Chuck Hinckley took an unusual road in becoming an investment banker and financial adviser in New York, New York. He graduated from the Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with a degree in Physics and after spending time as an officer in the US Navy, he took a role in engineering for GE Power Systems. With his strong math and analytical background, he specialized in developing power plants in the international market, beginning with gas turbines and biomass plants, and as time went on transitioning to solar and wind. He started his own firm, C.C. Hinckley Company, in 1998, and was CEO of Noble Environmental Power, which helped build over 1,400 megawatts worth of wind power projects, an astonishing amount of energy to his company’s credit. Hinckley sees the future as one of incredible growth in the renewable energy sector and his companies will be at the forefront as they have been for decades.
Where did the idea for C.C. Hinckley Company come from?
I really enjoyed working for GE Capital where I worked out of the London office doing international project development and financings. In this way I was able to make use of my financial and analytical skills, while continuing to add to the technical specialty that I have in power. It gave me the opportunity to work on the development of power plants and then later on to transition to solar and wind. It gave me a good foundation for the work I continue to do now in the renewable energy sector. When GE Capital decided to transition away from international investments, they contracted with me to keep working on some interesting projects and C.C. Hinckley was born.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I get up in the morning and download my overnight emails. I have a fair amount of correspondence from folks in Asia and Europe, and I take care of my Asian-related business first thing in the morning. Then I come into the office around 9:30, and I’m pretty much here until 9:00 or 9:30 at night.
No matter what I’ve done in my career, I’ve always found that it’s important to not work from home too much in order to keep my productivity up. What happens when you work from home is that your family thinks that you’re somewhat available, and so they ask you to start doing things, which eats into your productivity. Also, after dinner you always seem to go back to work. So, on the front end, the interruptions throw your day off, and on the back end, you never have any time to relax because you go back to work after dinner. I make sure to go to work and stay there until the evening. Then when I go home and have dinner, I don’t work after 10 or so at night unless it’s important.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s not really about the idea, but the execution around the idea, that brings good ideas to life. At the inception of the idea, you have to make sure you are doing due diligence and learning all that there is to know about the idea. There has to be planning and organization and purposeful effort put behind it, otherwise it won’t go anywhere. And the final element is not giving up. Every good idea – even good ideas that are well-executed – still has a chance that it won’t work.
What’s one trend that excites you?
It’s really the most exciting time of my professional life because things that I’ve been working on for the last 20-30 years in the energy business – wind power, solar power, battery storage, energy efficiency, fuel cells, electric vehicles, sustainable agriculture – are all becoming mainstream. This is happening in my lifetime. That transition started in earnest only 10 years ago, and right now we’re on the precipice of dramatic change with all these things that 20 years ago I thought I’d never live to see. But now they are all becoming commercially viable. The most economic alternative in commercial trucking, for example, is electric vehicles. The most commercially viable options in power plants are wind and solar. We’re seeing a huge transformation of our transportation systems and our electric power system and we’re still early in it.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Every week, I make a plan of my week ahead, and every day I make a list of things that are going to get done that day. I think that’s important to do. You need to manage your time and get things accomplished, and that doesn’t happen if there’s not a notepad or a list to cross completed tasks off of.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Unfortunately, the number one lesson to learn is don’t trust anybody. Lesson number two is you’re the only person that’s going to look after you. Nobody else is going to take care of you. That’s a misconception. The people you work for? No. It’s just you, and you have to realize that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately, that’s more and more true. People don’t go to work for companies and work there for 35 years and leave with a pension. I look at resumes for people who have 3-4 jobs in the last 15 years. You have to be comfortable with the idea that you need to look out for yourself, and that’s okay
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Sustainable agriculture, like produce grown in greenhouses, will very quickly become completely mainstream here in the United States. I was very surprised to come to that conclusion and I’m sure that it’s not widely held, primarily because it’s so off the radar.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I keep learning. I go out of my way to take classes and read books on academic issues. I’m a physicist, and I’ve managed to stay pretty current on the subject, despite being in finance.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Planning. You have to plan. Nothing happens by accident.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Failure is part of being an entrepreneur; there’s no question about it. I think that it’s important to not take a failure personally. Things don’t always work out. The way to overcome it is to keep going to work. I can’t emphasize that enough. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. You have to be realistic about what happened. Accept responsibility where it’s yours and move on. There’s no going back, so if it didn’t work out don’t pretend that it did. If it didn’t work, draw a line under it and move on.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I don’t think my idea has mass appeal, but I generally think that people who find themselves owning assets of the old economy need to aggressively transition into assets of the new economy. I’m talking specifically about energy, agriculture and data centers. The future in those sectors is going to be very different. If I had a large fruit and vegetable business in the Central Valley of California, I would be very active in trying to transition that business into something else. I would be getting out of coal and even gas-fired power generation for the same reasons. While those assets are still worth something, it’s probably time to sell them and rotate into the future.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I entered a backgammon tournament for $100. It’s not over yet so I don’t know if I’ve won yet! In the olden days, we got together. Now you can do it online and turn on Zoom.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I think LinkedIn is the greatest. I synchronize my contacts with my LinkedIn, and it helps me keep track of everything. I pretend it’s my own big old Rolodex. I think it’s a great service.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Beat the Dealer, the 1966 classic by Edward Thorp. Everybody should know how to win at blackjack.
What is your favorite quote?
Anything from Abraham Lincoln – that guy had a real gift for quotes. These days Urban Dictionary has some good quotes. “I am not a cat”, the quote of the year 2021.
• It’s not really the idea, but the execution around the idea, that will bring an idea to life.
• Planning is crucial before you execute.
• The way to overcome failure is to keep going to work.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.