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Home | SAN ANTONIO | Spotlight | Spotlight - James Hiebert, Owner, South Texas Solar Systems Inc.

Spotlight - James Hiebert, Owner, South Texas Solar Systems Inc.

image South Texas Solar Systems at the Helotes Market Place

SAN ANTONIO - For James Hiebert, ice hockey wasn’t just a game; it eventually became the basis for a game plan on how to run his business. Since he created South Texas Solar Systems after leaving his minor league hockey career, the company has thrived due to Hiebert’s sports-based strategy, his hard work and the talented team with which he surrounds himself. Even though Hiebert has stopped scoring goals on the ice, he continues to make them for his business.

Please share a little about your back-ground, including any ties you pre-viously had to the construction industry.
    I was born in the Northwest Territories in Canada. My dad was actually a general contractor. I was the guy who always had to carry the shingles up to the roof and do all of the grunt work! Luckily, the summers in Canada are quite nice.
    I worked for my dad until I was about 15 and then I started playing junior hockey and professional hockey.

Tell me more about your hockey experience.

    I played major junior and semi-pro for about seven years. I played all over the states in the minor leagues – the Laredo Bucks, the Manchester Monarchs, the Reading Royals, the Fort Worth Brahmas, the Phoenix Roadrunners – there is a laundry list there.
    When I got into the States, I stopped playing full-time in 2007, and I played part-time in 2010. At that point, I decided to pack it in and start South Texas Solar Systems Inc. in 2007.

Why did you choose to start a solar company?

    I thought about starting a lot of different businesses in the beginning, but mostly just from reading and doing research about what was going on in the solar market at the time, I decided it was a good idea. There was a Clean Power Plan that President Bush did years ago, and then there was a power plan that President Obama did after that and some state goals in Texas for renewable energy, so I just knew it was a good opportunity. I knew all of the things that I had to do in terms of installing it, and then I did some market research and there were not many solar companies formed in the states. Obviously it was a good opportunity before the market was so saturated, so I jumped on it.
    I educated myself, and then I started doing sales and as I got sales, I hired good people – most of them probably know more than me now! We’re about 3rd in market share in San Antonio, so we’re doing not bad.

I imagine it’s quite a transition from being a hockey player to being a business owner.
    The first four or five years were very tough. It was not everything I thought it would be; it was a little bit more complicated than I thought and mostly I thought I was way better than I was! I had a lot of work to do on myself than I realized.
    But you have to put it to being new in business. It’s a lot of hard work and staying up late by yourself, focusing on what you need to get done. I learned a lot about everything that had to do with solar and construction, such as doing business permitting and engineering, that’s for sure. You have to learn a lot to get everything done properly. You have to have key people taking care of certain aspects of it, certain skills. I did it on my own, then had a couple of partners, and then bought my partners out. They weren’t able to be as involved as they would have liked.

If someone wanted to switch careers as you have and start a business in the construction industry, what would you tell them?
    You have to be very disciplined, and you have to pay your bills before you get paid! If people are going to go into business, they need to realize the sacrifice and commitment. If you have a business, you have to be committed to being a giver, not a taker.

In what way has playing for hockey teams prepared you for running South Texas Solar Systems Inc.?
    I make a lot of my business plans the way I would make a hockey plan before a game. You make a strategy and then you try to implement the strategy. There are flow charts involved and roles for each person to play. In business, it is a little different and a little more complex, but it is the same type of thing.
    The way this business works is that I have a lot of different goals set, and each person has different goals in the company. If we all achieve the goals we set for ourselves, then it is a recipe for success.
    We just create a lot of goals for key players and people in the organization. As they achieve their goals, the organization achieves its goals, and that’s all that matters to get to the position we are in the solar industry today in San Antonio. Hopefully, we can keep it up; there are a lot of great companies out there that we are competing with and in order to stay ahead of the game, we have to keep improving.

What do you enjoy about the work you do in the solar industry?
    I like the challenge. There is a lot of competition out there so it’s nice to have something to do every day that is a challenge. I also enjoy being a good friend to my employees.

What are your plans for the future of the company?

    We have 35 employees in Texas and about 35 in Canada in the two or three locations that we have over there. We are going to be opening more branches over the next six months to a year. We have a fairly strong expansion plan that we’ve been going through for the last year in the US and in Canada, actually right from the Arctic down to Texas. We’ve been implementing it over the last couple of years and it has been growing in both places, so I’m pretty happy with that.
    In San Antonio, we’re adding a few more services onto the solar side of things; we’re going to be adding batteries and demand control for South Texas for the high transmission and distribution charges that people get and I believe 2018 will be a strong year in solar.

With offices in both Canada and San Antonio, are you often on a plane?
    My family and I live in San Antonio and I travel to Canada every two to four weeks. It’s not bad; I’ve done it my whole life. Right now, I only get to spend 50% of the time at home. I would like to spend more time with my family for sure.

Share about your family.
    I met my wife, Lauren in 2014, when the company was still small. I met her at a career day at an elementary school; she was one of the teachers in the classroom. I guess she had her guard down! She was born in Germany, but was a military girl and was raised her whole life in San Antonio.
    Lauren helps me out in the business from time to time, but she really takes care of the business that we have at home with our 9-year-old, Aaron, and our 1½-year-old, Joseph Daniel. We have a pretty big yard and they like to play wrestle. Aaron is into robotics, tae kwon do and basketball. Joseph is a small little guy who wheedles around. She’s running around with those two kids and keeping them in line. Her job is way harder than mine!

When you’re not with family, how do you like to spend your time?
    I like to go fishing, hunting, and have a couple of beers. The hunting and fishing in Texas is different than it is in Canada. The land in Texas is privately owned, so you have to buy a lease and hunt off of someone’s lease. In Canada you can get a license and go on government land or publicly owned land. Anyone can hunt. It doesn’t quite cost as much in Canada, so I do a lot more in Canada. We usually have little small game, rabbits and pheasant, occasionally coyotes and caribou, and even moose – we don’t get them but we like to go for them!
    I also like to stay in good physical condition. That hasn’t been working out well the last few years but I keep trying; I play hockey, and I like golf. My wife is in really good shape, so I try to follow her lead.

What are your goals for the future?

    My goal is that we keep doing a good job, keep passing our inspections, getting new customers and maintaining what we have and improving the business and services that we can provide the customers.
    South Texas Solar Systems Inc. in San Antonio provides solar energy solutions for commercial and residential clients. –mjm

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Melissa Jones-Meyer dfweditor@constructionnews.net