10 Questions: Todd Pedersen, CEO, Vivint

February 6, 2014: 7:23 AM ET

On dropping out of school, climbing Mount Everest, and working from home.


FORTUNE -- When Todd Pedersen was 22, he dropped out of college at Brigham Young University to start his own company. What began as a marketing firm that worked with pest control companies quickly evolved into a home security business.

Pedersen saw additional opportunity in the realm of home automation, and, eventually, residential solar technology. His company, which came to be called Vivint, now offers all of these services for the home. Vivint's energy management division operates under a power purchaser agreement with home owners. In other words, customers pay no money down to put panels on their roofs, Vivint uses the solar energy to become a power supplier, and the customer enjoys the benefit of a cheaper power bill every month.

Pedersen follows the philosophy that, "Green is good, but it has to be economically viable." Pedersen, 45, lives and works in Provo, Utah. He spoke with Fortune.

1. Which alternative energy projects are you most excited about?

The only one I can really speak to is Vivint Solar. It's a viable product. Solar is an incredible resource, and in North America it's incredibly under-penetrated. There's tremendous upside opportunity, and the way we're deploying it, it's affordable. We're utilizing tax credit, but we're also growing the capability to finance solar panels on houses and get the benefit of cheaper power. Most people didn't have a choice before [because fitting a house with solar panels was expensive], but now the residential solar industry has come along, and companies like ours can provide better and better services.

2. What is the best advice you ever received?

When I dropped out of college, my parents were kind of upset. My dad drove down to Utah and asked me what was going on. I told him I had an interesting idea for a business. And these are very simple words, but my Dad said to me, "First, if you're going to run a company, you have to provide the best service you possibly can for your customers. Second, you have to treat your employees like gold. And then three, everything else will work itself out."

3. What would you do if you weren't working at your current job?

I'd probably be trying to get a job here [at Vivint]. At some point, when I finish in the next 10 to 15 years or whenever I get tired, I'd like to teach business and entrepreneur classes.

4. What is your greatest achievement?

I think my greatest achievement is that I've had quite a bit of success from a business perspective. At the end of the day I realize that it's just a job, and it doesn't make me special, but I've tried to stay grounded through my business success. My company was valued at $2 billion, but I started in a trailer. I think I've maintained great relationships with the people I've worked with through the years. Those things at the end of the day are what really matter to me.

5. What is one characteristic that every leader should possess?

For me, I think it's understanding the needs of the employee base. You can't do anything without great people surrounding you and having them be motivated to set out and accomplish what you're trying to accomplish. We have an incredible culture at our business, and I really care about the people I work with. I think you can force things to happen inside of an organization, but that isn't lasting.

6. What is one goal that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime?

I've always wanted to climb Mount Everest, but I just don't know if I'm going to get around to it. I love anything adventurous like that, but it's a serious time commitment.

7. What daily steps do you take to promote sustainability?

I think from a business perspective, the thing that we're doing is building one of the largest residential solar companies in the country. Solar is an every-single-day resource. I think last month we deployed 6.5 megawatts of solar power in North America.

8. What do you do to live a balanced life?

I'm probably as good as anyone at having a well-balanced life. A lot of it is scheduled between work and my wife and five children. My wife and I make sure that I make it to practices and games and performances and that kind of thing.

When I was early in my marriage, the first couple of years with my first two young children's lives, I don't really remember because I was so, so busy. I've been making more of an effort to stay focused on the family and turn the phone off for a couple of hours and pay attention to what's here at home, because at the end of the day that's what really matters.

The interesting thing about me is that when I'm home -- and I try to come home at a decent hour -- several nights a week, after my children have gone to bed, I have people come to my house to do work late at night. My wife is integrated into that and accepting of my being at home. She'd rather me be at home than at work.

I have kind of an odd schedule. I don't go into work early every day. I get up with my children in the morning, take them to school, and I work out before I go to work. I usually get into the office around eleven [o'clock], then I work to six or seven, then usually from 10 to about one a.m.

9. What was your first job?

My grandpa was the mayor of Idaho Falls, and my first job was mowing lawns for the cemetery in junior high. I was employed by the city at the age of 13.

10. What is one unique or quirky habit that you have?

I wear a hat every day to work. They're all Vivint brand.

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