Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) are a way for organisations, like EDF Renewables, to meet their business goals: by developing expertise or building out their portfolio of wind and solar farms and battery projects. Find out how Sarah supports the wider business through her role as M&A Manager – and what advice she has for anyone who wants to follow her into the renewables industry.
Day-to-day working life in renewables
Q. Where are you in the country right now?
A. I’m working from home in Aberdeenshire at the moment. I’m usually based in the Edinburgh office, but when lockdown happened, my partner and I moved back up to Aberdeenshire, to be closer to family.
Q. What does your job as M&A Manager involve?
A. This is a new role for me – and a new role for the business! So in part, I’m still developing what I want the role to be and how this new team can support the business strategy with Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) activity.
The M&A part of my job title refers to either acquiring or divesting companies or new renewable sites – whether solar, wind, battery or other technologies. My role is also wider than specific projects though. There is a holistic piece, working with all the different technology teams and across projects to bring a one-business cohesive approach.
I was involved in M&A from a financial perspective in my previous role at EDF Renewables, so I’ve got experience of the M&A transactions we’ve done over the past few years, and I also bring experience from other roles in my career. This new role also requires a lot of interaction with people, internally and externally.
Q. What did you do in your last role?
A. Previously I worked in the finance team and my role was quite broad. I was the manager for the finance team business partnering with the development and construction side of the business, across all the different renewable technologies. So we’d support them with all manner of accounting and finance-related elements of projects, including finance support for transactions.
Q. What’s a typical day like – and has it changed since Covid-19?
A. M&A work is project-based and it can be quite opportunistic – so if an opportunity arises, we have to act quickly! At the moment, most of my time is consumed with one particular project I’m working on as project manager.
Quite often, I spend most of my day on the phone – and I could be talking to anybody in the organisation. I work across all our technologies and with a lot of subject matter experts: from development and project managers, legal, finance, engineering and so on. I also spend time on the phone with external parties too.
There’s a lot of stakeholder management in this role and I also spend time working with the teams across the business. This is to assess how we’re progressing on projects – depending on my level of involvement – and tackling any challenges together especially if it is a cross-portfolio issue and not specific to one asset, project or technology.
Developing a career in the renewables industry
Q. What’s your background – did you study finance?
A. At school, I studied Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Geography, purely because I really enjoyed those subjects. Then I did a degree in Geology and Physical Geography at university.
What my Geology degree taught me was how to weave together information from the spectrum of subjects I studied at school. And that’s been one of the greatest transferable skills I’ve taken from my degree into my career – the principles of how to bring together information from different sources to build the bigger picture.
Q. What did you do after graduating?
A. I wanted to do something more commercially minded, so I trained as a Chartered Accountant in an accountancy practice. I joined a graduate scheme and started off in audit. It was a great way to see how different types and sizes of businesses work.
From there, I joined another large company in a finance role. And then I moved into valuations: looking at modelling and how you value parts of a business, assets, potential acquisitions and disposals. This role involved working with senior management, engineers, and other technical experts , further developing my stakeholder management expertise.
Then I moved to EDF Renewables – back into finance, but to a business partnering role and managing a team.
My career hasn’t been a linear progression. But what I’ve done is develop parallels and transferable skills. I’ve always followed what’s interested me – and I’d advise any young person to do the same. You don’t have to follow a direct career path; life is more interesting when you progress down different routes!
Q. Did you always want to work in the renewables industry?
A. The energy industry has always attracted me, I’ve always felt motivated by working for an industry that fuels the economy. Right now, we have a chance to take part in the energy transition to renewables. It’s a unique opportunity – why wouldn’t you want to get involved?
Diversity and inclusion in the renewables sector
Q. Do you think the industry could do more to promote diversity and inclusion?
A. At a conceptual level, you can always do more. The moment we stop and say ‘we’ve cracked it’ is the point at which progress stops. For me, we always need to be questioning ourselves and checking to see if our standards need to evolve. This doesn’t just apply to diversity and inclusion though; but life in general.
Love what you do; do what you love
Q. What’s your favourite part of your job?
A. There are two things I really love about my role. The first is that I really like learning and every day in this job – in fact, in this industry – is a school day! I’m constantly learning and that’s really important to me. It can be challenging, but that also makes me feel like I’m growing and developing. Being part of a pioneering team and company is really motivating.
The second thing I like is the diversity of people I work with. There are so many subject experts and people with diversity of interests around the business. Everyone has their own specific lens for looking at a project. It goes back to what I took away from my degree – I love it when we all come together with our different viewpoints to create a solution. It’s really satisfying and it gives me a sense of accomplishment.
Q. And what’s your least favourite part of the job?
A. I spend a lot of time speaking to people and pulling together lots of information. Sometimes there can be a huge volume of documents and information to process, after I’ve spent all day talking, which can be challenging at times.
Q. What kind of hours do you work?
A. Most days I start at 8.30am and I finish around 7pm-ish. I get quite involved in what I’m doing and I don’t want to let it go, especially now I’m working from home. But I’m trying to compartmentalise, work more effectively and having a physical door to my office helps me to switch off mentally.
Q. How has your job been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?
A. I started my new role in the pandemic, so I don’t know what it could have looked like before! The good news is I can still do a lot of the stakeholder management from my desk. But what I don’t have now are those organic conversations you have with other people – whether it’s watercooler chat or building new relationships with people.
I miss not being able to speak to people without purpose. Because this is often when you hear something interesting that wasn’t quite in your field of vision, or you make those new links and connections.
The future role of renewables
Q. How has the pandemic affected the industry?
A. I don’t think the appetite for investment in renewables has really slowed during the pandemic. The focus from the government on increasing renewable energy generation and the strong results from the recent offshore auctions from the Crown Estate are a testament to that.
Q. How is your role helping the UK accelerate to a net zero future?
A. I’m clearly not in a frontline role! But, as a business, we have a plan to deliver a certain amount of energy in the future and M&A is a way of helping us fulfil our pipeline to make that happen. Either by bringing on new projects or finding new partners, like our acquisition of Pivot Power in 2019.
Q. What do you see for the future of renewables?
A. I foresee bigger projects – and a more diverse level of technology included in these. As projects increase in size, I think it’s also likely that we’ll start to see more multi-party projects to share the cost and risk. And, generally in society, we’re seeing a big shift towards renewables, as more people want to invest in green energy.
Q. What would you say to a young person if they were interested in a career in renewables?
A. Renewables is the future infrastructure for this country… and the rest of the world! It’s really exciting right now to be involved in the industry. We’re at that point where we’re instrumental in driving change. It’s really motivating. Why not join the revolution!
What young people perhaps don’t realise is how diverse working in renewables is. Sometimes people think that to work in renewables, you have to wear a hard hat and work on a wind turbine. But there are so many other roles involved in running a business like EDF Renewables. You can be in a technical or subject-specific role. Or work in a more corporate role like myself.