Renato has been an Expert at the Solar Impulse Foundation since May 2019 and in this interview, we learn more about him, his work at Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, his dynamic background and decades-long passion for technology!
Renato was born and raised in Zurich, Switzerland. For most of the past decade he’s worked with Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, the commercial insurance arm of one of the world's largest (re)insurance companies. There, he’s currently responsible for building their Innovation & Digital Transformation activities.
Our Expert of the Month is an electronics engineer by training and so his heart still beats for all things engineering and technology. To quote him, his interests go astray every so often and over time he expanded his area of expertise into business & finance: first with a Bachelor's degree at the University of Zurich and later with an MBA from Northwestern University in Chicago. There, he also found a passion for leadership development and coaching - another area that's becoming increasingly important in his career.
It was also during his time in Chicago that the Solar Impulse plane was on its round-the-world mission. With two friends he rented a car to drive the 5.5 hours to Dayton, Ohio and see the plane land:
"We made it just in time for the landing and were so deeply impressed, not just by the sight of the plane but by the hospitality we got to enjoy from the Solar Impulse team."
Could you tell us more about Swiss Re's activity?
Swiss Re's core business is reinsurance - which means we "insure other insurers" - the likes of Zurich, AXA, or AIG to name a few. Most people don't know much about our industry, but our business is critical to many economies and societies. For example to provide financial capacity in the wake of natural catastrophes like hurricanes or earthquakes. In one of our other business units, Corporate Solutions, we also offer our expertise as an insurer directly to corporate clients.
To run our business successfully, it's critical to understand all sorts of risks and their major drivers and developments. Among those risks, of course, are the effects of climate change. With that said, you'll understand the deep interest and connection to sustainability and resilience topics. Swiss Re focuses a lot of its activities on furthering its expertise and knowledge. We employ experts in all kinds of fields, from atmospheric physicists to economists, from chemists to political scientists, and from marine biologists to structural engineers. For me it's amazing to work with people from so many backgrounds and share our knowledge with clients, industry partners, as well as governments around the world.
What is the most challenging part of your work?
My role is to help our organization find innovative ways to develop and apply technology - for our customers as well as for ourselves. One of my biggest challenges in that job is the cost-benefit assessment of innovation projects. More often than not we find ourselves in uncharted territories, trying to solve complex problems in an environment filled with uncertainty. The traditional rules of business cases and projections come to their limits under these circumstances and it becomes more difficult to assess whether a solution that is technically feasible also really generates value.
Secondly, we're an organization that has been around for over 150 years. And while we have so many amazingly talented people, we sometimes are our own worst enemies. We're not as good as most start-ups in taking calculated risks and "just" trying new things. Yet, that's exactly what's required for innovative solutions to emerge. So the challenge is also about encouraging people to engage in open minded exploration, to come up with new ideas to solve the problems of our customers, and then to execute quickly.
What is the value of being an Expert for you, and in general what does being part of the World Alliance mean?
Contributing as an Expert is something that's very close to my heart. The World Alliance is addressing the most pressing issue of our time. The least I can try is putting my experience and knowledge to the best possible use. And while I say that, every time I complete an assessment, I feel like I'm getting more out of it than I could ever give. There is tremendous value in learning about new solutions and the thought process behind them. On the one hand I stay up-to-date on the latest developments in technology. On the other hand, time and time again I'm astonished at how creative and innovative people are in applying technology. That inspires my own thinking and I always walk away with new ways of looking at some of the problems I face.
Have you had the chance to participate in our Experts’ Challenge, or do you wish to participate in the future? If so, what did you think about it?
I participated at the expert challenge in Lausanne and absolutely loved it!
For one, it was great to meet and exchange with like-minded people. But more importantly, the event has proven the value of collaboration across diverse backgrounds. It was very helpful to get other people's views on a problem or question and I think my assessments that day were better thanks to the inputs and challenges I got from fellow experts. Finally, I truly enjoyed meeting the entrepreneurs behind the solutions and listening to their pitches.
Have you come across any interesting Solution that you would like to see in our 1000 Solutions portfolio? If not, do you know of any Solution that you wish to see in our portfolio?
I have worked with a company called SunCulture in Nairobi, Kenya. They bring solar-powered irrigation systems to smallholder farmers. Their solution replaces old diesel generators and makes more efficient use of water, for example by using drip and mist irrigation. Most importantly though, it enables farmers to plant higher value crops, increase production, and generate a higher income for their families. SunCulture ticks all the boxes of the Solar Impulse Label - technically proven, highly efficient on multiple levels, and geared towards profitability for both customers and investors.
How do you think the label could be implemented more effectively?
The answer to that question depends on what the Solar Impulse Efficient Solutions Label wants to achieve. With Bertrand Piccard's reputation and connection to governments in Europe, the Label has a solid foundation to advise public policy. But I wonder whether that is enough to become a truly relevant, sought after, label. In my view, there are two more stakeholder networks - industry and consumers - that are deeply interconnected with the government side. Both industry-buyers and consumers are in dire need of sustainability-guidance in their purchasing decisions and the Solar Impulse Efficient Solutions Label has the potential to help them navigate. For that though, the Solar Impulse Foundation needs to increase recognition of the Label on the buyer side as a known and trusted source of purchasing advice. That in turn will multiply the value companies get from being labelled an "efficient solution" and get more applications in the door.
Anything else you would like to share with us?
Thanks to all the Solar Impulse Foundation team and everyone associated with it. Your work and dedication truly make a difference.
If this was easy, it wouldn't need you guys to do it - so please keep at it!