Linda Grave, CEO and founder of EV Driver, has worked across a wide variety of fields throughout her life and her 16 years (and counting) as a sustainability entrepreneur have been no different.
Having played a key role in the expansion of the renewable energy industry in the East of England, specialising in solar photovoltaic (PV) generation, she made her way into emobility in 2016 when she founded EV Driver.
EV Driver, where Linda remains CEO, provides a consultancy service for local authorities and businesses looking to move to electric vehicles (EVs). They help clients make informed and intelligent choices around the process of installing charging infrastructure and running a charging network.
Linda talked us through her impressive career and offered some words of advice to young women aspiring to follow in her footsteps and become green entrepreneurs.
EDs: When did your passion for sustainability begin?
I was born into a life of sustainability because half of our home was an antique shop, selling renovated furniture. My father sadly died young, leaving Mum with four children under the age of 12 and the business to run. It became our life.
We all understood that furniture was bought in a poor state, renovated and sold for a profit to people that loved it. I would come home from school and find our kitchen table or bed might have been sold. Today, people upcycle furniture, sell it as pre-loved and we know that this sustainable approach is helping to reduce our carbon footprint.
I always had a green streak in me and a love of the outdoors but I don’t think ‘sustainability’ was a term back then. I stumbled into banking and enjoyed my 10 years working in the USAF system. Then when I had my two sons, I decided I could not do the long hours away from them, so I retrained as a fitness instructor and spent the next 15 years helping people regain fitness.
EDs: Your first sustainable business venture kicked off back in 2006 at East Green Energy. Could you talk us through your work there?
Basically, I wanted to sit down. I fell into it actually. A friend of a friend ran a holiday home maintenance company, doing electrical and plumbing work and he had been asked to install solar thermal for a neighbour.
It was a lightbulb moment for him, regarding renewable energy. I loved the story and said if he wanted someone really green to help turn this into a business, I would like to be involved, and so East Green Energy was born.
After a couple of years, we got the business MCS certified. I was convinced solar PV was going to be big – I loved electricity much more than plumbing; it doesn’t leak. I ran the PV side of the business, working with domestic clients but also finding the sweet spot for the farming community installing 30kW panels on their barn roofs.
The solar PV installations were very much driven by the Feed-In Tariff (FiT) subsidy. We had many highs and lows as the government loved to cut the tariff in December which meant a mad rush and some cold and difficult installs for our team.
Our business really took off and we went from working part-time to full-time turning over £2 million within five years, an achievement I’m really proud of.
EDs: What led you into emobility?
It was my existing customers. They asked if I knew about EVs and if I would be willing to review some charging units and install them. I love electricity, so the idea of a car that ran on it was dreamy. I followed what Tesla was doing and put my £1,000 deposit down for a Model 3 very early on, knowing there was a three-year lead time – I should have bought shares.
I had a home charging point installed and bought a 24kW Nissan LEAF as my company car. There was no way the Government was going to build a public car charging network in rural East Anglia, so if I needed to get out and see my customers, I thought I had better build it.
Another of our EV Leaders guests, Graeme Cooper, drew comparisons between today’s emobility sector and the renewable energy sector in the early 2000s; two disruptive industries. Do you see any similarities here or have the two experiences been markedly different for you?
I totally respect Graeme and his views; he is my kind of person as he sees solutions, not problems. There are definitely similarities but from my side, it feels less wild west than the solar industry was towards the end.
The ‘end’ I refer to was the end of the Feed-in Tariff because it was totally driven by those subsidies and there were a number of cowboys that gave the whole industry a bad reputation.
The big difference between the two is that the solar industry wasn’t public-facing, we have a duty of care to the EV driver to make sure charge units are safe, secure and easy to use.
EDs: You’re now the co-founder and CEO of your own emobility business: EV Driver. What does the business do?
My business partner and I set up EV Driver in 2016 as a separate business intentionally. The renewables business was focusing on Biomass which had become a sweet spot in the farming community. We sold each other our shares and I was able to put all my passion and energy into EV Driver.
I built a public network of EV charge units in the East of England and, in January 2020, I sold the network so that I could concentrate on the consultancy side. I love the varied work, helping others become CPOs and advising on the various software, hardware and solution providers that are out there.
EDs: Have you faced any additional challenges throughout your career that your male counterparts have not?
In the early days, people would call or come to our trade stand and say: “ Can I please speak to someone technical”, to which I would say, “ let me see if I can help and, if I can’t, I’ll get the boss.”
I was very much in a man’s world for the first 15 years but at least there was never a queue at the loos. I don’t feel that’s the case anymore; there are so many fantastic women in this industry and men who respect us.
EDs: What advice would you give to young women aspiring to start their own sustainable business?
This is the best industry to enter. The world is electrifying and we need many more people, especially women, to enter the field. There are so many varied areas of work, where young people can gain some experience from within. I am a fan of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as a place to gain a fast education in all areas.
Most important of all, drive an EV. You need to know the pleasure and the pain points, then you will know what problems need to be solved. Plus, always try to collaborate, you will not be good at everything. It’s important to know your strengths and weakness, then embrace and acknowledge them.
EDs: How can we ensure more women reach executive-level positions like you have done, particularly in the automotive industry which remains male-dominated at the higher level?
This may be controversial but I think this problem is like an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle, it’s dead or at least dying. The need for women on the board is a known fact but getting good ones is about attracting the right people. Plus, if you don’t yet understand that you won’t get a balanced perspective from an MPS board (Male, Pale & Stale), then you will be ICE’d.
EDs: Do you currently drive an EV? If so, why did you choose it?
Yes, I have been driving an EV since 2016. I had a 24kW Nissan LEAF followed by a 30kW and then my Tesla Model 3 finally arrived – three years after I’d paid my £1000 deposit. Last month I sold my Model 3 because I felt the market was near the top for used Model 3s and I sold for slightly less than I bought it for two and a half years earlier.
I tried out a Peugeot e-208 via ONTO for a month which was great fun for a small car, while I patiently waited for my Tesla model Y to arrive. I love the disruption that Tesla started and I believe we would not be where we are now without that disruption.
My husband and I now both work from home and looking out at three vehicles in the drive during lockdown was really getting to me. The campervan was rarely being used and needed an AA man in the back to go beyond 50 miles (80km), so we gave back the company hybrid, sold the campervan and ordered the Tesla Y.
This amazing car with its 300-mile (483km) range and access to the excellent Tesla charging network should work well for us both to share – and the dog fits in the boot. The vehicle ownership model is changing and I am very excited by what is happening in the industry.