ViZn Energy is Van Dells fourth tour of duty as a tech company CEO. It’s also the third time he’s relocated a company headquarters to Austin. His previous company, SolarBridge Technologies Inc., was acquired in November 2014 by California-based SunPower Corp.
After completing a $24 million financing, ViZn Energy, an energy storage startup, plans to relocate its headquarters from Montana to Austin and hire as many as 40 local workers during the next two years.
In addition to reading, Van Dell decompresses by hiking and camping. He expects that the fourth time will be his final stint as CEO before winding down his work life.
“I’ve had my current thinking before,but this should be it,” he said. “I can see this being a very good swan song for a 35-plus year career.”
Has it become easier for you to be a CEO? Certainly, you benefit from an accumulation of experience. But each opportunity is different and have many of the same factors. It’s a question of pattern recognition and driving a lot of changes of what an organization needs.
Past experience helps me judge and not to run in and say ‘Let’s change everything all at once.’
What was your first paying job growing up? I started off working at landscaping and pumping gas.
Did you learn any lessons you use today? Work hard and learn fast -and don’t do just what is expected of you. Go beyond that.
What is your favorite part about being a CEO? There’s tremendous satisfaction,and it’s rewarding building something that you can go back and make an assessment from the time you got there and left it [to see that it] became a better and stronger organization that leaves a legacy beyond yourself.
What is your least favorite part of the job? There are times when external pressures can be overwhelming. It’s a lot more fun making a company bigger than smaller. You have to judge either similar prospects for an organization.
What is your best strength as a CEO? I’ve probably got enough accumulated scar tissue so I don’t have many blind spots. Pattern recognition is important.
What is the weakness you want to improve? It’s always a balance of everything you know has to be done. I have to always remind myself to think through the steps an organization has to go through. You have to measure your own insights so people don’t get overwhelmed.
Did anything about the CEO role in general surprise you? You always have to manage the two worlds of your team and employees on one hand and investors and board members on the other hand while at the same time being transparent. There’s a difference between governance and operating management. It surprised me how these two worlds are very different.
Where do you go when you want to get away? The best place for me to get a mental break is out in nature of some sort.
Where is your favorite place to eat in Austin? We like Azul Tequila [on South Lamar Boulevard] a lot. is kind of a mom-and-pop Mexican place but we like it.
What was the last book you read? I read a lot, multiple books at the same time.”1493″ is a really good book by Charles Mann about the impact of Columbus’discovery of the New World.
What was your first car? A complete “P-0-S” 1964 Dodge 880. One of those classic land yacht cars.
What makes you happy? I like to feel like I’m making a difference. I get a lot of satisfaction seeing my family doing well-seeing my three children gainfully employed.
If you could have any celebrity as a neighbor,who wouldit be? Tom Hanks, because he’s successful in his own field. Also, his interests and contributions in fields of history and technology -especially space. He still seems like a normal family guy, very rare for celebrities
– interview by Christopher Calnan,@ABJcalnan