Peter Scott: I took my rebellious streak from my dad - VIDEO

Peter Scott, the CEO & Founder of BURN Manufacturing

Burn CEO Peter Scott poses for a picture after the interview at the company offices on March 1, 2024. Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

The wise men advised us not to bring a knife to a sword fight, but I am here to lend the maxim an overdue update: don’t bring a knife to a sword fight—unless it is concealed. That’s what I was thinking when interviewing Peter Scott, the CEO & Founder of BURN Manufacturing Co. and the Founder of BURN Design Lab, operational in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

At his quaint offices in Spring Valley, it feels like I have entered a cage fight. He wanted to play the game, I wanted to play the man. We were in a duel, a “rope-a-dope” against my questions, the interviewer’s equivalent of boxing’s Thrilla in Manila.

He wants to talk about climate change, I want to talk about his earring, dangling from his right ear. He wants to stand on business, I want to be in his business. He wants to talk about saving the world, and how Burn is trying to transform capitalism and build projects and clean stoves that impact tens of thousands of lives. I insist on talking about why he looks like a rock star.

In the end, a towel was thrown in, doesn’t matter whose. Okay, it was mine.

What’s it like being you?

My whole life’s work has been to save forests in Africa. I feel very blessed that we have built this entity that every day is having a transformative impact. My favourite part of my day is work. I love my job.

I saw your bike downstairs. When did you start cycling?

I have always loved mountain biking. My new side hustle is I want to make Kenya to be a mountain biking global destination. So, we are building trails, and helping to support mountain biking.

How long have you done it?

I guess my whole life.

What’s a memorable experience you’ve had on the bike?

Haha! My favourite ride was in Utah in the USA in the big canyons. Those are amazing places to ride. I am a bit famous for going quite fast and oftentimes landing in trees. But that’s kind of my style.

Peter Scott: I took my rebellious streak from my dad

It seems that you are quite the eccentric…

well not intentionally because I don’t fit into the normal mould of CEO or entrepreneur, I might be seen as a bit eccentric.

What’s the story of your earring?

It is just something I have had since I was a kid. Even the haircut. I have had the same look. It’s more habit than anything, I am not going for a certain thing, it’s just what happens when I wake up. I don’t care about money or fame or status, I am thinking about other things besides that. We should be following spiritual teachings rather than things. We need to transform how capitalism works.

How was your childhood?

This is not the interview I was expecting haha! When I was 14, I told my mom I was going to save the world and she said, “Well of course you are.” I was very lucky when I was young to be exposed to the earth and nature and the struggle to protect those. My parents were divorced, and I didn’t grow up wealthy; I think people who grew up in a bit of struggle end up being a tad more sensitive to the plight and suffering of the world.

Were you a mama’s boy?

No. But I looked up more to my dad when I was younger, and I felt more like he was everything. He was the funniest guy that brought people together.

Who have you taken more from, your mom or dad?

I’d say my dad. But they are two different people. My dad owned a car dealership and my mom was a therapist…so different.

How does growing up with divorced parents affect your view of relationships?

Oh, wow. Okay. This is Business Daily? Haha! I think it is good that my parents divorced because the static between their differences would not have been tenable. My mom moved me far away where I was then exposed to this other different world. Without that, none of this would exist.


Peter Scott, the Founder & CEO of BURN. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What would you change about how you were raised?

That’s a heavy question. To some degree, I believe my life is perfect because this current moment then wouldn’t be happening. I don’t spend much time thinking about what I would change in the past. I am very blessed.

Let’s flip that then…how are you raising your children differently from how you were raised?

Oh. Well, both my parents were a bit absent. Kids in the 70s in America were left to their own devices, which is sort of good and bad, but for me, I am interested in my kids’ development.

What’s the funniest advice your dad ever gave you?

If you can touch it, you can catch it. In America/Canada in the 70s you couldn’t buy can openers because it was kind of illegal…so my dad stole a can opener. I took a bit of my dad’s rebellious streak, not that I grew up to be a thief but if you are an entrepreneur, you just don’t accept what’s told to you. I used to climb trees to protect them and blockaded logging roads and went to jail for a few weeks.

How was that experience?

I never felt more free. We went to jail intentionally, and they offered us a deal to sign that we won’t go back to blockade the road and we said no, we will not sign it. We went to jail and helped overturn the law, which became the largest civil disobedient action in Canadian history. That experience gave me an experience of personal power and agency that even at a young age you can change the world.

What’s the most boring part about being you?

I love your questions. My mind is always thinking. I work so hard and sometimes I just want to go home and sleep, but my wife would prefer that I am not sleeping. I am trying to figure out that work-life integration, and it is like running a marathon every day. But I like to dance and do yoga.

What have you failed at remarkably?

[long pause] probably living up to my expectations, of who I should be in every moment. I talk a big game and there are times when I am not living up to it. The guiding principles of Burn are HAM; Honour your word, Assume Goodness, and Mission Over Money. sometimes, these are not all easy to achieve, but they are our principles.

What’s one area of your life you are struggling with right now?

Wow. My health. Trying to be healthy and not work too much.

What do you miss about your childhood?

A sense of community. I would like to build more of that, but I am also a hippy and want to have a lot of people living on the land, milking goats et al.

What remains unchanged about you since childhood?

Are you sure this is going to be on the Business Daily haha! The sense of what we have built here just seems crazy on every possible level. What humans do is just ridiculous.

What aspect of people do you struggle with, considering your philosophy of HAM?

Innocent until proven guilty. You can never know someone’s heart but you have to make that up, and you do that for either a good story or a bad story. You have to operate on some level of trust, especially when you are multiple teams in many countries.

Mistakes happen but that is part of human nature, you can either be too naïve or too non-trusting. Over time you enter into relationships thinking that people are inherently good. It’s a bit of magic, if I assume you are good, then I am going to help you become good. Who I imagine you to be is somehow how you become.

What is the soundtrack of your life right now?

War by Bob Marley. “Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior and until the human race…” My family loves Bob Marley.

What matters way less than you thought it would?

Education. Work ethic, desire, bravery, patience, honour loyalty…those are the things that are worth gold. They matter, but people think having a PhD is all that matters. It’s nice, it’s five percent but patience, loyalty, justice are what should be taught are what is important.

What’s your superpower?

My ability to solve most problems. How we should design a stove, and how to create a structure that works. That’s all I do every day, problem solving. And the world keeps throwing you more difficult problems.

Have you saved the world yet?

Not yet haha! People sort of laugh at the whole saving the world thing, they say the world will be fine, it’s just about humans, but I don’t think that. We are trying to save the fabric of the planet, and it is in crisis. When people are thinking about money, fame, and status yet we have a job here to save the planet.

We are planning a big game at Burn, and it’s great that people want to come and work here. Our goal is to do one million stoves every month, and there are 2.4 billion people who don’t have access to clean cooking.

If you are saving the world who saves you?

My wife.

What do you love about her?

She is the noblest human alive.

What do you think she loves most about you?

She thinks I have a really good heart.

Who do know that I should know?

My wife. She is a much deeper and better person than I am.

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