By 22, the Lower Merion native had graduated from MIT and cofounded E Ink Corp., which was instrumental in developing the display technology behind electronic books such as the Kindle.
Now, 13 years later, a Philadelphia company eager for its big break in the solar industry is counting on Albert's being no less prodigious.
Still without revenue after nearly six years, SRS Energy appointed Albert its new chief executive officer in mid-May after firing Marty Low, the gregarious, high-energy ice-cream-parlor owner who brought the company to life.
The change comes as SRS (for Solar Roofing Systems) prepares to begin production in October of its unique Solé Power Tile System, a photovoltaic tile designed to integrate with industry giant U.S. Tile Corp.'s clay-roofing products.
SRS is banking on a desire by homeowners in the West, Southwest, and Florida - where mission-style clay roofs are prevalent - for a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to the glass rectangular panels currently dominating the solar market.
"We're more expensive, but it looks a lot better," said Albert, who estimated the pricing difference at $3 per watt.
As SRS's director of engineering since 2007, Albert, 35, who lives in Northern Liberties, led the development of the Solé Power Tile System.
His promotion to CEO of the 16-employee firm was less about Low's shortcomings and more about putting SRS in the hands of someone better equipped to help it "leap forward and conquer the market that doesn't know it's there," said Peter Bressler, the company's founder and interim board chairman.
Bressler and his product-design firm, the Bressler Group - located next to SRS headquarters in the Marketplace Design Center on Market Street - also are investors in the solar-product company.
"The board sees SRS on the verge of a different step," Bressler said, "a step more positively driven by a different style perhaps, a slightly different hue on the priorities - more on control and organization."
Though Low "is a great enabler," he added, the board determined that Albert was better equipped to accomplish what SRS needs now: "an organizational structure that can get bigger because people know where they belong."
With his background including a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, Albert has the technical knowledge that will be important in discussions with potential investors and partners, Bressler said.
"The board is expecting JD to pick up the partnering parts that Marty did a great job getting started with, but also have focus on manufacturing, production, and distribution issues that are more knowledge-based," Bressler said.
In an interview last week, Low, owner of Zwahlen's Ice Cream & Chocolate Co. in Audubon, Montgomery County, offered a candid and critical assessment of his leadership at SRS. He took responsibility for his ultimate ouster, though he called it a surprise.
Low said he did not communicate enough with the nine-member board, a group that, he contends, had begun showing signs of "investor fatigue."
"I didn't blame them," he added. "We had to keep going back to the well."
Since the recession hit, fund-raising "wasn't going very well," Low said. By then, money for solar start-ups had already begun drying up, he and others said, as the perception grew that the market was saturated.
"Every start-up has bumps along the way, and it's important for the CEO to communicate what's going on so the board understands completely," Low said. "I should have communicated better."
Said Bressler: "He could have chosen a more regular format to keep the board informed."
With a philosophy "that actions speak louder than words," Low spent his time raising money and looking for partnerships rather than routinely talking to board members.
By his estimate, he raised $15 million, including $3.5 million from the state, $5.5 million from strategic partners, and the rest from angel investors. SRS's largest single investor is the Valley Forge-based building-products company CertainTeed Corp., with a 30 percent stake; it also has a joint development agreement with the company.
As SRS makes the transition from product development to production and distribution, "the real emphasis now is on execution," said Peter Dachowski, president and CEO of CertainTeed. "Now, we need to get revenues."
SRS's manufacturing plant is a 40,000-square-foot former warehouse a quarter-mile from Low's ice cream store, where Solé tiles were installed last summer as a demonstration project.
Albert said the factory would initially employ 10 to 20, with the workforce growing to at least 50 - assuming orders support that.
As to why the company has headquarters here when its primary potential customer base is concentrated on the West Coast, Albert cited the greater convenience to Europe, where SRS has expansion plans and where the photovoltaic industry has been thriving.
SRS is developing a product for the European market with Monier, a German provider of roofing materials, Albert said.
"I feel a tremendous burden to deliver return to our investors and make the company successful," he said. "It's basically all I think about."
Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466 or email@example.com.