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Solar Spotlight: Teri Lema

Publish Date: June 3rd, 2024

Teri is an incredible part of Namaste Solar and is one of our most seasoned employees. She’s been here 18 of our 19 years and has become the heart of the organization in that time. We caught up with her recently, and she spoke of the early days of Namaste Solar and the changes she’s witnessed in our organization and the solar industry at large.

What's your role at Namaste Solar?

I'm a Human Resources Generalist on the Human Resources team, and I'm also a co-owner.

And how long have you been with Namaste Solar?

June 1st of this year, I will have been here 18 years. Gosh, that’s coming right up, too. When I first started, we were all of 12 people with a big dream. And it’s been a real solar coaster all those years. Jurisdictional things, like policy and politics, have always presented challenges around whether solar was going to be here for good. And what’s interesting is that we’re finally at a point where it is here for good. But it didn’t always feel that way. There were so many cliffs in those early days that we just didn't know if solar was a technology that would be around 18 years later. And here we are. Questioning whether solar is here to stay or not isn’t something we're faced with anymore. And that's really cool.

Is there anything specific that helped you and that early team get through those early challenges?

We were pretty involved in policy. We had a full-time person who was involved in policy. They were working with Xcel Energy on their rebate program and this person was dedicated to that. A lot of the incentives for going solar came through Xcel energy. That employee was very influential in getting Xcel to help us, help the market for solar, and understand some of the logistics around how our customers can get solar for their home. I think we always remained hopeful because of our conviction to renewable energy and we also knew that the voters in the state of Colorado wanted renewable energy on the grid. So I think our passion for the work that we're doing and the excitement for the customers that we worked with who got to go solar in those early years really just gave us hope.

Why were you first interested in working for Namaste Solar or in the solar industry?

I was a student at Naropa, and I would ride my bicycle past Namaste Solar. Because of my education at Naropa, I knew what “namaste” meant, and I loved our logo. I would ride by Namaste Solar Electric’s building, and it was brand new to me. The only solar I was familiar with was off grid. Grid-tied solar was really brand new in 2004/2005 when the company was founded. I loved learning how a person could take the energy from the sun and create electricity.

And another reason was the passion of the people that founded this company and the early folks that were here really believing in renewable energy. And just a different way to run a business because we were employee-owned right from the very beginning. Both of those things appealed to me. I was old enough and had worked long enough in other businesses and industries to know that the approach that our founders had, having this be an employee-owned company, was a very different approach to the way typical businesses were run. I felt like I was invited to sit at the cool kids table in the cafeteria and when that job offer came, I'll never forget it. That day I was so happy.

What role did you start in?

I started in accounting. I was the only accountant for the company at the time, so I managed the books. I did accounting for probably eight or nine years. Then there was an opportunity on the HR team which really excited me because one of the things I can say about why I've been here 18 years is the people I get to work with. We attract into our company people who are passionate about the environment, passionate about doing business differently, and really value having purpose in their work.

I had that opportunity to move over to the HR team and it's really suited my passion for this company ever since.

What motivates you to get up and go to work?

You know what I love about our company in the mature place we are? I get to see new emerging leaders and other folks stepping up in the organization to give me hope that we will pass this business on to another generation of leaders and folks that really want to do business the way we do. And that means a lot to me.

What is something about your job that most people don't know?

I guess people don't know that I get to talk with candidates about employee ownership and what that means. I feel super proud talking about our business structure and being employee owned. This past co-owner retreat, when I looked around the room, I saw the voices in the room as owners and people who have a say in our business. They have a voting right in our business. It is not what you would see in another company, and I get reactions from candidates when they hear this for the first time. Often when companies say they're employee owned, they can mean that it's ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). They can mean that ownership for employees is given as part of compensation. Namaste Solar employee-owners have opted in and paid for a share to have a say in our business. It is really a different business model.

What’s your proudest moment working at Namaste Solar?

Yeah, there's a lot. But there’s one that stands out for me and I'll show you. This is us on stage with President Obama. And there's me.

Teri-Group-ObamaThe team with President Obama. Teri is in the top row, second from the left. She's got the black hair and big smile.

When President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he came to the state of Colorado to sign that bill and invited Namaste Solar to be up on stage with him. Blake Jones, one of our founders and CEO at the time, spoke that day and introduced Joe Biden, who was Vice President then.

It was amazing to be this little scrappy, hopeful, passionate solar company and to be on stage with the president of the United States. Knowing that the energy future of this country is changing, it was incredible. We were at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science where we installed a very big commercial rooftop system. And Blake was invited to give a private tour to President Obama and Vice President Biden. And it was just mind-blowing. Yeah, I’m very honored and proud to be part of this company.

There have been many other moments I've been proud about. But that is such a standout.

Read more about Namaste Solar’s invitation to visit with President Obama here.

What advice would you give to new hires?

The thing that comes to mind is to really be curious and always learning. And consider ways, as an individual contributor at our company, that you can take on something that you're passionate about leading. Even if it's a ski weekend for Namastaliens. Take those opportunities when you can to learn how to lead a project or an issue in the company. We do have opportunities like becoming a candidate, becoming a co-owner, and you can run for the board of directors no matter what role you're in.

That's how you gain leadership skills. I think that as an employee-owned company there are other opportunities, when you think about our big picture meetings and our retreats, to have a voice and then show some leadership on an issue that you're interested in seeing if there's momentum.

What do you like to do when you're not at work?

I'm a dancer. I do dance fitness. It is loud club music, and there's so much fun energy in the room. It's not about how good you dance but just bringing energy to the room. The music is loud, and the songs are all choreographed. So I cannot be thinking about anything else other than the next dance move and having the music just run through my body and just be so present. There are so many days when I show up at dance class and I think, I just I can't do it today. There's no way I can do this. I've got so much on my mind. Then I step into that room, and I'm supported by other dancers in the room that are there having fun, which is our number one goal. I get lost in the music and have a great time dancing, every time. And I’m in a more positive place after that. It’s like therapy without talking.

teri dance studio 1080x1080Teri (on the far left) with her dance crew

If you could pick one superpower, what would it be?

To love unconditionally. Yep, and I would wish that for everybody.

Recommended Reading:

    1. Solar Spotlight: Matt Thomas
    2. Solar Spotlight: Gage Duran
    3. Solar Spotlight: Alicia Creighton