We were excited to catch-up with Manka Khanna about her professional background and dig into hydrogen. Welcome Manka!
Where are you coming to NovoHydrogen from?
After working at Shell in a variety of roles for 10 years I was looking to use my experience in the energy sector and be a part of an organization that viewed being “green” and renewable as a core value. I was also excited about joining a nimble setup and making an impact. I was familiar with hydrogen based on all the advancements and projects in Europe and view hydrogen as a sunrise industry in the United States. Since joining NovoHydrogen I am even more confident in the growing momentum of renewable hydrogen in the United States.
What is your favorite part about the Chief Commercial Officer role?
The fact that it is multi-faceted and gives a holistic view of the business. I love getting to be involved in all of the different parts of the business and the fact that what is on my plate is different every day. Keeping track of all the various moving pieces is dynamic and engaging. Also, I thrive on getting things done and that is a huge part of the job. I am naturally curious and this is a great role for a curious mind.
Any challenging parts?
There are definitely areas where I am more comfortable than others. I have found it is helpful to think through situations from different angles before I sort how to tackle them and provide a solution. It is always rewarding to see your thinking/ approach come to life and be executed on.
How does your background from Shell manifest at NovoHydrogen?
Shell gave me a deep understanding of how the energy industry at large functions, and I still use the business skills I developed there every day. Over the years at Shell, I moved through many different roles and had the opportunity to build a broad career. Coming from that broader business view is extremely helpful when switching hats at Novo throughout the day across strategy, partnerships, fundraising, and sales.
How is Novo’s approach different?
I would say the biggest difference is the scale. Oil and gas infrastructure projects typically are of a mega scale and more complex. with multiple partners and moving parts to each project. Renewable hydrogen can be done at a smaller scale, as well as the mega project scale, and this flexibility is a real strength. I am excited about the gains in time and budget Novo can make by applying large/ complex project best practices and rigor to smaller projects.
How does Novo think about “green” energy?
Everything starts with a green and renewable molecule focus at NovoHydrogen. It is our core business from the beginning. Science is telling us that decarbonization is a real challenge that needs to be fully focused on to make every gain possible and that is why we start there. Most of the customers we work with are either setting ambitious decarbonization targets themselves or under pressure to meet decarbonization targets set by their top purchasers or customers. They see the green attribute of our renewable molecule as a benefit; however, even if a customer is solely interested in the savings we can offer we are still firmly committed to developing our projects using renewable energy. We also review the compliance and incentive landscape for each client as a standard part of our proposal process, so again, even if it isn’t important to the client, they get the cost advantage and ultimately the lowest cost hydrogen.
So why now for Hydrogen? What is different compared to previous hype cycles?
A huge difference is the push to decarbonize at the federal and international level. We have seen past examples of a federal push providing a launchpad for technology and market adoption. It is still earlier for hydrogen than solar/wind but the tax credits and incentives available now are an encouraging step towards establishing the hydrogen economy in the United States and globally.
The sticky myths with hydrogen do prove a persistent challenge. The fact is that hydrogen is not a new fuel, and it has been handled safely for decades. The innovation is in the way it is produced and scaled to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
There is also a lot of shareholder pressure on companies to establish and meet ambitious voluntary carbon reduction goals. We are seeing shareholder pressure and organizations like SASB, DJSI, GRI, and even the IRS publishing increasingly ambitious sustainable standards that are becoming the base standard of doing business. One way or another every company that is publicly listed is feeling pressure whether it is competing for investor capital or keeping their share price high. The world is realizing that it is not solely sustainable to rely on fossil fuels for the fuel needs of the future and we are starting to see more and more of the market and cultural impacts of that realization.
Congratulations on recently winning the Yale Alumni Association Leadership Award for Volunteer Service and Innovative Leadership. What was your time on the working board like?
It was an honor to win the award after serving on the alumni board for 3 years. Most of our time was focused on managing Yale’s School of Management 55 global chapters globally and executing on program actions. Shortly after I took on a leadership role, the pandemic started, and all our in-person programming was immediately canceled. This prompted us to pivot to digital and reinvent our process to keep alumni engaged and connected. We were able to execute successfully and have seen such positive feedback for the virtual events that we will most likely include more hybrid events in the future. In addition, we were able to create three new chapters and reduce the percentage of alumni that did not belong to a chapter considerably.
What do you take with you from Yale to Novo?
The Yale MBA program helped me to think holistically about business and strengthened the different lenses I can view it through. It has helped me connect the dots at Novo especially as we grow and evolve. One course that stayed with me was on non-market forces and the increased role they are playing in impacting company strategy. I see this as more and more relevant…for example with the DOE hydrogen hubs program and the focus on environmental justice. Historically, companies were viewed only through a market lens and now increasingly non-market forces are driving decision making. I think this trend will only continue as disadvantaged communities continue to gain a stronger voice and governments / corporates prioritize them.
What are you most excited to work on in the coming months for Novo?
Everything! Generally, there has been a lot of hard work and focus on growing Novo over the past year and I am excited to see the fruits of the hard work. As the first employee it has been great to watch the team and sales funnel grow. It has felt fast paced and impactful and I don’t see that changing any time soon.