As president of Brightcore — an Armonk company specializing in providing enhanced energy strategies for commercial and industrial buildings — Mike Richter has come to expect performance at the highest levels. It’s something he is used to; after all, the former New York Rangers goaltender’s consistent efforts to perform at his own highest level ultimately landed him in the NHL Hall of Fame.
Regarding his current day job, the Rangers’ former No. 35 describes Brightcore’s mission as simple. It takes off-the-shelf, sustainable, green technology and puts it in industrial buildings — though the elevator recitation causes Richter to pause and regroup: “Already, I’m afraid this description is going in the wrong direction. This isn’t all about sustainability or being green, words that I find have ambiguous definitions,” Richter says. “I would like to replace those words simply with the word better.”
Specifically, Brightcore specializes in “better” solutions, including LED lighting, solar power, electric vehicle chargers, battery storage, and renewable heating and cooling. It is about better energy efficiency, better esthetics, and better use of financial resources.
“A company like, say, Goldman Sachs, studies efficiency in everything they do to eliminate waste. Waste equals money. At Brightcore, we want businesses to think about energy in the same way. This is about doing energy better,” Richter explains.
From 1987 to 2003, Richter made a very nice living punching the clock in his home office in Madison Square Garden. Along the way, he earned not only a 1994 Stanley Cup and three All-Star selections but even a trip to the Olympics in Calgary in 1988.
“Stopping a puck for a living, in and of itself, is not very compelling, but the drive to be totally focused and driven to work at something you’ve become very good at is very compelling,” he says.
At 36, Richter took a knee to the head that fractured his skull and left him with a serious concussion. It made the retirement decision from the sport he loved simple, even if not easy.
“The doctor wouldn’t clear me to play. It might have taken years to come back, and I was old for the sport already. If it was an ACL or an elbow, that would’ve been one thing, but I didn’t want to take chances,” Richter says.
“Mike is very inspirational and incredibly passionate and committed to what Brightcore does. He spent his first career focused on performance, and he brings that same high level of performance to energy efficiency.”
—Rob Krugel, Co-CEO, Brightcore
Richter also doesn’t like to take chances when it comes to one of his other passions — the well-being of the planet he inhabits, which is why he has dedicated his time to environmental groups: he has been on the board of Riverkeeper, a trustee of The Adirondack Nature Conservancy, and he has served on the National Advisory Council for the Sierra Club Foundation. But make no mistake: Richter does not regard himself as some quixotic tree-hugger, indiscriminately groping for the nearest cause célèbre. Rather, he is a pragmatist who believes in science and reason, so he naturally finds the current climate of subjective facts especially disquieting.
“It’s frustrating when an individual doesn’t acknowledge scientific facts,” Richter says of skepticism about the need for environmental action. “This isn’t an elitist thing. When farmers have droughts five years in a row or rivers dry up and make farming impossible, it is very much a problem for everyone.”
To tackle this problem, Brightcore strives for a business model that is both straightforward and uncomplicated. “Unfortunately, the uptake of understanding and implementing sweeping, new strategies of energy efficiency is very, very slow, and we simply don’t have that much time,” Richter says. “We already have so many of the answers sitting on the shelves, if businesses can get around the capital hurdle.”
Consider this: Switching out existing energy systems can be a multi-six-figure outlay that will take companies years to recoup. Brightcore’s objective is to help overcome that capital hurdle.
“We put in lights that are, say, 60 percent more efficient, but by doing that, we’re asking companies to take on an expense for something they have already paid for,” Richter explains. “So, we say, ‘Let us pay for the lights, and let us put them in, and we’ll amortize the expense over time.’ You can literally have an upgraded infrastructure without spending a dime.”
The process is analogous to the way in which people finance their homes’ solar-power, though on a much larger scale in Brightcore’s case. The company pays for the hardware and installation up front, and the cost is amortized through the energy savings over time.
You may be thinking this is all pretty heady stuff for a guy whose first vocational choice involved throwing his body in front of a frozen, six-ounce rubber disk traveling at 110 miles per hour. In fact, most hockey insiders will tell you that the goaltender population is filled with, well, let’s just say the “quirky.” Understandably, Richter prefers a different characterization.
“They like to say [goalies] are weird; I like to think we’re smart,” Richter says.
It is often lost on the general public that professional athletes spend only a fraction of their time competing. There are hours and hours of flights, empty hotel rooms, and waiting. But on those long flights to the West Coast and elsewhere, Richter wasn’t playing cards or napping. Instead, he read. During the off-seasons, Richter often picked up courses at Columbia University. Then, at 36, when he skated away from MSG, he enrolled at Yale.
The image of the Stanley Cup champion walking across the New Haven quad in his jeans and carrying his knapsack may be a little hard to envision, yet he says there were no awkward classroom moments, with freshman asking him about his save on Pavel Bure’s penalty shot or what it was like to hoist the Stanley Cup over his head. “Most of the students had no idea who I was or didn’t care. I was too old for them to know,” Richter laughs.
He used that anonymity to tackle his coursework with the same relentless fervor he did the puck. “You know, when you’re turning in assignments and completing your coursework, the professors don’t really care how good you were on your glove side,” quips Richter. “No professor asked about my goals-against-average when submitting my grades.”
The summer courses and constant reading helped, but the transition from pro athlete to Ivy League student is even more impressive when you consider that he was also dealing with the slow recovery from a head injury and the birth of his third son.
“It took a long time of gradually getting better, little by little,” he says. “For a long time, you just don’t feel right. I’d had concussions in the past, but this one felt different.” Today, he’s symptom-free, and despite a recent hip replacement and a history of knee issues, he says he feels great.
Still, going from playing in front of tens of thousands nightly and living with the adrenaline pushes of the world’s fastest sport isn’t easy. Richter admits that coming down from it sometimes made him twitchy, but he says having a new focus in life at least made it bearable. That, along with his wife, Veronica, and his three boys, has engendered a new normal for Richter.
“Mike has now spent as much time as a clean-energy entrepreneur as he did in the NHL,” says co-CEO Rob Krugel. “He’s very inspirational and incredibly passionate and committed to what Brightcore does. He spent his first career focused on performance, and he brings that same high level of performance to energy efficiency.”
Now 53, with hockey-playing sons, Richter enjoys the new challenges that Brightcore brings him on a daily basis. Sure, he laces up the skates now and then, but he’s gotten realistic about that undefeated opponent: Father Time.
“My sons and I have come to that intersection where they’ve become too good, and I’ve become too old,” Richter laughs. “I was in an old-timers’ game, and [my kids] told me I couldn’t play in public anymore because I was embarrassing the family. They told me to stick to pond hockey.”
One of the compelling paradoxes about Richter is that even though he earned fame and adulation for making split-second decisions, away from the net, Richter the executive is rather contemplative.
“I think, What can I bring to this company with a background of stopping a puck my whole life?” Richter opines. “The biggest, most important thing is having the discipline to understand what needs to be done in any situation. Why do we play hockey? Why, as humans, do we compete? What compels me is that you’re never done trying to get this right.”
Tom Schreck is a writer from Albany who was the backup goalie on his college intramural dorm team, which went to the campus semi-finals. He did not allow a single goal in the 10 minutes of action he saw that historic season.