ZBB Energy Names New CEO Amid China Sales Push

Less than a week after ZBB Energy shareholders approved a proposed ownership change, the company is shaking up its leadership team.

ZBB (NYSE: ZBB), a small Milwaukee-area manufacturer of renewable energy storage and power control products, promoted president and chief operating officer Bradley Hansen to the role of CEO and president. He takes over for CEO Eric Apfelbach, who will shift to board vice chair.

The move comes on the heels of ZBB shareholders green lighting a deal with China-based Solar Power Inc. (SPI) in which SPI will purchase $80 million to $120 million worth of ZBB products over the next four years. SPI develops, installs, and operates residential and utility solar power projects in China, Japan, Europe, and North America.

SPI also agreed to purchase 8 million shares of ZBB common stock for $5.3 million and 28,048 preferred shares for $28 million. In addition, it has a warrant to purchase 50 million common shares for $36.7 million in the future.

Those stock purchases are dependent on SPI following through with the purchase of ZBB products. But if all goes according to plan, SPI would end up owning 70 percent of ZBB. ZBB has already added SPI chief operating officer Hoong Khoeng Cheong to its board, the company said.

The SPI deal officially closed today, ZBB said.

Shareholders also voted last week to change ZBB’s name to EnSync, which reflects an expansion of the company’s focus on more than just zinc bromide batteries. The new name will become official sometime this summer, a spokeswoman said.

The leadership shakeup underscores ZBB’s increased emphasis on selling products in Asia, particularly in China. Hansen has led ZBB’s joint venture in China, Meineng Energy, since late 2011. He was named ZBB president and chief operating officer in May 2014. He is also the managing partner of PowerSav, a private equity fund targeting businesses supported by Chinese government policy, which he founded in 2010. Hansen’s career also includes stints with Boeing and Applied Materials, according to ZBB’s website.

“After a year of working closely with Brad and seeing his leadership abilities first hand, the board is very confident about the future of the company under Brad’s leadership,” board chair Paul Koeppe said in a prepared statement. “His technical and organizational competency are essential as we build a global systems business.”

Apfelbach led ZBB for five years. He previously was the founding CEO of two startups in Madison, WI: Virent, an advanced biofuels company, and Alfalight, a laser technology developer. He has also held positions with Planar Systems and Applied Materials, among other companies, according to his LinkedIn profile.

In his vice chair role, Apfelbach will help with investor relations, business development worldwide, financial planning, and other tasks, ZBB said. “The board is very pleased that Eric is stepping up to the vice chairman’s position, where he can apply his broad experience and expertise,” Koeppe said. “With Brad and Eric in their new positions, the company is well organized to capitalize on the emerging global markets it is targeting.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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