This Beecher Carlson Power Broker’s Unconventional Path Gives Her a Unique Perspective on Excellence in the Industry
There was a time when brokers specializing in what was called “alternative” energy were notable merely for their existence. Now the sector is called renewable energy, and it’s big business.
“We just had one of our busiest quarters ever,” said Susan Garrard, managing director for Beecher Carlson in Boston.
“The pandemic and recession do not seem to have had too much impact on our business. There were a few projects that were put on hold for a while, but everything is back on track. We are still seeing a lot of new projects, especially solar, with some wind as well. We are not seeing any slowing of projects in our clients’ pipelines.”
Importantly, most of those clients are established operators with existing power-purchase agreements with utilities, not startups.
“The core issues for our clients are not much different than other energy companies,” Garrard said, “Nat-CAT, especially windstorm, and capacity in the market.”
Finding Her Way to Renewable
Garrard didn’t have a traditional path to her career as a broker. She was born in Ireland, one of eight children. Her family moved to the Boston area when she was 14. It was not as much of a drastic change as it might seem, because the town, Scituate, Massachusetts, is the center of what is known as the Irish Riviera.
“I liked math in high school,” she recalled, “and started in college on an accounting track.” She took a break that ended up lasting for 13 years as she raised a family. When the time came for her to get back into the working world, she started at the entry level, as an assistant account manager at Beecher Carlson.
“The energy group was just getting started in 2005, so it was a great time to get in and move up,” Garrard said. The timing was propitious, but not completely happenstance.
“I blame my sister,” Garrard said with a laugh. “Geraldine Kerrigan was the founder and leader of the practice. And of all our family, we are the closest.”
Just as the captain of a ship has to know how to do every job on the vessel, Garrard said her sister brings the same sense of competence and capability through the whole organization. “Geraldine will issue a certificate of insurance herself. Everyone has sufficient skills. When we add staff, the idea is that we are hiring our own replacements,” so we can move up.
Another mentor for Garrard has been Erin Lynch, herself a multiple Power Broker honoree. “Erin started as a young producer who was just getting into renewables. Her vision has been inspirational,” Garrard said.
Starting a Business in Boston
Fifteen years ago it might have seemed a bit curious to start an energy brokerage in Boston rather than on the Gulf Coast or somewhere west. Nevertheless the practice has flourished, with a specialization in renewable energy.
“We do not have many clients in New England,” Garrard said, “most of them are in California or the Carolinas. There is also a significant international business. But the practice is not based on regional business. It was started by people coming from another brokerage, and makes use of the financial and underwriting capabilities in New York and New England.”
Indeed, that was one of the lessons in the early days.
“Doing groundbreaking things doesn’t always feel like it at the time,” Garrard said.
“I have to remind myself and our team that what we do is not what people do every day. We have to advocate for ourselves.”
Garrard recalled one such difficult placement where she needed to advocate for her client.
“We had a client with a large international geothermal portfolio, both in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. At the time, the market was shrinking, and this client had several years of losses.”
That double whammy was mostly due to natural catastrophes, but in aggregate made placement into a diminishing market akin to threading a needle.
“We just had to find new markets,” Garrard said.
“It was a matter of finding a market and showing them that this is the risk they want to write. After all, that is what insurance companies do. They want to write business. They are not in the business of not writing business.”
Talent in the Broker Field
To that end, Garrard suggested that a variety of perspectives and backgrounds can be particularly effective within the brokerage.
“People who have worked in different places and followed different career paths can be very helpful in providing fresh eyes and a new point of view on common broker challenges.”
Along with perspicacity, Garrard values enthusiasm.
“We have done a lot of hiring, and the people we hire are enthusiastic. They are willing to take on new challenges. You don’t necessarily need an insurance background or even a brokerage background. Those things can be taught. But you can’t teach someone to care,” she said.
Several of the new hires have backgrounds in risk management; others are from the nonprofit sector. There was a time that would have generated jokes about the profitability of renewable energy, but in recent years wind and solar have set the incremental cost of generation in several North American wholesale power markets. &