Danny Kennedy is the co-founder and president of Sungevity. He has a diverse background as an activist, including his most recent role as the Campaigns Manager for Greenpeace Australia Pacific. In 2001 he ran Greenpeace’s California Clean Energy Campaign, which is largely responsible for the current California Solar Initiative.
SM: Tell me about where you come from? What is the history of your journey?
DK: I was born in Los Angeles to Australian parents. I had a late 20th-century global upbringing and lived in the US, Australia and England. I ended up doing college in Australia. I spent most of my early career going through various activist phases, working for non-government organizations. That includes a startup I did here in the United States that I began with a couple of friends in the mid 1990s around the nexus of human rights and environmental organizations. Being a human rights collaborator and supporter of people struggling with environmental issues brought me to places like Nigeria. We did a lot of human rights documentation for years around those types of struggles.
I ultimately went back to Greenpeace, where I had originally started my professional work. In Australia I ran the Greenpeace campaigns across the Pacific in places such as Papa New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
SM: That must have been an interesting experience.
DK: It was crazy. As a senior manager in a big non-governmental organization, it had the intensity of all the campaigning work plus all the stress of people management and running a large multi-million dollar organization.
SM: Were you also involved in fundraising?
DK: You do it all when you are in an NGO. You have to walk the talk. Greenpeace is unique in that it has an incredibly trusted brand and is well known. Even if you do not like it you know the brand, and it has a hell of a fund-raising machine.
SM: What years did that work encompass?
DK: I did that from 1993 through 2007.
SM: You left very recently!
DK: I left Greenpeace to start Sungevity.
SM: When you look back on your Greenpeace days, what comes back now that you have a little bit of distance? What did you learn and what parts of that experience shaped you as a human being?
DK: The passion for the issues I brought to the work. I became even more deeply passionate about it when I worked it every day. From a professional point of view, I learned a lot of tremendous skills. Even though it has a well-known brand, you have to do everything. You have to negotiate with corporations, fundraise with politicians, and do a whole gamut of things which is probably not required of any other career field in the world.
I also got a strong sense of how to forge a team and get a group of humans to move together in a single direction. That is key in a social movement context as well as in a business context. I feel as though it was a really good training ground for business. I remember that when I decided I wanted to pursue the same purpose and passion in private enterprise, I talked with a bunch of people. I asked them if I should pursue business school and attend Stanford. Some said yes, but most said I should not bother because I had all the skills I needed because I had ran organizations, teams, and achieved results with low inputs.