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Lynn Jurich's company has become a giant in the residential solar industry

Lynn Jurich's company has become a giant in the residential solar industry
Lynn Jurich, 38, is co-founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Sunrun, one of the nation's leaders in the residential solar power, storage and energy services industry. (Sunrun)

Lynn Jurich, 38, is co-founder and chief executive of San Francisco-based Sunrun, one of the nation’s leaders in the residential solar power, storage and energy services industry.

In the fourth quarter, Sunrun said, its 3,000 employees deployed 85 megawatts of power, giving it a total of 180,000 residential customers in 22 states, including California. The company went public in 2015. Last year Sunrun reported a profit of $124.5 million and sales of $529.7 million.


Training ground

Jurich studied technology and science with a focus in math at Stanford University before starting her career at a venture capital firm. “Just getting exposed to so many different business ideas and entrepreneurs — it demystified it in a way,” Jurich said. “It helped me identify what could be good business opportunities, but also it made it less intimidating when I got more exposure to these people. I’m like, ‘OK, they're smart, but I can do this.’”

The bet

Sunrun might not have happened at all if her future husband, Brad Murray, hadn’t lost a bet with Jurich about who had the best start-up plan. “Whoever had the best idea would go first and the other would get a regular job,” she said. “That turned out to be Sunrun.”

The motivation

The differences in the air quality near her native Tacoma and large cities in more polluted parts of the world, such as China, were stark and appalling, Jurich said.

“I grew up in the woods of the Northwest and relished clean air and nature,” Jurich said. “When I went to China for a summer internship, I saw the impact of pollution firsthand. The skyline was perpetually obscured by smog and people would wear white masks that would quickly turn gray from all the soot and dust in the air. This experience made me realize that a clean environment should be a basic human right.”

Humble beginnings

The solar power industry was volatile; it was where a company could be ranked among the nation’s leaders in sales one year and defunct the next. Jurich decided to start small, opening the company in co-founder Ed Fenster’s attic in 2007. She learned to hone her pitch in any surroundings, whether at high-level VC meetings or while standing next to a giant pumpkin at the Yolo County State Fair.

“After a countless number of no’s and general lack of eye contact,” Jurich said, “I finally convinced a woman who ran a trucking company to give solar a try. I never imagined this was where I would sign one of my first customers, but in the early days, county fairs and farmers markets proved to be a gold mine for quick and direct feedback.”

My strategy is to hire very good people and to always hold them to a high standard.

Lynn Jurich

Stormy skies

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. In 2011, federal government changes dramatically reduced tax credit benefits.

“We went from 100 new customers a month to just nine a month,” Jurich said about the tax credit changes. “While it was a scary time, we pulled through by remembering the enthusiasm and excitement we heard from customers in the early days of Sunrun. So we stuck it out. Was it easy? No.”

A few years later, a former employee accused the company of padding its sale figures by not announcing customer cancellations on the eve of its August 2015 IPO, a claim the company denied. Shares, after hitting the IPO mark of $14, floundered to around $5 before recently rising to and remaining above $7.

And in May, a class-action lawsuit was filed that claimed Sunrun failed to adequately disclose to shareholders how many customers canceled contracts after signing up for the company’s home solar energy systems. Neither the firm handling the lawsuit nor Sunrun had any comment.

The pitch

Sunrun installs, owns, maintains and repairs its residential solar systems. Since 2016, more of those systems include battery storage, giving customers an additional benefit during blackouts.

“That's the comment I most hear from homeowners. ‘It's a win-win. I can save money, and I'm doing something good for the environment. I don’t have to maintain or think about it,’” Jurich said.

Risk taker

“Someone in one of my entrepreneurship classes at Stanford said this: If you work hard, and you're ethical, that's all you need. If you fail, you fail,” she said. “I really took that to heart, and it rang true with me. So, I got comfortable with taking a lot of risks.”

The right partner

Jurich said that you have to choose the right partner when you are starting a business, one who brings different skill sets to the table. Her co-founder, Fenster, remains with the company as its chairman.

“Edward is very accomplished at financial structuring,” Jurich said. “I am very good at translating that into a business plan and making it approachable to investors and consumers. Our complementary skill sets were really the key to making the business work.”

Leadership style

Jurich said, “My strategy is to hire very good people and to always hold them to a high standard, provide them a lot of context, and make sure they have what they need to succeed. We follow through with what we're gonna do. If we mess up, we renegotiate. It's all transparent. So I think if you have that as a standard and in your culture, you can ensure that people make the right call.”

Personal

Jurich and Murray have been married for 11 years. They have a 2-year-old child. Murray did get to start his own business, a skincare company called Tatcha, in 2010. When the couple isn’t out hiking, Jurich says, she unwinds quietly.

“I use meditation to reflect and bring myself to a place of creativity,” she said. “It’s become a crucial business tool in helping me focus on what’s most important, greet others with openness, and improve my performance and positivity.”

FOR THE RECORD, 7:30 p.m. March 20: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect age for Lynn Jurich. She is 38, not 39.

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ronald.white@latimes.com

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