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Smart Green Shipping boss: Founders, know when to step aside for a new CEO

Diane Gilpin

Diane Gilpin is the founder and CEO of Smart Green Shipping, a company developing wind power solutions for the shipping industry.

The company develops hardware, including a retractable wing sail, and proprietary software, such as a wind prediction tool – all aimed at reducing emissions in the shipping industry.

Gilpin has worked in tech for more than three decades, beginning her career on the launch team for Cellnet mobile phones before spending time in F3 and Formula One. She founded the Smart Green Shipping Alliance in 2013.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Gilpin explains why regenerative agriculture technology is misunderstood, why founder CEOs should look to pass the baton on “ASAP”, and how looking after rescue horses and chickens helps prevent burnout.

1. Which role was the most important early hire you made?

Diane Gilpin: My husband, Ian. When I founded SGS in 2014, Ian helped on evenings and weekends while working elsewhere to help fund it. This year he became our full-time CFO/director which has been crucial on two fronts.

His decades of experience growing and managing organisations, like the renewables energy business he led from start-up to acquisition, means our finances are expertly planned and managed, something vital for any startup.

More importantly, having someone alongside me whom I trust 100% has undoubtedly helped me overcome the initial challenges startups face, ultimately putting us on course for success.

2. When should a founder CEO pass the baton on to a new chief executive?

DG: ASAP! A founder CEO should consider passing the baton to a new chief executive as soon as the business requires distinct skills for growth and development.

These skills greatly differ from those needed during the founding phase and so a timely transition can really pave the way for continued success. A founder should never want to be a hindrance or a blocker to the success of the business they have created.

3. Who’s a leader you admire in your industry?

DG: Aoife O’Leary, the founder of NGO Opportunity Green. Aoife has created a fabulous, almost all-female company and fearlessly tackles multi-billion pound organisations misleading the public via their promotional campaigns.

Aoife has grown her organisation to 14 people in just two years and has created an inspiring workplace culture that prioritises personal wellbeing through a four-day workweek with no reduction in pay. I’m passionate about prioritising mental health, especially in the industry that I operate in where climate anxiety is such a real issue.

My mantra: Be more Aoife!

4. How do you prevent burnout?

DG: Discipline! Not working weekends and looking after myself. I keep two rescue horses and chickens so I’m always up early attending to them, getting me out into nature and a different perspective. Most work evenings I walk, run or do yoga to loosen up after a day at a laptop or in meetings.

Every evening I do a quasi-mediation, appreciating everything, good or bad, that happened that day, sending love to friends who may be suffering, and re-avowing my commitment to the planet and future generations.

5. What’s the most misunderstood technology?

DG: Similar to the idea of using wind to power modern ships, regenerative agriculture has been misunderstood. Both were perceived as expensive and challenging to implement. But just as SGS has shown with wind in shipping, our friends at Blaston Farm have shown this is not the case with regenerative agriculture in farming.

Partnering with DASH, Blaston Farm has developed tech to measure carbon levels in the soil, which in turn creates carbon credits that can be sold, providing farmers with new income streams for work which benefits the environment.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.