To my surprise, I’ve become visible enough in the world of “green business” that students and young professionals frequently approach me because they want to learn more about sustainability, corporate responsibility or clean energy. Unfortunately, I can’t take the time to speak with all of them, so we typically exchange a couple of emails, and that’s it.
Occasionally, though, the student is unusually persistent, which is how I found myself having breakfast this morning at 6:45 a.m. in Laguna Niguel, Ca., with Leo Xiao, a 30-year-old immigrant from China who is studying for an MBA at UCLA. I’m here for FORTUNE’s Brainstorm Green conference, which begins later today, (Monday, April 4) and is available online here.
In any event, Leo Xiao learned that I would be in California for the event. He invited me to speak at UCLA. No thanks, I said. He offered to drive me from LAX to Laguna Niguel so we could talk. That won’t work either, I said. He offered to pay me $200 for a meeting, Absolutely not, I told him. But he was so relentless that I agreed to meet with him if he wanted to drive the 65 miles or so from LA to Laguna very early in the morning, which, not surprisingly, he did.
“Once I decide I want to learn something, I’m pretty committed,” he told me, unnecessarily. “I’m single minded.”
We had a good talk. Leo’s interested in the business of delivering and financing solar energy for homes, and he wanted to dig into issues surrounding the business model, management and risks associated with several start-ups that deliver solar to the home–Sun Run, Solar City and Sungevity. He asked a lot of good questions. It turns out that he’s working on his own iPhone app about solar for the home, but he couldn’t say much about it because he’s in “stealth mode.” Leo has a degree in computer science from UC Riverside, and he spent about a year and a half working at Zynga, the social gaming company the developed Farmville, before business school. He told me, proudly, that Zynga had used its platform to raise money for earthquake victims in Haiti. “Social games can be about more than killing time,” he said. “They can have a social benefit.”
I tell this story for a couple of reasons. First, I want to recognize Leo’s persistence, preparation and desire to learn. Second, I want to say that any immigration policy that makes it hard for people like Leo to work in the U.S. is nuts. He’s been educated here and would like to stay–“I love Silicon Valley,” he told me–and surely his brains and energy will add value to our economy. Free labor markets, like free trade, generate wealth and growth.