Talent wars: SolarCity poaches the CEO of its largest competitor, Vivint Solar

By Michael Carney , written on April 23, 2013

From The News Desk

Elon Musk’s SolarCity appears to have gotten a two-for-one special this week, bolstering its own management team while weakening that of one of its closest competitors. The company has hired former Vivint Solar CEO Tanguy Serra as its Executive Vice President of Operations, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. While Serra and SolarCity did not respond to requests for comment, Serra's LinkedIn profile appears to confirm the move.

Musk, who is currently the CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, is SolarCity’s chairman and was its early lead investor. The company was co-founded by CEO Lyndon Rive and his brother COO Peter Rive.

Serra spent 12 months at the helm of Vivint Solar, with the company announcing his departure on April 1, prior to which he was a VP at the private equity firm TPG Capital. Over this time he helped grow the 20-month-old subsidiary of home automation giant Vivint to 600 employees, nearly 6,000 customers, and 4.5 megawatts per month (54 megawatts per year) of total power generation, making it the second largest solar company in the US behind SolarCity. By comparison, SolarCity deployed 157 megawatts in 2012 to nearly 31,000 customers, and is expected to deploy 250 megawatts in 2013.

Both Vivint and SolarCity offer “full service solar” in the home, business, and government markets, including system design, financing, installation, and monitoring. At the time of Serra’s departure Vivint stated that he would remain with the company in an advisory role, but given the inherent conflict introduced by his new role with SolarCity, this seems implausible. A blog post earlier today from GreenTechMedia cites sources who call Serra's departure from Vivint "less than cordial."

Much of the rapid growth by both companies can been attributed to a leasing model which eliminated the need for large upfront investment by homeowners, and enabled the companies to generate recurring revenue streams. Federal tax incentives that give homeowners a 30 percent credit against the cost of the system have also spurred sales

Vivint Solar’s parent company, Vivint, was acquired by Blackstone Group in September 2012 for $2 billion. At the time it had 675,000 total customers in North America across its automatic door lock, video surveillance, severe weather altert, safety sensor, and solar business units.

SolarCity completed a NASDAQ IPO in December 2012, raising $92 million at a $600 million valuation. The company’s stock closed at $22.27 today, up 178 percent over its $8 IPO price. In its 2012 Annual Report statements released in March, the company posted a larger than expected net loss of $28 million ($1.10 per share), down from a $3.7 million profit during the same quarter a year ago.

As the world moves increasingly toward alternative energy solutions, both SolarCity and Vivint Solar are positioned to ride this growth wave. If Serra's move is any indication, SolarCity's biggest advantage, other than its head start, may be the cache of its association with real world Tony Stark, Elon Musk.

Update: Following publication, we received the following comment via email from SolarCity.

We can confirm that Tanguy Serra has accepted an offer but hasn’t yet begun his employment with SolarCity.