Beyond the Boardroom

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Geof Syphers

Author: Alexandra Russell
February, 2016 Issue

Sonoma Clean Power CEO Geof Syphers has been involved with the agency since its inception. “I originally consulted to the Sonoma County Water Agency when it was designing the program, and then was named interim CEO in 2013,” he says. The board of directors named him CEO a year later.

Prior to joining SCP, Syphers worked for 20 years as an energy consultant to utilities, public agencies and private companies. “My work was in microgrid design, zero-carbon community design and energy efficiency program implementation,” he explains. “Here in Sonoma County, I was the chief sustainability officer for Codding Enterprises. Before that, I was the founding director of DNV’s Green Building Group in Oakland.”

Where did you go to college?

I graduated from Sonoma State University with a bachelor’s degree in applied physics and received a master’s degree in utility energy engineering from the University of Massachusetts.

What got you interested in green energy?

When I was in high school, I decided I’d eventually work in solar power or I’d invent a way to mine landfills for valuable materials. Solar won.

Do you have a big family?

Both my parents are still doing well and living in Rohnert Park. My brother lives in Washington state and my sister in Iowa. We don’t have children of our own, but my wife and I live in a tight-knit neighborhood in Cotati where we get to socialize with about 20 kids and their families every day.

What do you love to do outside of work?

I love to build furniture and hang out with my neighbors. We have entirely too many fruit trees, so I spend a fair bit of time pruning, which I also secretly enjoy.

Are you a sports fan?

I love small-town live sports. Sonoma Stompers baseball is a great way to unwind, as is watching my 12-year-old neighbors’ soccer matches.

Do you write down your goals?

I used to have a life plan that included great details. I made the first version of it when I was 16, and it changed very little until recently. About six years ago, I dropped it in favor of engaging more. The plan was limiting, because it meant it was harder to adapt. I find I’m more open to serendipity without it.

Ever fantasize about chucking it all and doing something else?

I’d like to be a maker-space aid. I love to see kids create stuff with their own hands—that sense of power and knowledge is fantastic and has changed so many lives.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned and who taught it to you?

My dad taught me that everyone is doing the best they can. I’ve benefited from this again and again—being patient and learning from those who’re angry with me. It’s helped me learn to respect my opponents and help them, too. That lesson would go a long way toward creating a more enjoyable, peaceful and efficient world.

What’s your favorite birthday memory?

This past birthday, I went to Monterey with my wife, where we were surprised to see dozens of humpback whales feeding. We could feel their vocalizations and smell their breath! Two orcas then swam into the bay chasing white-sided dolphins. I couldn’t believe our luck in seeing such amazing sea life.

If you could have any musical group, past or present, play at your birthday party, who would it be? What’s the first song you would request?

Tower of Power: “Squib Cakes.”

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Marriage. I’m very happy to be married to my wife and work very hard to learn more about marriage every year. It’s extraordinary.

What person from history would you turn to for advice if you could?

Thomas Merton, the Kentucky Trappist monk who lovingly articulated why we all fail to live up to our own standards, and Sun Tsu, the Chinese military general who wrote The Art of War and made us face our own strengths and weaknesses honestly. Brutal, but also amazing.

What’s one thing you know for sure?

Every private company in the world will be motivated to solve climate change within the next 10 years. It’s the biggest business opportunity of the last 10,000 years.

What’s something you should throw away but can’t?

Nothing: I throw away everything that I might not need. I even have a rule that when I buy a new piece of clothing, I have to get rid of an old one.

What’s the first thing you do every morning?

Read the paper. I always read the comics before the news.



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