The Pursuit of Sustainability: Viridian Goes Private in Split from Parent Company
Photo: Viridian Associates install streetlights in Tufine, Albania, as part of the company’s ongoing sustainability initiative.
In July, the newly formed Viridian International Management acquired assets of the Viridian Energy business from parent Crius Energy for payments that will total $10 million over five years. The deal includes a mutually exclusive relationship with Crius, which will continue to serve Viridian’s U.S. energy customers. Michael Fallquist, who founded Viridian and has led it since 2009, will serve on the board of Viridian International Management. The move is intended to position the socially responsible energy company for accelerated growth and international expansion. To lead the company into the future, Viridian has tapped Paul Booth, a veteran of the direct selling channel and the founder of software firm Data Paradigm Inc. Cami Boehme, formerly Chief Strategy Officer for Crius, also is joining the new entity as Partner and Chief Operations Officer, along with social entrepreneur and author Peter Hirsch, who is taking on the role of Chief Development Officer. DSN recently sat down with Booth and Boehme to talk about Viridian’s new structure and the future of the company, which ranked No. 53 on the 2016 DSN Global 100 list with $324 million.
DSN: When did leadership begin discussing a possible spinoff, and why is now the time for Viridian?
Boehme: Viridian was the first company started within what became the Crius umbrella. We had three years as our own company, and we saw some tremendous growth. We were focused on radically changing the direct selling energy market, offering something innovative: affordable green energy. Up to that point, people only had all-brown or all-green. We came in in the middle, and it created a fantastic option for consumers and sellers, and what we know of today as the Viridian brand.
With the growth of our parent company, through the launch of additional brands, mergers and acquisitions, and eventually going public, on one hand it was exciting to have the additional scale and support. On the other hand, it created for Viridian almost an identity crisis. … If you think of what makes a network marketing company thrive, it’s the Associate-first employee culture, tools and releases. That created for several years the question: How much better could Viridian be if we were back to who we are at our core and always have been? That is, a company that changes lives by helping people make simple and affordable choices—and not within the umbrella of a publicly held energy company.
Booth: My roots are in network marketing, having built up a successful distributorship. I’ve always had an affinity for network marketing and being able to offer that excitement and enthusiasm from an IT perspective to the industry. At Data Paradigm, we’ve helped launch several billion-dollar clients that started with three guys sitting in a room around a whiteboard. I’ve been able to soak in wisdom, be a sponge, and offer up insight in some cases. Being a vendor to Viridian over the past several years gives me a unique perspective, as Data Paradigm has with all its clients. Those conversations started organically.
Being present at the events, Michael and I began talking about what we could do to maintain all the good—the fantastic climate, culture, message, history and field leadership unity—and then take that out from under a publicly traded umbrella where, as Cami and Michael have said, we can spread our wings. Suddenly, additional offerings and market potential came into play, and it was unique in the sense that they couldn’t offer it up to a group of investors on Wall Street. What were investors going to do? They’d spin it, flip it, or whatever. It had to be a group that knew and understood network marketing, who could embrace it, not just treat it as an asset or acquisition, but carry it for years to come.
DSN: As you said, you’ve worked with numerous direct selling clients. What was it about Viridian that attracted you to this particular company?
Booth: This was the first company where the message went beyond the dollars. Of course, it’s all about creating something that survives us, but there is something about the culture and climate I’d never experienced before. There was a camaraderie in the leadership, the culture and climate. For example, the typical successful company will take its leaders on excursions and trips where it’s all about celebrating their success—which is well deserved. In Viridian’s case, they’d take them and put them to work in the jungles of Africa, and that was very unique to me. I had the privilege of catching the tail end of [a 7 Continents in 7 Years incentive trip] in Italy a few weeks ago, on the heels of their Albania trip, where they installed solar panels and made differences in lives well beyond any kind of success in a network marketing venture.
I was able to witness personally what I’ve been calling the cathartic debrief dinner Viridian held, where emotions and stories of that week were shared. At that point Michael and I had already been in several months of discussion, going back and forth about how we might make this work. As issues had arisen I’d realized each was solvable. What this company had—and it’s difficult to have—is a culture of unity, solidarity and single-mindedness of purpose, not just in front of the cameras but through the tears in that room especially. … I texted Michael from across the room and said, “I’m all in. This is a done deal.” And I’ve never looked back. It was the correct move and timing from a number of perspectives, but that sealed the deal.
DSN: What has been the initial response from Associates?
Boehme: Fantastic. I don’t know that it could have been received any better…. I think it goes back to the fact we very quickly reassured people that everything they love about the company and that brought them here, is remaining unchanged. We are still a mission-based company. It’s changed in the sense that we’re now committed to rapid expansion, that we’re not OK with resting on our laurels and being a single-product company, that we’re going to add on the policies and practices that will drive a successful network marketing business.
DSN: What other product categories might be a good fit for Viridian?
Boehme: Energy was a great foray into sustainability, because it’s a huge part of how we impact the environment, but it’s really only 15 percent of our carbon footprint. When you think about the clothes we wear, the places we drive, the things we purchase, there are so many choices we make daily where we might not have the option to make sustainable choices. Viridian looks at how we can innovate and find product partners that help people make everyday choices in more sustainable ways. That framework will help define our product categories.
DSN: Viridian recently expanded into Australia, its first international market, through a partnership with Click Energy. Will you follow a similar model in other markets?
Boehme: I think a partner model will define much of what we launch. Our goal is to remain nimble, flexible and open to opportunities. We’re looking for what’s great and innovative in the market, what’s helping people lead more sustainable lives, and then we find the easiest way to bring that to our Associates and customers.
DSN: Cami, having observed Viridian for years, where do you see room for improvement?
Boehme: Ultimately it comes down to one thing: focus. Focus drives a company’s brand strategy, roadmap, what employees do on a day-to-day basis, and the understanding and consistency of vision among the field. When you’re one of a portfolio of companies, so many of the services that affect an Associate’s daily business are shared among multiple companies. That is a stark contrast to the world we have today, where everyone in the company has one goal: to build a world-class network marketing company that helps people make sustainable choices.
DSN: Where do you see Viridian in five years?
Booth: Viridian has so much potential, but it’s so small compared to what it could be, and what it’s going to be. I’ve been privileged to help companies achieve a scale that is magnitudes beyond where Viridian is today. The message is huge. The culture is huge. The future looks like the hockey stick on the chart, and I don’t see five years being the limit
Boehme: The beauty of this industry is that it changes lives. With Viridian, we’ve had the dual nature of that, where we’re helping our Associates change their lives and, through our philanthropic initiatives, making a genuine impact on the lives of entire communities who now have access to electrification. I think, as we grow, both our goals and measures of success will focus on the impact we’re making in terms of sustainability.