join the board of the Sempervirens Fund, a 122-year-old organization that focuses on purchasing private land from timber interests in the Santa Cruz mountains and preserving them for current and future generations to enjoy. Since its founding, Sempervirens has protected more than 35,000 acres of coastal redwood forest with support from partners and donors. Redwood forests play an important role in limiting the effects of climate change. In fact, one coastal redwood tree can sequester ~250 tons of carbon in its lifetime!
What are you most excited about – personally, and professionally?
I am always excited about opportunities that can make a difference in this world. I’m also more conscientious now about where I choose to spend my time. We don’t have the luxury of time with climate change which is why I am excited about what we are doing here at Correlate. The market and demand are clearly there and it is ours for the taking.
Have you had a mentor(s) throughout your career or a place/person you’ve looked to for guidance?
I have had mentors in the form of management and board members I have worked with, business partners I have had, fellow employees, and even folks who have reported to me. I have found that there is always at least one thing you can learn from someone else that can help guide your thinking afterwards and make you a better professional.
Where do you look for inspiration? What do you like to do outside of work?
As someone who is very competitive, I enjoy watching pro or elite-level athletes hone their craft over years to excel above their peers. Whether it's football, basketball, soccer, cycling or running, it is interesting to see how every marginal or incremental mental and physical gain can make all the difference between winning and losing.
Watching my kids excel in academics and sports has been inspirational. My daughter has played for the top level club soccer team in our town the past few years and my son’s AYSO team just won the championships for his age group. My son is also a pretty accomplished cyclist for his age, having climbed all of the major peaks here in the Bay Area and continues to do plenty of virtual indoor riding on the Zwift platform.
For me, it was natural to pick up cycling when I was younger because there is so much to explore here in northern California year-round. I still hold an elite-level racing license with USA Cycling and will jump in a race every now and then to see how far I can push myself. In early November, three of my friends and I rode the 120-mile Rapha Prestige in Santa Cruz which featured 30+ miles of dirt riding and 11k feet of climbing. That hurt.
Outside of sports, my wife and I are passionate about sustainability, education, and our local community, and we try to volunteer where we feel we can help make a difference. My wife is the executive director of an education foundation here in Silicon Valley where she helps raise money for the local schools to provide programs beyond what is possible from public dollars alone.