The gig: President and chief executive of San Luis Obispo-based REC Solar, one of the nation's largest installers of solar photovoltaic systems. The company installs rooftop solar systems on homes and businesses in California, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey and Oregon. The firm employs 350 people and continues to hire even amid the economic downturn. "We don't have robots up on the roof" laying panels, Laviziano said. "Solar is creating a lot of jobs."
How it started: An avid traveler and outdoorsman (he has done high-altitude climbing in the Alps, Andes, Himalayas and Rockies), he has had a front-row seat from which to view global warming and deteriorating ecosystems worldwide. He was particularly alarmed by a 1994 trip he made to Laos as a graduate student. Working to promote eco-tourism in that desperately poor nation, he saw vast expanses of forest razed by commercial logging. "They destroyed their resources for one-time gain," he said. Laviziano vowed to put his business training to use in a profitable yet sustainable enterprise.
Background: Born in Hamburg, Germany, to an Italian father and a German mother. He worked for the European investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort before joining Conergy, a Hamburg-based manufacturer of solar products. He became head of REC Solar in 2005.
Personal: Age 40. Married. Lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif., in a home powered by -- what else? -- solar energy. He drives a 2001 Prius with 140,000 miles on it. He's replacing it with a home-made electric vehicle fashioned from a gutted 1989 Subaru subcompact. His briefcase is a backpack. Likes composting. Hates plastic bags.
Education: Bachelor's degree in politics and history from Hagen University in Hagen, Germany; MBA from the WHU-Otto Beisheim School of Management in Vallendar, Germany; doctorate in finance from the University of Hong Kong. Speaks English, German, Italian and some Mandarin.
Favorite environmental book: "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," by Jared Diamond
The real power of solar: "Solar is a game-changer. It's ingrained in people to buy their electricity from a centralized place. Now you can be the owner of your own power plant. It's an energy revolution."