Ben Hutt, CEO and Managing Director of Evergen, doesn’t mince words when it comes to the company’s goals. “We have a very clear mission at Evergen – to eradicate coal-fired power stations.” 

According to Ben, the electricity system is one of the three largest producers of carbon emissions around the world. And in 2019, Ben joined Evergen to try and be a part of the solution to end coal-reliant energy. 

The company’s mission is to try and combat climate change and energy access inequality, by facilitating the transition to a resilient, renewable, decentralised energy system of the future. Evergen aims to achieve this by optimising and orchestrating large fleets of batteries and other assets like solar and wind farms in industrial, commercial and residential sites across Australia and internationally.

Evergen produces and operates software that connects energy-related devices through the internet. It’s similar to how people use smart home devices to control their appliances, TVs, speakers and air con. 

These connections provide a bridge between key pieces of the energy chain – including solar farms and residential solar batteries – and lets them communicate with each other. This leads to more efficient, more affordable energy for customers.

“We control the whole energy value chain through software. We can turn appliances on and off based on when energy prices rise and fall throughout the day, and we can tell thousands of homes to send the excess solar power they’ve collected to the main grid so others can use it as well,” Ben says. 

In addition to the software that makes these connections, Evergen also uses AI and predictive modelling for energy load, weather, power generation and more.

Ben has spent over three years trying to make it easier and more affordable for people to use renewable energy efficiently. He says Evergen is one of the largest connectors of energy devices in Australia, connecting approximately 7,000 sites including solar farms, homes and businesses around the country. The company also operates in Latin America and Europe. 

The company presents a great overlap for Ben’s hunger to tackle climate challenges and his own personal beliefs. 

“As we get older, we become more conscious of our purpose and our legacy. I have a very strong belief that my generation needs to be the one that stops global warming. My wife and I have six children, and we think about what we can do every day to make their lives and opportunities better,” Ben says.

To achieve that goal, Ben is using what he learned in his AGSM @ UNSW Business School Full-Time MBA and his background in management consulting and start-ups to make a real difference.

Making his move

Originally from the UK, Ben always knew he wanted to live in Australia after he first visited on a rugby tour back in 1995. In 2003 he made the move to Clovelly, New South Wales, looking to follow the entrepreneurship career path he’d started in the UK.

“I wanted to learn more about business – strategy, accounting and finance – and meet some interesting people along the way. AGSM is a globally recognised program with a diverse student cohort mix of international students, industry leaders and company executives. It just seemed like a great fit.”

The penny dropped for Ben one day when he was in class learning about operational efficiency and manufacturing costs, and how he could maximise his return on investment in a start-up by adjusting just one or two simple processes. 

“I had had a furniture making business back home in the UK and we only ever made one item of anything. We thought the scarcity would mean each piece would be worth more. But if we’d just made multiple units of three or four of those pieces at a time, we would have made way more money. I hadn’t fully appreciated that all the cost was in setting up the different pieces – not the wood or the cutting.”

Ben also says what he learned about leadership during his AGSM MBA has played a critical role in how he leads today.

“Leadership is all about inspiring and motivating your people to go above and beyond. That’s what makes the difference – hiring the best possible people and inspiring them to do their best work. The things I learnt about organisational structure, people and culture, are still massively relevant to what I do today – nearly 15 years later. Building companies is all about vision and mission, people and values, structure and empowerment.”

Ben has helped Evergen transition from selling solar panels and batteries to homes to the software company it is today. He says much of his first year was about defining the company’s values and finding the right people for the job. 

 “People come to work at Evergen because they want to make an impact. We’re trying to start a movement.

These shared beliefs also have a great impact on who Evergen works with – a key pillar of its responsible management principles.

“We use our values to decide which partners and customers we want to work with. Sometimes the idea of ending a reliance on fossil fuels doesn’t align with others’ beliefs, and we choose to not work with those organisations.”

Evergen and its mission also aligns with several of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including Affordable and Clean Energy, Sustainable Cities and Communities, Climate Action, Partnerships for the Goals. And the company’s culture aligns with the SDGs of Gender Equality, Decent Work and Economic Growth and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

See also: Listen to AGSM’s 'Business of Climate Change’ podcast

Turning vision into action

After graduating from the AGSM MBA in 2006, Ben spent nearly five years with Macquarie Group as a Principal Consultant and as a Regional Lead for ANZ. 

With a background in solving problems for complex software businesses, this experience helped him develop a knack for seeing industry disruption over the horizon, which enables Ben to help businesses pivot before the inevitable tidal wave hits. 

“My career in management consulting put me at the intersection of managing business and people. The way my brain works is I can see what’s wrong with a business or a team, and I can also see a clear version of the future as to where these businesses should be heading,” he says.

In 2012, Ben left Macquarie Group to start a recruitment software business, which became known as The Search Party. The start-up platform started as a software tool for recruiters but evolved into a marketplace – like Uber for recruitment. 

For the next five years, Ben helped launch The Search Party and take it public – but it was ultimately a failure. Ben says grieving over the loss of The Search Party helped him focus on what he was good at. And that was fixing start-ups. 

In 2017, he joined the corporate start-up accelerator Slingshot. Ben spent the next three years coaching companies in three-month sprints, giving him a front row seat to thousands of successes and failures. 

As his reputation grew, Ben received calls from CEOs and founders who wanted him to tackle their company’s issues. One of those calls came from Evergen Board Chairman, Michael Cummings.

“Evergen wasn’t growing, and nobody seemed to want to invest in it. So I spent my weekend watching TED talks and other videos to learn everything I could about the future of energy. That Monday I wrote Michael an email that said you’re definitely onto something, but here’s a list of seven fundamental flaws with your business that you need to fix or it won’t work,” Ben says.

Afterwards, Michael wanted Ben to continue working with Evergen. Ben saw the company was at the beginning of a 20-year shift in the energy sector, with one aspect of the transition being connecting devices and equipment via the internet. Another was putting renewable energy in the “middle of the network” so it could be used and distributed as efficiently as possible.

“I could see that if you can connect these things you can really choose when people pull energy from the grid or when they send it back. You would then end up with a more decentralised network rather than what we have now, which is one coal-fired power station pushing energy out in one direction to 400,000 homes.”

See also: Building Australia’s green economy: How Rebecca Lake is using her AGSM MBA to fight deforestation

Empowering the next generation

Ben says the AGSM MBA is an especially great fit for those who already have some professional experience.

“It was really valuable for me to go into the program having already made some professional mistakes, because that provided me a framework from which to start and think about how I could do things differently going forward," he says. 

Even 15-plus years after completing his MBA, Ben remains an active part of the AGSM community, mentoring program candidates and sharing his wide-ranging experience.

“I think they can benefit from some of the things I’ve learned, and I also benefit greatly from staying involved with students as well as the alumni network. It’s always been great for building contacts and connections,” he says.

Ben thinks the next generation of MBA students have the chance to make a real impact on the future of energy – and that now is the time to embark on a meaningful career that can help change the trajectory of the planet.

"We're at the beginning of a 20-year revolution in energy and sustainability and there's a higher global consciousness today. So there's heaps of opportunity for people with a whole range of skills and interests to contribute across a whole range of industries, everything from food, waste, energy. They're all things people are thinking consciously about. 

"I encourage anyone who wants to see change in the world to get started. There's plenty of opportunities to make a difference now at scale."


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