Ex-Abound execs land new gigs

LOVELAND – One after the next, Abound Solar executives are trading their former lives at the defunct solar manufacturer for fresh positions at renewable energy and technology companies.

While some apparently remain unemployed, most members of the management team at the helm when Loveland-based Abound collapsed have moved on to other companies, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Abound Solar declared bankruptcy in July after drawing down $70 million on a $400 million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy.

While the DOE estimates taxpayers will lose $40 million to $60 million in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy, that hasn’t seemed to hurt job prospects for at least some who worked in the executive suite at Abound.

Former CEO Craig Witsoe took a position as chief executive of Menlo Park, Calif.,-based Elo Touch Solutions, a tech company just outside Silicon Valley controlled by private equity firm Gores Group. Elo Touch is a touch-screen technology supplier.

A press release issued by Elo Touch announcing his hiring in September describes Witsoe as “a proven business leader who has driven growth, profitability and customer satisfaction.” He once led a turnaround of Lineage Power, another Gores Group company, as the company’s chief executive. GE Energy acquired the company last year.

The profile mentions no details of Witsoe’s time at Abound Solar.

Witsoe presided over the company when its revenues plummeted from $26 million in 2010 to $22 million last year and just $1 million this year, according to bankruptcy court documents. Abound’s bankruptcy led to the loss of more than 400 jobs, according to company statements.

Executives such as Witsoe had blamed the company’s failures on competition from the Chinese. “Abound’s technology and business made solid progress until the second half of 2011 when panel prices dropped by 50 percent in a year due to aggressive price-cutting from Chinese competitors,” Witsoe told federal lawmakers after the bankruptcy.

However, Abound executives failed to mention problems with their solar panels, which, as the Business Report has reported, led to the sharp drops in revenue and millions of dollars in customer rebates.

For example, a total of 350 of Abound’s faulty panels had to be replaced at the Rocky Mountain Innosphere in Fort Collins, among other locations. In all, thousands of other panels used in solar arrays worldwide also were replaced before the company’s closure.

The company spent more than $8 million replacing defective panels with new ones, according to documents from the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is investigating Abound. The figure includes the amount spent recycling the flawed panels.

Business ethicists at UNC believe Abound executives could have been more forthcoming about the factors that led to the company’s bankruptcy.

“I’d say their congressional testimony was ethically questionable, but not wholly unethical,” Nancy Matchett, UNC associate professor of philosophy, said in an email.

Matchett, also director of the Institute of Professional Ethics, didn’t find evidence of outright lying or other efforts to manipulate the loan program or energy market.

“They reported all factors in their quarterly reports to the DOE, which is where they had the strongest obligation to be fully transparent,” she said. “And as far as I can tell, Abound was using the funds to work on the production problems that were in their control.”

The company ultimately could not get those problems under control, and China’s ability to get products to market at a much higher rate than predicted compounded Abound’s struggle, she said.

Companies generally should strive for “full disclosure” of their operations especially considering that their activities can easily surface in today’s technologically endowed society, said Michael Martin, an assistant professor of business law who teaches ethics at the Monfort College of Business at UNC.

“You want to facilitate trust among your stakeholders,” Martin said. “You’re not going to facilitate trust and confidence in the direction of the corporation if you’re not giving full disclosure.”

Ethics aside, other Abound executives have new jobs, as well.

• Abound Chief Financial Officer Steve Abely, who signed Abound’s financial statements, now works as CFO for LumaSense Technologies Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience in senior financial positions.

Vivek Joshi, chief executive of the 7-year-old tech company, described Abely as a “world-class financial executive with deep experience across our core markets and industries.”

• Dennis Csehi, Abound’s vice president of engineering and supply chain, now works as vice president of operations and development at Oregon, Ohio-based WK Solar Group, according to his LinkedIn profile. Similar to Abound, the company makes thin-film cadmium telluride solar panels.

• Anders Olsson, senior vice president of research and development who has more than 30 years of R&D engineering experience, founded his own company, Pearl Laboratories. The Fort Collins-based company offers third-party testing services for the solar industry.

Other executives have not been so fortunate.

Patrick Summers, Abound’s general counsel and corporate secretary; Dennis Stoltenberg, vice president of human resources; and Bob Grier, senior vice president of operations, appear not to have found jobs, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

Abely and Olsson declined to comment. Elo Touch representatives did not respond to the Business Report’s requests for an interview with Witsoe. Csehi did not return phone calls. Contact information for Summers, Stoltenberg and Grier could not be found.

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