1: View From The Top

     Maynard grimaced as the angry, pelting rain drilled into the building and attacked the windows in a pulsing, discordant cadence. The parking lot flooded around the SolaNox panels and relentless rounds of rain battered the modules, rendering them useless. The tempest had reduced his solar technology to an inactive blob of sheet metal and glass. No surprise that weather dictated the ebb and flow of electricity. 

     Running a company in the renewable energy field was far less predictable. Maynard’s award-winning solar technology was no longer about scientific research. The trick, at this point, amounted to inventory, logistics, manufacturing, precision, and execution; all the things he diminished as the menial work of hired hands. Maynard W. Peckinpaugh II, the leader of his own corner of the free world, watched the blitzkrieg on his solar panels from the comfort of his black leather swivel chair. Twilight-sensing streetlights lit the sharp edges of the solar array and cast a blue haze onto the stark white office tower. Near the entrance to the building, the koi pond shown with an iridescent glow in the murky blue light. A bolt of lightening flashed, followed by a reverberating thunder clap, loud enough, he was sure, to rupture an ear drum had he been outside. 

     The CEO and Founder of SolaNox heaved a breath, hitched back in his chair, and scanned the horizon for the San Francisco Bay. The lightening penetrated the night but the storm’s intensity prevented a clean view. He stared out the window, alone in his office, well after midnight. Maynard wore a crisp, white, long-sleeved shirt with slim fitting grey slacks. The effect was handsome and well groomed, as if he had just dressed, with only the dark circles lining his eyes to hint at an arduous day. Sporting a stern face, he spun another pen through his fingers to snap against the tear stained, tempered safety glass window.  A dozen pens littered the floor, the spent casings of corporate frustration. Lightening pierced the horizon, then more thunder.

     Running a solar energy start-up allowed Maynard to thrive as a champion of science. The oil economy would end in his generation and the entrepreneurs who captured the sun’s rays would emerge as the titans of industry. Abandoning altruism for entrepreneurial self-interest allowed technical experts to advance society. Launching the only company to produce solar panels that absorbed light energy both day and night bolstered Maynard’s sense of superiority. No competitor matched SolaNox.

     He muttered under his breath, “All the scientific innovation and it’s the little crap that gets you”. Maynard pulled his hand through his auburn hair as he considered that a lousy connector, a commodity part available from Taiwan for a buck-eighty-nine apiece, had shut down manufacturing. Someone in operations or in inventory management or a nameless employee in a cubicle downstairs hadn’t received the change-order based on the new design. Tomorrow, a heated debate would erupt to decide whether engineering had not forwarded the information or whether the new specs remained stuck on a desk waiting approval. The argument would end with no resolution and no solution to avoid future disasters. They owned 100,000 obsolete units. With a myriad of technical hurdles still to address, he decided a $200,000 fuck-up was the good news. Executing against the wrong specs provided material for the scrap pile and a week’s delay. On Monday, he’d offer to make calls to explain the setback to customers so the sales team might feel secure in next quarter’s commission check. 

     This is part of the start-up process, he reasoned. The founder gets the privilege of being clubbed to death like a baby seal against the rocks of technology and manufacturing. Why had he started a company that needed parts? 

     Examining the skyline from the eighteenth floor, he rested his chin on his hands.  The rain relented into whispers. Maynard knew it’d be easier leading an internet-based business that took ten coders and six months to get to market. He swiveled to face the desk, ruminating on software weenies who didn’t advance science. Plucking the 3D model of the SolaNox panel off his desk, he held it up to eye level and then ran his mantra through his brain: smart people do the tough jobs. 

     The pressure of moving this start-up along shown in the bend of his shoulders and the creases in his forehead. The planet needed solar energy at an affordable price to displace the non-renewable fossil fuels and the grimy filth of coal plants. With Maynard’s superior technology, there would be an infinite number of clean tech jobs. He had the energy density in his patented solar panels to make grid parity pricing a reality. But the personal pain for him: three kids from the computer club, now nearly two decades out of high school and in their mid-thirties, had already made favorable exits. Todd Swift and Melanie Hammond had earned close to ten million each on acquisitions of their companies. Christopher Lopez, a founder and CEO, had made more than $100 million on his IPO five years ago. 

     A framed picture of Justine caught his attention. He pointed his finger and slowly came to rest on her cute nose; beautiful, capable, kind, intelligent, lovely, Justine. His wife was the prize. Even his parents liked her and they seemed to have a critical eye for everyone, most especially their only son. Successful men like himself earned beautiful women. She was beyond his expectations. Her confidence captivated. He craved her when they were apart and when they were together. 

     Maynard grabbed his cell phone off the desk and hit a button to dial Justine. The phone rang five times until her voice came on to suggest the caller leave a message. The sound of her voice caused him to react; his face softened; crummy cell reception. He ended the call and dialed the land line. The message with both of their voices, the recording they had made the week they had closed on their home, came over the line. She’s probably out with Carmen

     Massaging his eyelids pumped moisture into his fluorescent-light-ruined pupils. Exhausted by responsibility and the burden of management, tension seeped from his body. Having wanted to be in charge, he sat alone in the grips of cash flow terror and product design peril embedded in a high flying startup. In almost any capacity of life Justine provided support, but she couldn’t help him at work. The ability to calculate steep, complex, scientific problems eluded her, as smart as she was. Justine, and his parents for that matter, pushed paper around. They issued legal briefs, re-wrote opinions, or cancelled deals if the terms weren’t favorable. Lawyers didn’t have to make the thing work. When things got difficult, clients got dumped.  He had earned this job, this brain, this money, and the privilege of innovating. Now, mother earth and his investors were counting on him to succeed. Money and glory would follow. Maynard had the responsibility to bring solar energy to the masses. He lifted his finger off Justine’s photo. Blessed with big funding, he got stuck with the tough job.

     The rain receded. Maynard stood. He stretched his toned six-foot frame and arms upward and then bent to touch his toes. With hands planted on his hips, he rotated. He inspected the office with its sleek modern furniture set atop a Persian carpet, then scanned the city scape. A calm came over him as he decided that these inventory issues were trivial, in the scheme of things. By God, he’d raised a billion-five and counting. What he’d accomplished at SolaNox was damn impressive. As he stared at the twinkling lights across the Bay, Maynard let out a long breath and affirmed he could never tire of the view from the top.

     The journey to CEO and Founder of SolaNox had meant years of hard work, advanced degrees, and late nights in the lab. Imagining his youthful self created a nostalgic view of Kepler’s, the mid-peninsula bookstore and intellectual hub. As an ambitious teen, he picked out fat books on computers and graphical interfaces and communications standards, but longed to be in this seat, running the show. Life wasn’t fair. Maynard started with a stake in Silicon Valley and a yearning to lead a purposeful life. His birthright was a powerful family and an exceptional IQ, which meant that his entrepreneurial ascent was inevitable. He knew now that he should have enjoyed high school while he had had the chance.