Wanted:Those eager to join us in tackling unprecedented challenges
We have just acquired the right to take on challenges on the world stage.
— After being listed in Mothers in 2017, RENOVA was listed in the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2018. While companies in general regard this change as a milestone, you have stated, “We have finally arrived at the starting line.” How much progress has the company made at present, in 2020?
KiminamiLet me compare it to mountain climbing, which is my hobby. After these events, we are still at the 1st station. We have just acquired something that is like the right to take on challenges to expand our business on the world stage. Compared to 2018, when we were listed in the First Section, society’s expectations for renewable energy have grown larger. It seems that we will be able to work more dynamically than we imagined when we entered the renewable energy business. Thus, our vision for the near future has begun to take shape.
—RENOVA’s vision is to become Asia’s renewable energy leader. What do you aim to “lead” specifically?
KiminamiThere is growing awareness that renewable energy power sources are extremely important for Japan and Asia as a whole. At present, however, renewable energy constitutes only a small portion of all power sources that have been introduced to date. In this, Europe is about ten years ahead of Asia. In Germany, renewable energy accounted for nearly 50% of all energy sources in 2019. This will happen in Asia sometime in the future. I always think about what we will lead then. First, we will be developing leading-edge technologies. Second, we will hold the leading position in terms of scale, with the most extensive track record. And third, we will be the leading contributor to society. Maybe I should say that we will be a leader in environmental contributions. These are what we mean by “Asia’s renewable energy leader.”
—The other day, you announced participation in projects in Vietnam. We hear that this is RENOVA’s first overseas project that has proceeded to the construction phase.
KiminamiWe were finally able to announce our first project after studying a considerable number of projects. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we did all the necessary tasks, including final talks and procedures with our project partner, remotely. This was quite unusual, but I appreciate our project partner, who chose to go ahead with the project with us even in these circumstances. I also appreciate our members, who did everything they could, without giving up in this tough environment. This experience is expected to accelerate our overseas expansion rapidly.
How hard can we press the accelerator toward the next great innovation?
—In 2012, RENOVA made a major shift in direction, from the previous recycling business to the renewable energy business. Could you tell us about those days and about the future?
KiminamiInitially, it was my desire to solve environmental problems that pushed me to launch the company in 2000. Since then, I had been considering the renewable business plan itself for many years, believing that Japan would make a shift toward renewable energy someday. I would write down the things I wanted to do in my notebook. This was also reflected in our practical operations. Until 2010, we conducted a large number of surveys and feasibility studies, including ones regarding solar power generation on remote islands and micro-hydroelectric power generation in Asia. In 2012, the business environment, the environment that enables us to do what we do now, was created as a result of a change in Japanese law. At that time, most companies were either waiting for the foundation for the expansion of the renewable energy market to be built as a result of the new law, or watching what other companies were doing. We were already looking ahead, with a business plan already created. We could therefore begin to move boldly and quickly.
As a result, three years later in 2015, multiple power plants began operating. The scale of the power sources that we worked on began to gradually grow larger. We believed that this business was worth concentrating all of our management resources on. This is why we decided to convert the company into one specialized in renewable energy.
Looking back, the act of thinking ahead involves risk because things may not go as we expect. Once you have thought ahead thoroughly, however, you should press the accelerator with all your strength, so strongly that you may be doing too much, and rush in a direction where there is no road. This will produce greater results. Therefore, I think the question of how far ahead we think is important so we can read the next trend, and so is the question of how strongly we can press the accelerator amid the current changes.
—Which one of your past projects made you think that you may be doing too much?
KiminamiWell, I think all of them. (Laughter) For all of the 12 power plants that are operating now, we have pressed the accelerator with all our strength, believing in natural resources such as solar insolation and forests. (Laughter) Let me give you an example. Around 2014, when we were trying to launch a biomass project in Akita Prefecture, there was no precedent for a large biomass power plant in Japan. In light of the common knowledge of that time, the question was how to reduce the size of power plants because the risk of collecting fuel was high. However, President Hirano of United Corporation, which later became our project partner, was different. He told me about his passion for the project. He was aiming to use the project to push the development of Akita Prefecture, which was why he was thinking seriously about how to make the power plant large, with a way of thinking that went against the trends of the times. Knowing this, I thought that this was it. I wanted to launch a project with this person and support Akita Prefecture. I immediately decided to invest 400 million yen. Several times along the way, we faced circumstances that worried us and made us think that it might end in failure. At present, however, the plant is operating without problems as the largest biomass power plant in Akita, mainly using unused cedar wood logged in the prefecture.
—You have succeeded in a number of unprecedented projects. Why were you able to advance development this far in such a short period?
KiminamiThere are various reasons. One is that each employee is working on the business by regarding it as their own matter. In the first place, RENOVA naturally attracts people who attach importance to its social mission and those who like to take on new challenges. It is the presence of these employees, these like-minded associates, that has enabled us to keep pressing the accelerator with all our might, without looking back.
And people from local communities constitute a great driving force. We can advance our power source development projects in areas richly endowed with nature. To build a power plant that is accepted and supported by local people, it is very important to add extra value to the energy business. We spend a great deal of time and labor thinking how we can help solve the issues of each local community through the operations of our power plant, which of course applies to the biomass power plant project in Akita that I mentioned earlier. Listening to the voices of the local people, who understand this policy of ours and look forward to the completion of the power plant, a strong desire to succeed in the project, one way or another, wells up in my heart. If you desire to do something for the good of something other than yourself, you try every means and find a solution to the problem, regardless of the adversity you face.
Discuss problems thoroughly and honestly. Otherwise you cannot solve them.
—You said that one of the factors behind RENOVA’s leap, which was made in such a short period, is that your employees work on the business as their own matter. What do you require of your employees?
KiminamiI require that they take on unprecedented challenges without flinching. This is common to all of our employees, though they are highly diverse in terms of background, experience, and capability. Because the company itself is taking on great challenges, I want the employees to be excited about the challenges and be eager to join the company in tackling them. I think this is necessary regardless of their job category or position. Suppose that you are engaged in operations. In that case, you should face the machine you are handling as if you were seeing it for the first time. Otherwise you may overlook something. No matter how much stability is needed in the field, it is important to have the intent to continue to pursue new possibilities flexibly.
And teamwork. I launched the company about 20 years ago with the desire to solve environmental problems. However, problems related to the global environment have remained as serious as before. The issues have grown more significant, so we cannot solve them completely unless we input a certain large amount of resources. It is by having diverse human resources make a united effort while also taking advantage of the competitive edge that they each bring to the company that we can complete large-scale projects. For this purpose, they need to trust each other and be honest with each other by taking off their self-protective armor. And they should naturally take the initiative in their actions and help each other when facing problems. I want to work with people like that to address social issues.
—The same is required when developing a project with the local community, isn’t it?
KiminamiOf course, yes. If a project grows larger, it will involve all of society. All the people do not necessarily have the same opinion. I think that we should sit down and talk with people who do not agree with us, frankly and thoroughly. Otherwise, we cannot find a solution. In an area, I once climbed a mountain with someone who was unhappy about our project. The person loves mountains and had climbed a famous sacred mountain in the area as many as 1,200 times. It was a highly valuable experience to spend time with that person and listen deeply to them. I feel that processes like this are very effective. We approach local people and spend time to make the efforts necessary to achieve mutual understanding. This process is essential for our business.
Press the accelerator so strongly that you may be doing too much, without fear of failure.
—What kind of organization do you want RENOVA to be?
KiminamiI often tell employees to take risks. Companies that reject failure never grow. Take risks after thinking thoroughly and carefully, and you will definitely learn something from the results, even if it is a failure. We will press the accelerator so strongly that we may be doing too much, without fearing failure too much, and rush in a direction where there is no road. I would like to keep this style unchanged. I will persistently continue to tell employees to take risks. (Laughter)
Our business also needs to be an organization where each member thinks on their own and takes action independently. Ideally, we want not to divide the organization into many layers and to allow each team to act independently. Funds are also important, but no problem can be solved unless people act. In addition, to succeed in a large project, all of the project members need to move in the same direction. This is why our employees are encouraged to communicate their real thoughts to each other. I request that potential new employees understand that our organization allows them to frankly give their opinions.
We also have many mid-career employees. It seems that many of them have been initially bewildered by this kind of organizational climate. (Laughter) They loosen up gradually as they learn that they do not have to follow a rut. Once they have loosened up, they can demonstrate their capabilities further. I often see such employees at the company, which makes me happy.
Solving issues by addressing them squarely as the renewable energy leader, instead of running away from them
—What are the exclusive solutions to environmental issues that can be provided only by private companies?
KiminamiOne point is that we can propose specific projects that no one has implemented before and we can actually implement these projects of our own free will. It is interesting to discuss the coming new world and discover this world on our own. It is through the repeated process of accumulating achievements by thinking and taking action at the same time, thereby finding facts, that a company can achieve growth and keep expanding the scale of the challenges that it can tackle. I think that dynamic activities like this are necessary for solving this huge issue.
—You have been expanding your business rapidly. Finally, could you tell us the new roles to be played by RENOVA and the challenges the company will tackle?
KiminamiWe have been expanding our business as a company specialized in renewable energy power sources. In the early days after we became specialized in renewable energy, the leading role was played by the business development team. Now that the number of power plants has increased and will increase further, our social responsibility to operate the plants safely and stably has grown greater. In January 2020, we established a specialized operations organization, and this organization has begun working as the new core of RENOVA.
To solve environmental issues, it is essential to expand renewable energy to a level where it can be called a common power source instead of something special and novel. We aim to supply renewable energy power sources which are reliable and most competitive on the market. To make this a reality, we need to innovate by further improving our engineering capability, which is our strength, and proactively applying new technologies.
Innovation happens where there is a problem. For example, for a biomass power plant that we plan to construct in Miyagi Prefecture, we have developed and introduced an air-cooling system that is unprecedented in Japan. This was aimed at reducing impact on the ocean, something local people are concerned about. We have believed that if we can develop a model case for solving a problem through dialogue with the local community, that model case will be an asset that can be applied effectively across society, including by other companies. I think that by thinking through how to address the issues at hand squarely, instead of running away from them, and actually addressing them we at RENOVA can become Asia’s renewable energy leader.
The interview was conducted by an external interviewer in 2020, and the interviewer summarized Mr. Kiminami’s answers in this article.