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Sustainable Aquaculture to Help Feed the World

Former BCG project leader Bill Bien is now the CEO of Forever Oceans, a startup pioneering a new, sustainable way to produce natural seafood that’s good for people and the planet. He credits BCG for teaching him to think creatively.

You joined Forever Oceans as Chief Executive Officer in November 2021. What are you most looking forward to and optimistic about achieving in your new role leading this organization? Can you share a bit more about this revolutionary, mission-driven company?

There aren't many jobs that give you the opportunity to build a potentially disruptive business and make the world a better place at the same time. I have that opportunity at Forever Oceans. We’re building the most sustainable, scalable offshore aquaculture business on the planet to deliver premium, sashimi-grade fish to the world’s kitchens and homes, starting with the American market, with intentions to extend into Europe and Asia.

Equipped with our patented high-tech production systems, our deep ocean farms overcome the pollutive risks of conventional aquaculture and help regenerate the marine ecosystem. As some of you might know, oceans generate the oxygen for two out of three breaths we take, and absorb more carbon than all the rainforests combined. Beyond this, they are an immense source of beauty and biodiversity and it’s crucial that we take care of them. I am excited to be in a position where I can help protect and invest in the future of oceans around the globe.

I’m thrilled that Forever Oceans gives us the opportunity to improve global diets and heal our environment. Global demand for protein will double in the next 20 to 30 years. Seafood is the best and most straightforward way to satisfy this rise in consumption without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. We expect that demand for ocean-raised warm-water fish will increase because environmental changes and overfishing will compel people to find new sources of seafood. Our company is ready to ocean-raise fish on a global scale. We have the expertise and technology, and the world’s largest concessions for marine aquaculture in Panama, Brazil, and Indonesia.

What drew you to the sustainability and clean tech sector, and when did your passion for this path begin?

I was raised in the country, on a small farm an hour’s drive from Columbus, Ohio. Every day I was surrounded by nature, whether it was doing chores or playing outdoors. I knew from an early age that I wanted to dedicate my work to actions that preserved our environment. At the same time, growing up on a farm made me aware of the fundamental role international trade plays in feeding the world.

My passion for international trade brought me to Stanford Law School and then BCG, where I focused on high technology. Through this, I was lucky enough to move to Australia where I helped build Telstra’s innovative high-speed mobile network. While there, I saw the early effects of climate change— far-ranging bush fires and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef—and was spurred into action. With like-minded colleagues, we created the company’s first-ever carbon reduction strategy. I then took the extra step and studied environmental science, climate policy, and green technology courses after putting the kids to bed at night.

Returning to Silicon Valley, I jumped into the first green-tech wave, working for an energy reduction software startup. A few years later, I moved to the Netherlands to become the Strategy Officer and CMO at Signify, the world’s leading lighting manufacturer. There, I was responsible for leading a sustainability team that delivered on a pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020. This was a mammoth task because of our global manufacturing and logistical footprint. But we achieved it because of the great team we had and the emphasis we placed on action. From this I learned that we have the technology we need to reduce our carbon footprint, and we need the will to apply it. After that, I led our ag-tech division which created advanced lighting systems designed for horticulture, aquaculture, and farming. These ranged from systems to increase the productivity and sustainability of green houses, to improving livestock welfare. Working closely with innovative farmers motivated me to apply my high tech, sustainability, and agricultural experience to my first love —raising food —and I am delighted to be doing this at Forever Oceans.

Could you tell us more about the use of incredible technological advancement (robots and remote monitoring of offshore enclosures), and how they have worked well for Forever Oceans? What do you believe the future of the aquaculture innovation industry looks like?

We can trace our innovations back to a talented team at Lockheed Martin. One of our scientists, a former Alaskan fisherman, had the wild idea of helping to feed the world by repurposing satellites to control large ocean enclosures. The goal was to provide food to a growing population by utilizing the natural environment to farm fish sustainably and humanely. As we all know, wild ideas are sometimes the best ideas.

We developed the concept further by crafting new technologies in automated feeding, underwater monitoring, advanced mooring, and remote communications to create a platform that enables us to move fish production to deep warm waters where we can scale rapidly. As a result, we raise our fish in pristine and protected waters where they experience the ocean’s swells and currents. Our enclosures are automated and equipped with sensors and cameras that monitor water quality and fish health. We limit human interaction, preferring remotely operated systems that inspect and maintain our enclosures, and feed our fish. Being aware of all these conditions in real time lets us deliver fish of a consistent quality that are pure and contaminant-free. Our Forever Oceans Yellowtail™ is praised by chefs for its taste and culinary versatility. It’s rich in Omega-3s and vitamin D. As we like to say, our fish are healthy for people and the planet.

What we are doing at Forever Oceans is part of a broader movement to create protein in new ways that improve our environment rather than degrading it. We have moved aquaculture far offshore where fish are raised in a more natural habitat made possible by the technology we’ve pioneered.

How has your incredibly global experience, across the US, China, Europe, and Australia, helped shape your perspective on the topic of sustainability?

I quickly learned that both unique local qualities and common cultural values must inform our global approach to sustainability. Most people I’ve met around the world share a common desire to improve their livelihoods and enrich their families and communities. Yet these efforts have brought us into conflict with nature. We are sadly all too familiar with increasingly arid summers, winters without snow, wildfires, floods, crop failures, and water shortages. These experiences, should inform and motivate our approach to sustainability. Sustainability is multi-faceted. It’s built on reducing emissions and preventing pollution within the window we have left to limit the effect of greenhouse gases on our planet. Personal lifestyle choices, new technologies, policy changes, and global cooperation are all vital to achieving this goal. The challenge is obvious. We need to do this now, while advancing other development initiatives that are slowly but surely promoting healthier and more equitable living conditions.

Companies have a massive role to play, and it is one that they should not shy away from. Simply stated, sustainability is good business. It can benefit operational effectiveness and increase profitability. Governments should be pushed to put policies in place that reward the greening of our economies and invest in communities to improve the local environment and provide educational opportunities. At Forever Oceans our operations employ local people, and whenever possible, our contracts go to local suppliers.

Are there any lessons that you took with you from your time at BCG that continue to influence how you operate and lead your team today?

Wow, there are so many things I could say here ranging from the strategic analysis we all learned—pattern recognition, hypothesis-driven thinking—to values such as diversity and creativity that my time at BCG reinforced. BCG gave me the unique opportunity to work with an incredible variety of teams during a short time frame. In Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, and San Francisco I was privileged to encounter many ways of thinking and problem solving, and what I learned has been foundational ever since. Moreover, BCG’s preference for unique client-focused strategies rather than framework-based recommendations, taught me to creatively approach issues to develop new breakthrough solutions.

Do you have a memorable piece of advice you have received that you'd like to share with fellow BCG alumni?

Each person’s path is their own, so it is difficult to provide general advice. The best I can do is share the values I’ve learned on my way to becoming a better leader. Think long and hard about your purpose and pursue it passionately. It makes the long hours worthwhile. Always strive to form a mutual understanding and sense of respect between your team and yourself, because work, like life, is relationship based. As a leader, be bold in your vision, convey your goals clearly, and be fearless when you encounter obstacles. Be brave, but strive for humility, serve others before serving yourself, and hold yourself, and then your team accountable for results. I sincerely hope some of this may help.