In Conversation w/ Daniel Scorah
In this episode of In Conversation, Fiona Wilson interviews Daniel Scorah from InfraBe, a recruiting firm focused on global infrastructure. Daniel shares his insights based on his multiple decades of experience, and explains the value that specialized and experienced recruiters such as InfraBe provide to both employers and talent looking to make an impact. InfraBe has expertise across the infrastructure sector, and in this conversation we focus on market trends and hiring of professionals with energy finance and renewable energy expertise. Daniel even shares some tips for professionals looking to move into renewables or sustainable infrastructure. Of course, we also touch on financial modelling and the value of this skillset in the job market today!
Fiona: Welcome back to In Conversation, everyone. We’ve got another really good episode for you today. We have Daniel Scorah from InfraBe. He’ll tell you a little bit more about InfraBe. But today we’re going to be talking about recruiting and job seeking in the renewable energy, energy, finance, and infrastructure sectors. Which is a topic that’s always of interest to both employers and employees. So we’re going to get right into it without any other delay. Welcome, Daniel. Thank you for joining us here today.
Daniel: Hello. It’s a pleasure. It’s an absolute pleasure. You said this is going to be a good episode, but we haven’t filmed it yet, so we just don’t know.
Fiona: I have the intuition, yeah.
Daniel:– But it was wishful thinking. Now listen, thank you so much for inviting me on. From my side, we’ve known Pivotal for many years. You know, it’s a wonderful business. You’re focused on the financial modeling side of it, which you know, crosses over so nicely with what we do. So yeah, listen, lovely to speak to you today, Fiona, as it always is.
Fiona: Yeah. Fantastic. Okay, so just to orient our audience and listeners a little bit, we’ll talk about InfraBe. But what can you tell us about your background, how you got into the work that you’re doing now? And what is it that you’re focused on right now?
Daniel: Listen, it’s a good question. How did I end up here? I started out in recruitment probably about 20 years ago. And the first market that I was ever given was actually recruiting experienced finance professionals into the waste market. So, how did I get here? The way that I got here is when I was working on that market, during that period in the UK, you remember there was lots of sort of PFIs and PPPs. And these were being granted for large waste-to-energy and EFW contracts. So when I was working with these businesses, I quickly realized that these waste companies, like Veolia, like Covanta in the US, all clients of ours of the past, were all bidding for these large-scale contracts. And it made me think and look very, very carefully, because what I realized is that there’s so many organizations and different sub-sectors involved. You’ve got the infrastructure funds and the debt funds putting money into these projects. Then you’ve got the sponsors and developers who are actually building out these projects. And then really interestingly on the side, you’ve got the advisors, the financial advisors, and the technical advisors. And as I started working through that market, it opened up my eyes into the world of wider infrastructure. And then we started working more closely with the funds and the advisors, and working on some incredibly exciting projects. And that market has just evolved so beautifully over the years. You know, we’ve gone from a place of schools and hospitals to fiber, heat networks, and now into this world of renewable energy, which is very, very close to InfraBe’s heart. Something that we’re very passionate about, and this is where we are today as a business and where our focus is. So that’s it in a nutshell, my career historic.
Fiona: Well, I don’t actually think we’ve discussed this before. But my career beginnings also had a big waste, waste-to-energy focus, and wastewater treatment and industrial facilities focus. So very glamorous sector. I had some really good outfits, you know, pairing the professional with the hardcore boots you need to walk around.
Daniel: So basically, the start of our careers were a load of rubbish. Excuse the pun.
Fiona: Yeah, exactly. There’s another word I could use in there as well that I won’t. But thanks for that context.
Daniel I think it’s really interesting is, you know, it’s basically the large capital projects. And I think from a recruitment perspective, it’s really interesting to put senior professionals into a business, and actually look back and watch them build. And actually, the great thing about all career experiences, and I’d say this to anyone, really, you know, you start at a certain place. And it leads you. You go off at so many tangents. But I feel really, really happy after two decades. We’ve now formulated our vision and our offering. InfraBe is very, very clear. But I don’t think we would’ve ever been able to get there having not experienced what we did in the earlier parts of our careers.
Fiona: Definitely. I think it’s, in my experience for sure, the minority of people who can, who would’ve been able to predict their career trajectory even 10 years out. So that’s a lesson for our listeners, if you’re on the more junior side.
Daniel: Be patient.
Fiona: Yes, exactly. So actually, yeah, let’s get into it a little bit. Can you describe in your own words, you know, as one of the leaders of the company, what is InfraBe’s niche? What are you doing, and what’s the value that you provide to companies that are looking for executives, or recruiting for senior roles?
Daniel: Thank you for asking that question. So we’re wholly focused now on the infrastructure and renewable energy market. And we work on a global basis, which is fantastic. That’s been massively accelerated as well over the last couple of years of COVID with remote working. It’s given us great access around the globe. Where we are at the moment is we’re a niche search consultancy. We’re a boutique, which enables us to offer complete quality and complete undiluted focus across the infrastructure and renewable energy market. We focus at the very senior end of the marketplace, but we have a completely holistic and non-diluted view. We carve the market really, really cleverly, which also enables us to bring some really incredible professionals, and also those that you wouldn’t necessarily think would work. So as I discussed at the start of the call, how we kind of reached and grew into this, but we kind of segment it as follows. So we’re working with the infrastructure funds and the debt funds, all focused on infrastructure and renewable energy, providing the financing. We’re then working with the developers, the IPPs, and the utilities that are obviously building these projects. You know, be it a renewables project. Be it something within sustainability. Be it core infrastructure, be it digital infrastructure. So it’s amazing because you’re working with these funds who are investing in, which gives you kind of an unhinged view of what they’re doing. And it’s sometimes amazing because we can be working with one of our infrastructure funds, and then suddenly building the senior management team for one of their development businesses. And that’s happened so often. And I can give you some examples of that later on. Then on the other side of things, we’re working with the professional services businesses. The boutique amazing businesses like Pivotal, but also the larger consultancies, the M&A Advisors, both on the financial and technical side of things. So it’s amazing really, and we’ll talk about career progression. But if you are working within infrastructure and renewables for a technical and a financial advisor, with us having access to these kind of groups of clients, we can bring those skillsets in to the organization and very much so know what works. Our search methodology is very much focused on search. I think you can always find amazing candidates when you put an advert out. But the problem is is you’re only ever going to get the top 1% of people that applied. You might get lucky. And don’t get me wrong, there’s some amazingly active candidates out there. But I think the true value of what we do is is finding the proportion of the market who isn’t actively looking. And that’s where we come in, actively headhunting, utilizing our network, reaching out across that tight-knit undiluted focus, and bringing the best professionals. I’ve really gone on there. So I hope you’re all still awake, but-
Fiona: No, it’s all related to the context. And I think that makes a lot of sense that you’re drawing on a bigger pool of candidates who, again, they might not have decided this is the week I’m looking for a new role, but it actually may be the right time in their career. They might have the right skillset. It seems like a much more comprehensive approach. And I can really see the benefits to working with that model and working with a recruiter, such as InfraBe. So we’re going to get into maybe some of the more specifics about the skillsets that the candidates you’re working with have or might need. But before we do that I also want to ask you. If there’s any market trends in clean energy or infrastructure, whether that’s globally or in a specific, more focused market that you think are relevant to share. You know, you’ve been in the recruiting business for a while and would love to hear a little bit about your kind of long term view on it, but also what’s been changing in recent years. And how does that contribute to the current job market and kind of recruiting context?
Daniel: Oh gosh, this is what I love about the infrastructure and renewables market. It’s just so fast-paced. It’s so ever-changing. And you know, the trends are based on geography. The trends can be based on skillset. I think, actually, from the context of Pivotal, and probably your main client base, what I’ll do is I’ll try and give you a couple of themes that I’ve seen that maybe apply to the world of investment and financial modeling, which is obviously where Pivotal sit. I think a huge trend that’s really, really we’ve seen change over the last couple of years, probably 24 months, exactly, is the infrastructure funds that were raising finance who were acquiring projects. Let’s say renewables projects, wind and solar. They were in a position where they could just acquire these projects on an operational basis, and the yields were there and the return was there. But what’s happened is over the last two years, because the market has become so competitive, and because so many investors and developers and IPPs are running at the market, what we found is is that people are having to take more development risk. And when I say development risk, this is acquiring development pipelines that are maybe ready to build. And that kind of theme, that kind of prospect never existed. Lots of these funds are backed by pension vehicles who don’t want to necessarily take the risk. So I think what we’ve seen is we’ve just seen a greater risk and a different kind of investment, and even lots of these funds are actually setting up their own in-house development teams. And what I think that’s meant from a staffing perspective, I just think there’s so many more opportunities for people moving into the sector who’ve got renewables experience. So I think it’s really opened out. So one of the biggest changes is is like I say, the risk appetite and the need to move away from just acquiring operational projects to actually developing them and taking more risk. I think a more recent change that we’ve now seen is, you know, the economic climate is difficult. Interest rates are the highest that they’ve ever been. And you know, it’s incredibly hard to raise capital. I think there’s definitely some amazing, amazing funds now even over the last couple of months that you’ve seen announced, the raising of finance. So I think that that money is now coming through. But I think the way that lots of investors have combated this is by going a little bit off-field and probably investing more across sustainability as opposed to renewables. So those funds that were investing in renewables and infrastructure are now investing in green steel, in heat networks, in close linked salmon farms. And we’re housing that all together in the realm of sustainability. And I think that change is interesting for me, ’cause it’s almost like they’re taking more of a private equity approach. And again, this added activity is creating more need for skilled professionals. So it’s great for us, but even greater for the candidates that we’re representing. So yeah, I think that’s just two trends. But I think we could talk on and on and on. But yeah, they’re two trends. I think the third trend is also Pivotal based in the US. And I think when we look at the renewables market, you know, we had the Inflation Reduction Act. And I think that has also just really propelled the market from a renewables perspective. And I think that’s also another trend. So we talk about geographies. The US renewables market, it’s super hot.
Fiona: Yeah. Agreed, agreed. It’s nice to get the global perspective as well. Some of us working in the US can become so laser-focused on, yeah, the Inflation Reduction Act incentives, and all the updates coming from the IRS, our tax authority here. But there’s much more to the infrastructure market than the United States. So I really appreciate the perspective.
Daniel: Yeah, it’s just so exciting to see. And I think that also, because of this act, you’ve got lots of European investors and developers who have also come to the market. And actually, a good example is a couple of assignments that we have recently worked on in the US. So they’re an investment vehicle based in London called Low Carbon. They’ve recently raised finance. And we had the privilege of appointing their MD, Ed Shelton, a person who came over from RWE. And he’s obviously brought experience and pipeline and leverage. And another interesting story, working with a large-scale Israeli infrastructure business called Shikun & Binui. And they came to us with no experience in renewable energy, again, sort of two-and-a-half, three years ago. And we had the privilege of appointing, who is now their MD, two professionals, Kevin Yaich, who came over from NextEnergy, and Jeremie Debomy. And actually, the interesting thing about that is we talked about the trend of moving from development risk to, from when companies were just acquiring projects. And actually, Shikun & Binui’s strategy, because it was just before the projects got, you know, I suppose difficult to invest without getting that yield. They were actually investment professionals. But yeah, both businesses absolutely flying at the moment. Yeah, so US renewables market. If you are working in that space at the moment, what a great place to be.
Fiona: Agreed, agreed. Those are some really good examples you shared. Thanks, Daniel. The next thing I wanted to ask you about, you know, because this is a Pivotal180 show, I have to ask. You know, financial modeling is really core to Pivotal’s business. We have an advisory side of the business. We also run these in-depth trainings on financial modeling, live in-person ones. My favorite are the online self-paced ones, actually. I know that sounds boring, but I think they’re really good. And so yeah, financial modeling is core to what Pivotal180 does, but how does the skillset of financial modeling show up in your business? How is that valued by the clients you work with who are recruiting? And yeah, what is that role for the senior or more executive-level candidates that you’re working with?
Daniel: Yeah, listen, it’s such a great topic point. Financial modeling bears the absolute foundation of pretty much every single infrastructure and renewable energy project. The value that it adds, you know, is astounding. And I think that the question that you asked is, how does that lead to a more senior role? I think from a more junior perspective, I think that if you have the ability to train and develop your financial modeling skills, the ability to review and build complex financial models, you are granting yourself access to the most wonderful pool of opportunities. Taking the infrastructure funds and the banks, they’re all taking analysts and associates, and they all need to have strong financial modeling experience. Even the developers and the utilities, they also all need financial modelers. You know, like I say, it bears the foundation of any project. And all these variables must be accounted for at the very, very early stages. You get the financial modeling role wrong, and you can end up with a really terrible investment. But then again, we’re working with those advisors as well. Obviously, you know, financial modeling is a lot of what they offer. But I think the important thing is is as you develop and evolve in your career, the financial modeling is, how can you use that to be more commercial? Whether or not you’re an analyst or an investment director, you need to have an intrinsic understanding of a financial model, and also have the ability to relay those information to your technical team, to your legal team, to your commercial team. I would say that if you are looking to get into infrastructure and renewable energy, and you’re coming from a technical or finance background at the junior stages of your career, now presents a really, really incredible opportunity to gain entry into what is an amazing sector. And what I’d also say is it’s not necessary to have direct sector experience. You can be financial modeling across various different sort of sub-sectors. Maybe you’ve trained in an accountancy practice. Maybe you’ve trained in a niche financial modeling boutique. But yeah, they’re very, very promising careers. And over my 20-year career, I’ve seen people, you know, junior financial modelers grow into investment directors, MDs and CEOs of developers and investment companies. So big financial modeling fan. Honed financial model, huge fan. I’m decent on Excel though, to be fair. But I don’t think that warrant’s getting a job at Pivotal just yet.
Fiona: It goes a long way, goes a long way. And yeah, I’m glad to hear you mention that. Not to make this about my career, but I’d started out working in a very small environmental finance firm in my first job out of university. And it was immediately clear to me how, yeah, core financial modeling was to the entire business, and how that just drove all the decision making. I got a lot of experience with financial models. But we didn’t have a in-house financial modeling training program. And so after that, I was always hungry for more knowledge and practice and guidance on modeling, which is how I found Pivotal180 before I started working for them.
Daniel: All right, so you took a training course from Pivotal?
Fiona: Yes. Yeah, I’ve done a couple of them now. They’re the best.
Daniel: Listen, again, maybe I should apply for one of your courses. And maybe I can have a career change. But no, you’re absolutely right. The service offering that we’ve seen from firms like Pivotal offering that training is great. And I would say to any of my clients across the finance sector, they should always look to further enhance the work that their financial modelers are doing, ’cause there’s always new trends, new practices, and new ways of financial modeling.
Fiona: Definitely. Daniel, I feel like I could go on much, much longer in this interview, but I want to close with a quick question which is, if you have any tips or advice for professionals who have seen the really, like booming job market and growth in the renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure sectors, and are interested in entering those sectors. What would you say if they don’t have direct experience in energy or infrastructure? What’s your top tips?
Daniel: I think first of all, look for courses that organizations like Pivotal are offering, to enhance that exposure to infrastructure and renewable financial modeling. You know, I’ve had candidates come from sectors completely unrelated wanting to get into it. And there’s nothing more, you know. There’s nothing like a candidate that turns up to an interview who doesn’t have experience, who shows that they’re doing work in their own time. Look, that’s not for everyone though. And I think that if you are working in a accountancy practice, in a professional services firm, and you’re working in an audit team, or you’re working in a team that isn’t doing project finance, isn’t doing financial modeling, try and seek a way towards that. See if you can get a transfer. Because gaining that experience a year, a year-and-a-half, just gives you great access to a plethora of opportunities. And I think what is worth adding is, you know, if you were to enter into, let’s say, the infrastructure fund space, what we’re also finding there is higher salaries, higher bonuses. So you know, it’s not all about the money, but obviously, there’s great rewards there. Financial modeling is so important. And you know, fact of the matter is there just aren’t enough financial modelers out there. So that’s a great thing because there’s always going to be a need and a requirement.
Fiona: Definitely. Thanks, Daniel. Again, we could go on much longer picking your brain about the work that you do. But I think as a substitute for that, we’ll close off this interview now. But we’ll make sure to give our audience a way to get in touch with you in the notes from this interview. So we’ll make sure to link any interested viewers later on. But I mostly just want to say thank you for joining us today. Really appreciate the perspective that comes with your experience, and yeah, some fantastic answers to these questions, which I couldn’t have completely predicted. So thanks again for joining us.
Daniel: Fiona, thank you so much again for inviting me. And you know, it’s just great to speak to you again. I hope you have a great end of the week.
Fiona: You as well. Thanks, Daniel.
Daniel: Take care. Bye.
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- Project finance and infrastructure financial modeling
- Renewable energy project finance modeling
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- Introduction to Battery Storage