Chat with Mary Britton | The Sunnyside Podcast

Chat with Mary Britton

• Published on June 6, 2022

Episode Summary:

In this episode, Sharon Lee talks with Mary-Hayden Britton, a very talented woman who landed in the solar industry by accident but has remained strong and influential 8 years later. Here we talk about a little bit of who Mary-Hayden Britton is, not only as a worker in the solar industry, but as a mom and woman, what role she has in Velo Solar and how she is constantly trying to evolve by helping other women maximize their positions and careers in the solar industry, which is traditionally dominated by males.

Insights from this Episode:

  • How long has Mary been with Velo?
  • How Sharon and Mary landed for accident in the solar industry?
  • The mentors that have influenced Mary during her career
  • How Mary got involved in mentoring other women
  • The challenges in the solar industry
  • What makes Velo Solar unique
  • Mary’s relationship with her son

Quotes from the Show: 

  • “[About inclusivity in Velo Solar] These are not traditional support admin roles and I think that it’s great that we’re showcasing diverse roles as women at Velo”– Mary-Hayden Britton in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “I did learn along the way that I should be mentoring other women so I did make it a priority to do that from each company that I’ve been involved with and I encourage women to get also involved in network and continue to grow and learn as they build their way up”– Mary-Hayden Britton in “The Sunnyside Podcast”
  • “[About challenges of the solar industry] Given the state of the world we’re seeing a lot of shortages in supplies so we have had to constantly look at new technology and come up with other solutions”– Mary-Hayden Britton in “The Sunnyside Podcast”

Episode transcript:

Sharon Lee:

Welcome to The Sunnyside, the podcast that makes solar energy relatable, accessible, and attainable. Join us as we journey behind the scenes with women taking amazing strides in all parts of the solar industry. I’m your host, Sharon Lee. And thank you for joining us today.

Sharon Lee:

Hello, everyone. This is the Sunnyside. Welcome. We are coming to you from Atlanta, Georgia in the conference room of Velo Solar. We’ve been talking about creating a women-in-solar podcast for a while now and here we are, finally bringing it to life. I’m Sharon Lee and I’m here today with my resident host, my coworker, my cohort, and my overall partner in crime, Mary Britton. Hey Mary, how are you today?

Mary Britton:

Hey, Sharon. Good, good. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

Sharon Lee:

Absolutely. But first, let me dive into Sharon’s corner with an update on what’s going on since our last episode. Let’s see, I went to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina for a lenders conference to learn more about the SBA’s 504 Green Loan program, which is going strong. I was signed up to play in the golf tournament and it was 50 degrees and drizzling rain.

Mary Britton:

Oh, my gosh.

Sharon Lee:

Not exactly sorry that it got canceled, so there’s going to be plenty of warm weather golfing opportunities out there. But they did it right, tapping into Asheville’s Scottish history and put on the Highland games, which was a hoot, and had an Asheville ghost tour one night. It was a fantastic event.

Mary Britton:

Oh, wow.

Sharon Lee:

Yeah, they did it right. They did it right. And I came home ready to head to the baseball fields first thing Saturday morning, only to find out that the tournament games were canceled due to the cold weather. So instead, my little guy and I stood out in the freezing cold to get him signed up for football in the fall. Then they packed the entire baseball tournament into Sunday.

Mary Britton:

Oh, my goodness.

Sharon Lee:

Yeah, that was great. And it was still cold, beautiful. And they ended up taking home [inaudible 00:02:02]. They won the entire championship.

Mary Britton:

Awesome.

Sharon Lee:

But we didn’t get home till almost midnight last night. So the trip last week, the long weekend, it’s hit me hard, I’ll just go ahead and say it. Welcome to Monday. But Mary, let’s talk about you. Before we get into your bio, tell me something. Okay, this is random. What’s the last song you listened to on your playlist?

Mary Britton:

Oh, well that’s embarrassing.

Sharon Lee:

I wasn’t expecting you to say that.

Mary Britton:

So I have an 18 month old, his name is Hayden. And in order to keep him entertained in the car, we typically listen to Little Baby Bum, which is a show on Netflix, kids’ Netflix, where they sing educational songs, ones that he loves to sing too and keeps him engaged. So, yeah, that’s pretty much my playlist these days.

Sharon Lee:

Oh, I remember those days. We’ve come a long way where my 14-year-old just made me a rap playlist.

Mary Britton:

Oh, wow.

Sharon Lee:

So, yeah. Okay. Just get ready. Get ready.

Mary Britton:

You may want to revert back to Little Baby Bum.

Sharon Lee:

Maybe. I think that’s a good idea. I mean, they go straight from crawling, to running, and before you know it, he’s going to be driving down the street. So anyway, but let’s talk a little bit about solar.

Mary Britton:

Okay.

Sharon Lee:

How long have you been with Velo? And tell us about the many hats that you wear.

Mary Britton:

Yes. So I started with Velo about four years ago. I head up operations. I deal a lot with pre-sales, contract budgeting. After a project goes to contract, I ensure that we’re hitting the project milestones, working closely with the project managers and just pretty much making sure the project has everything that’s needed as we go.

Sharon Lee:

Okay. So that’s the easy stuff. You’re doing the heavy lifting, you’re leaving it to somebody else, right?

Mary Britton:

That’s right. Yeah, no, I mean, we have a great team and women contribute in a huge way in our organization. I’m the VP of operations, Michelle is a PE who has an extremely important role on our engineering team. And Samantha, otherwise known as Sam, is our controller and she heads up all things financial. So we’re so happy that you joined us as VP of sales.

Sharon Lee:

Thank you.

Mary Britton:

As you can see, these are not traditional support admin roles. And I think it’s great that we’re showcasing diverse roles as women at Velo.

Sharon Lee:

Oh, my gosh. Absolutely. I love that these are powerful, impactful roles. I see these success stories all across the solar industry as well and we’d like to make these women and their stories more visible. And wait a minute, we should back up because you kind of landed in the solar industry by accident like I did, right?

Mary Britton:

Literally.

Sharon Lee:

So tell us a little bit about that.

Mary Britton:

Sure. I guess it was about eight years ago. I was working in downtown Atlanta at a recruiting firm and just wasn’t really feeling fulfilled. I applied for a position on LinkedIn as an office manager for a company called Solar Max, which was a Swiss inverter manufacturing company, out of Switzerland, starting up their US division. I interviewed with Alan Beale who was the president of the US division and little did I know agreeing to this, I would be headed to Switzerland for a month of training.

Sharon Lee:

Of course, you did.

Mary Britton:

Yeah. So I was lucky I had a valid passport too, because it was literally a week later. So yeah, eight years later and here I am and I just feel lucky to be here.

Sharon Lee:

Nice. That’s amazing. Amazing. And that’s similar but different to my story. I had been hired as a marketing director for a manufacturing facility here in Georgia. We were undergoing the transition to solar. This was right as I started, and a contractor on site asked the president of the company why we weren’t using our products in the solar industry. And the president looked at me and said, “Right. Why are we not using our products in the solar industry?” So I knew nothing about solar at the time, but immediately joined the Georgia Solar Energy Association, started attending trade shows and just learning everything I could to be our resident expert. It didn’t take long to see that this industry would be a long term venture, so I never looked back.

Mary Britton:

That’s great.

Sharon Lee:

Let’s switch gears and talk a bit about mentors. So tell me someone who has influenced you as you have navigated this part of your career.

Mary Britton:

Yes, absolutely. Well, I do need to give credit where credit is due. Alan Beale, who I mentioned before, who was the president at Solar Max, really encouraged me to join a company that didn’t have many women, join an industry that is not very diverse, especially then, and encouraged me to get involved. Involved in general, but also involved specifically with the Georgia Solar Energy Association where I joined the board and met you for the first time.

Sharon Lee:

Absolutely.

Mary Britton:

And we spent many of nights sitting around that board table.

Sharon Lee:

Many of nights. Yes.

Mary Britton:

And it was there where I think we both made influential contacts that would help us down the road. And I did learn along the way that I should be mentoring other women, so I did make it a priority to do that from each company that I’ve been involved with. And I encourage women to get also involved and network and continue to grow and learn as they work their way up as well.

Sharon Lee:

Absolutely. We are so collaborative. I mean, that’s just the way… That’s just our DNA. So that makes perfect, perfect sense. And I think Alan would be so proud to be your mentor associated with strong females.

Mary Britton:

Yes, he would. He would.

Sharon Lee:

But I do love that you’ve made a point to lift up women around you and help them to maximize their positions and their careers. That is so important. But let’s go a slightly different direction.

Mary Britton:

Okay.

Sharon Lee:

As we think about the solar industry, some challenges come to mind.

Mary Britton:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sharon Lee:

A lot of times the installation of the solar project is the easiest part, right? What would you say are some of the things that pose challenges along the way?

Mary Britton:

Sure. Yeah. Ironically, the installation itself is typically the shortest part of the solar project, which from a high level perspective, you wouldn’t think that going into it. But dealing with commercial roof mount installations, we build projects all over the country. We deal with different AHJs in cities and counties in Georgia and all around the nation and it just can be challenging.

Sharon Lee:

Right. So solar isn’t solar, isn’t solar.

Mary Britton:

No. I wish every permitting officer utility had the same process, but it just doesn’t work that way. Our biggest challenge is time. The time it takes to process a permit, the time it takes for utilities to give you an interconnection, and all the unknowns associated, but it keeps us on our toes and it keeps things interesting for sure. You know, no two days are ever alike.

Sharon Lee:

Which is a good thing.

Mary Britton:

Yeah, it is. Also given the state of the world, as everyone knows, we’re seeing a lot of shortages in supplies, so we have had to constantly look at new technology and come up with other solutions, which our engineer Michelle has been always right on top on, designing and adjusting plans as needed, which is such a crucial role.

Sharon Lee:

Right. If she had a certain type of design but that particular module isn’t available, she may have to redesign based on the module wattage that is available.

Mary Britton:

Right. Absolutely. Or a lot of times an AHJ will come back with a unique requirement that is a new policy or something that we haven’t heard of and she’ll have to adjust as needed.

Sharon Lee:

Okay. Okay. Well that brings me to sizing a system in general. Obviously, you don’t want to oversize a system, you don’t want to export back to the grid.

Mary Britton:

Right.

Sharon Lee:

You do want to use everything that you produce. So let’s talk about what you do from that standpoint.

Mary Britton:

Yeah, no, that’s a good question. Velo Solar is unique in the fact that we do have our own monitoring software called Power Info. With Power Info, we deploy our own meters, so even before a solar project is installed on your business, we can come in, install the meter to really properly gauge the building. So we’re really able to assess what’s going on in the building and compare it against the utilities information. It is a step that doesn’t have to be done, but it is something we offer to ensure the system is sized specifically for the building.

Sharon Lee:

That’s right. So rather than just taking a month’s worth of a bill that might not be the clearest picture, this is getting a lot more granular.

Mary Britton:

Right.

Sharon Lee:

Okay. Okay. Well, we have been all around the solar industry in the Southeast, but that’s not where our similarities end. We both have this insane connection to the University of Tennessee and can at least cry on each other’s shoulders on football Saturdays.

Mary Britton:

Or basketball.

Sharon Lee:

Or basketball. Oh, man. What in the world happened to them? I thought March Madness was going to be our big orange wave but…

Mary Britton:

No, I know. Just go Bulls.

Sharon Lee:

Go Bulls.

Mary Britton:

We’ll forever be singing Rocky Top.

Sharon Lee:

I know. We talked about the fact that we’re both boys moms. Did I ever tell you that both my… As my boys were learning their colors, anytime that we talked about orange, I would say, “And orange is a power color.”

Mary Britton:

Yes, it is.

Sharon Lee:

But it didn’t work.

Mary Britton:

No.

Sharon Lee:

Neither of them are Georgia fans. Or well, they’re Georgia fans, neither of them is Tennessee fans.

Mary Britton:

Right. No, I know. I think red and black will unfortunately be Hayden’s colors. Yeah.

Sharon Lee:

Yeah.

Mary Britton:

It’s just the way it is in Georgia.

Sharon Lee:

It just is. So he’s almost two.

Mary Britton:

Yes.

Sharon Lee:

Tell me something that he’s getting into.

Mary Britton:

Yeah. He’s fearless, similar to his father. He loves to just fly off the jungle gym at school. Yeah. We’ve already had stitches and glue and…

Sharon Lee:

Spider-Man.

Mary Britton:

Yeah. People tell me scars are cute.

Sharon Lee:

If it’s not broken, I’m going to call it cute.

Mary Britton:

Okay.

Sharon Lee:

That’s right. As long as it’s not broken.

Mary Britton:

No, I agree with that. I agree with that.

Sharon Lee:

Yeah.

Mary Britton:

I’m sure you’ve had your share of battle wounds.

Sharon Lee:

Blood and… Yes, being a boy mom is not for the weak.

Mary Britton:

No, it’s not.

Sharon Lee:

Not at all. So when it comes down to it, we’ve kind of fallen into this industry and there’s just something about it. We’re hooked.

Mary Britton:

We are.

Sharon Lee:

We are. So there’s always a new challenge that we’ve encountered and we’ve met some really incredible women along the way that have influenced us and been impactful.

Mary Britton:

Absolutely.

Sharon Lee:

And so we just want to showcase them, end of story. But let’s talk about where people can find us, just check out our website at velosolar.com and we hope people will check us out and reach out to us.

Mary Britton:

Yes, please do.

Sharon Lee:

We’d love to hear from you. Thank you. Thanks for listening to the Sunnyside podcast. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. You can also email questions, suggestions and compliments to sharon@velosolar.com. The Sunnyside is produced by the Podcast Laundry production company and executive produced by Sharon Lee.

Sharon Lee:

Sharon Lee taps over a decade of solar sales experience, having led the creation of a solar division for a leading manufacturing/construction firm, resulting in over 17 MW of solar in its portfolio as well as solar ultimately becoming its highest grossing revenue vertical. Lee has been involved in the GA Solar Energy Association, serving on the board of directors as the marketing chair, organizing the annual conference, as well as vice chair, and ultimately the first female chair of the organization in 2015. She is also a charter member of the Professional Women in Building chapter of the Greater Atlanta Homebuilders Association, a member of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and Women in Solar Energy (WISE). Lee earned her B.S. degree in communications with double minors in marketing and psychology from Middle Tennessee State University, after spending three years at the University of Tennessee in the pre-health curriculum. Lee is the mom of two boys, ages 14 and 11 and a rabid college football fan. She and her husband, John, spend most of their free time at the baseball or football fields, unless they can steal away for a quick round of golf.

Mary-Hayden Britton:

Mary-Hayden Britton has a Bachelor in Science from Elon University and a Masters in Human Resources from Cornell University. She is currently the Director of Operations of Velo Solar, but in past years she has worked as the Director of Service of Hannah Solar LLC, and the Sales Administrator of SolarMax. She participates in different important groups of the solar energy field such as TenneSEIA (Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association) and the Solar Energy Group. She is a great believer in mentoring and networking, which is why she always tries to give more light to women and help them rise in the solar industry.

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Mary-Hayden Britton

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