First Solar has a new CEO and he's not from the solar business.
The thin-film solar module maker has tapped Rob Gillette, who has been working as the CEO of Honeywell's $11 billion aerospace division, to become CEO. The release came from Honeywell, who said that an internal executive would take over Gillette's position. Gillette takes over on October 1, according to First Solar.
The selection of Gillette can both be seen as surprising and unsurprising. In April, current CEO Mike Ahearn announced that he would relinquish the CEO spot to serve as chairman and spend more time lobbying for support in the solar world. Ahearn has nurtured First Solar from being a struggling private company to a Wall Street darling. The company is the largest thin-film solar panel maker in the world and claims to make solar panels cheaper than anyone else (see First Solar: Hits 1GW of Solar Panels).
Early speculation was that the next CEO would be Bruce Sohn, First Solar's president and one of the key figures in making the company a manufacturing titan.
Then again, First Solar has looked outside of the company for talent before. Sohn himself came from Intel. In 2008, the company recruited Markus Beck, chief scientist at CIGS panel maker Solyndra, to work on its own, still-being-incubated CIGS project.
Gillette's resume also fits First Solar's strengths. He's run a large organization that relies in part on government contracts. Profits and losses are also governed by keeping costs low and logistics humming. First Solar does not make the most efficient solar panels on the market, but it has managed to squeeze the cost out of making them. It produces cells for under $1 a watt. Honeywell is also a major player in energy: Adura Technologies CEO Jack Bolick also hails from there.
Late last month, an SEC filing revealed that John Carrington, First Solar's executive vice president for global marketing and business development, had left First Solar.