Q&A with Alastair Carnegie
Over the years a number of cowboy companies have given energy brokers a bad name. Jayne Freer speaks to Alastair Carnegie, managing director Total Energy Solutions, who is a man on a mission to help clean up an industry notorious for poor service and commission chasing.
Tell us a bit about Total Energy Solutions.
We are a small, family-run firm based in Stoke Climsland, Cornwall. My wife Kathryn and I launched the company 2007 and we have one other employee, Ellen Pearse and are set to expand to five by the end of the year. Energy brokers have found themselves with a bit of a reputation for being cut-throat deal-makers, so when we started out we made a vow to offer a level of customer service higher than the norm within the industry. It is something we are passionate about. We believe that all businesses deserve transparency in their energy contracts.
What is it that makes Total Energy Solutions different?
I believe what sets us apart is our transparency and level of customer service. We have always set out to be different from other brokers: no hard sell; proactive; and we encourage our clients to use us as their energy team, taking away the hassle and making the complex simple. We don’t run sales teams, we don’t cold call and no one is on a commission-based package, so we have no pressure to secure the next deal and move on. We spend time learning about our clients and their supply needs, be it longer-term contracts to secure budgets, or multi site clients with a complex portfolio of supplies. We work closely to ensure we find the best solution for each client. We may not grow quite as fast as others, but the business is built on strong client relationships that ensure a bright future. I love the fact that we have clients that are now friends as well – I think that says it all really.
Has it paid off?
Absolutely. Kathryn and I are both Christians and place very high value on operating in an ethical and responsible way. It is this philosophy, coupled with great prices and excellent service, which has been key to our success with client loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.
What is it like working in the energy sector?
It is definitely the most ‘interesting’ business sector I have ever been involved in. As I’ve said it has had a pretty bad reputation, which I am sad to say was deserved. However, efforts are being made to clean up the industry and make everything clearer and more straightforward, but there is still a long way to go. It is amazing how many businesses don’t realise how the industry works and unfortunately get caught out, costing businesses millions of pounds a year.
No two days are the same and our client base is so diverse, from schools to care homes, restaurants to holiday parks and the odd science laboratory or private hospital - it’s great fun. The industry is so diverse now, with renewable energy and umpteen new taxes and levies, you learn something new every day.
Is it as competitive a market as we're led to believe?
Yes, I believe it is, particularly at the large consumer end of the market. It’s like buying shares; prices can change at any time depending on market conditions. Prices differ from supplier to supplier on a daily basis. Confusion comes when we see headlines on the news about the domestic market, which is typically six months behind the commercial sector, so businesses have already felt the effects (good or bad) by the time it is on the news.
You mentioned your Christian faith, how does that help you in business?
Trust is the hardest thing to get in our industry, as so many people have either heard about, or experienced for themselves, bad service or worse. Unfortunately, we all get tarred with the same brush. Being open and honest about our faith does give potential clients some confidence at the start to try us out.
During stressful times it is great to know God is with you and will look after you whatever happens – that’s very re-assuring.
As a company you’re big on Corporate Social Responsibility – what kind of projects are you involved in?
I believe that all businesses should give something back to their local communities and play a part in helping develop our future generations. At Total Energy Solutions, we do a lot of mentoring in schools and colleges across the South West. It is important for students to get insight on what it is really like out there in the world of business, and to learn what is expected of them. We’re currently running employability mentoring programmes at Duchy College for 30 students and we’ve just finished our seventh year working with students at Plymouth University in the national Flux competition. Flux is a Dragon’s Den-style business event where teams of students are set a problem and asked to devise short and long-term business plans to solve it. I’m extremely proud to say that Plymouth University came home overall champions once again this year – a title Plymouth has won five times now.
We also support numerous local charities. As well as donating a 10 per cent share of our company profits, we also devote our own time. We’ve worked with a number of worthy causes over the years, such as Jeremiah’s Journey, Compassion UK, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Circus Starr, Stoke Climsland Parish Church, Callington Youth Project and South West MS Centre, and continue to do so.
So, what else do you do in your spare time?
What spare time! My goal for the last 15 years has been to reduce my golf handicap - maybe next year! I love spending time with my girls; my wife Kathryn and daughter Hannah. I also enjoy dining out, music and the theatre. We are so lucky to have the Theatre Royal and Pavilions in Plymouth, putting on so much amazing stuff to see. I also enjoy watching rugby with my friends, either live or on the TV, and we are all off to the Australia v Fiji game in Cardiff during the World Cup – a boys’ road trip.
We also give up huge amounts of time to our church. I manage the churchyard maintenance team and am also on the worship leader team. It really is a privilege to lead a service, and one that I enjoy. We recently took a group of 40 people from seven churches to Spring Harvest at Butlins in Minehead. This is a Christian conference, held over three weeks, with leading edge teaching and worship and around 20,000 Christians attending.
On top of that, we are also among a group of seven families from our local neighbourhood who have joined forces to rear pigs. We’ve got nine pigs this year. It’s great fun to do.
Finally, what would you say your mantra was as a business leader?
Be open, honest, do what you say, have fun, enjoy it and give something back.