November 18, 2013

Speaking at TEDxCornellU, Entrepreneurial Alumnus Stresses ‘Interdependence’

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Rob Garrity ’05, founder of Finlo Solar Powers, spoke about the importance of interdependence and how he applies that concept to his work at the TEDxCornellU speaker series at Barnes Hall Sunday.

In his lecture, Garrity said his main goal is changing the way the world views power from a more traditional, hierarchical view to a view that values teamwork.

He began his presentation with a reflection into his past. Growing up in suburban Pittsburgh, Garrity said he lived a happy life, yet always felt “a sense of incompleteness; life could be more than it was.”

He said he wanted to get out and explore the world, so he went to Montana. After realizing Montana was not the place for him, Garrity said he joined up with a friend and “hit the road –– that was our destination, with $600 between the two of us.”

During the trip, Garrity said he asked himself, “How can I make the biggest contribution possible?” He added that he then answered his own question by beginning to help people stuck on the side of the road and working at local schools.

In North East, Pennsylvania, Garrity stayed with a family who took down roofs and repurposed them into homes. Here, he met his wife, he said.

“She had a vision. We saw such beauty and wisdom around us. In our passion, excitement and adventure, we had a baby and my worlds collided,” he said. “I was living just months before on the road, full of vision, and now I had to actually put food on the table.”

After the birth of his child, Garrity said he faced questions concerning what it means to be a man, as well as a father. To help solve some of his questions, he went to work as a laborer installing solar panels in the New York area.

Over the next 13 years, Garrity transitioned from working as a laborer to working in sales to starting his own company — Finlo Solar Powers, a company that is founded on conversion to solar energy and building a better world. Although Garrity said “it’s been a success beyond my dreams,” he said he was upset by difficulties in his marriage missed spending time with his children.

In search of a better way to balance a successful job and a happy personal life, Garrity asked the people he considered his role models what he should do. Garrity said they told him to view the world as interdependent, meaning “we are all in this world together. We are a team.”

Fascinated by this new idea of interdependence, Garrity said he became a “team” with his partners at his company.

“We share risks and rewards. It’s no longer me as the boss and these are my workers. These are my partners; it’s awesome,” he said.

Among several other achievements, Garrity has taught solar electric systems design and installation, created a solar energy department in an energy consulting and construction company and worked on solar electric projects for Cornell, Google and Crayola.

Garrity was one of nine speakers at the event. Speakers voiced topics ranging from ways to eliminate structural poverty to conscientious innovation.