"We want to make our future with our own hands" - The hope of renewable energy
An innovative spirit drawn from many industries that plays a part in all of our lives
At the Recruit Group, placing hope and trust in entrepreneurial spirit, a sense of ownership, and the potential of individuals is the heart of our company culture. This mindset is also a key component of our day-to-day business and accomplishing it is the mission of our many enterprises. There are more than a few instances where the ideas and goals of each of our team members take center stage, and this in turn has naturally led to an environment that cultivates talented, freethinking individuals. This spirit now pervades the entire group, and has even been passed along by our past alumni as they head off into different fields. Ken Isono, a former member of the Recruit Group who now works in renewable energy as the representative director of the Shizen Energy Group, is one such individual.
After leaving the Recruit Group, Mr. Isono worked at a wind power generation company before founding his current business in 2011. He now works there with local communities to develop power plants using solar, wind, and small hydraulic sources. This includes not only licensing procedures and negotiations with utility firms, but also the subsequent steps of EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) and O&M (operations and maintenance). Bloomberg recently selected Shizen Energy as the No. 2 developer in Japan thanks to their long track record of achievements in both development and completed projects. By tackling environmental and energy issues faced in Japan and all over the world, the Shizen Energy Group is leading us all towards a brighter future.
Meeting 120% of the customer's expectations
▲I traveled to 50 or 60 countries as a student
After joining the Recruit Group, Mr. Isono was placed in charge of business management for Zexy and other projects. Though he never lost his interest in working on environmental projects, his time at Recruit helped him cultivate the foundation of swift action that would become a key strength of the Shizen Energy Group.
"Things are probably done differently now than they were back then, but when I joined the Recruit Group calling people up to make pitches over the phone, or even showing up at their offices without an appointment, was just how we worked. That meant I ended up being placed in charge of important tasks one after the other despite my newcomer status. This helped me overcome all of my fears, and helped me develop a stance of pushing forward without hesitation that I still use today. The other thing I thought was really great was how Recruit taught me to work like I was trying to meet 120 percent of the customer's expectations. Much like at Recruit, we welcome all types of people at my current company, whether they're fresh out of school or mid-career. It follows that we also believe that it's extremely important for everyone on the team to have the same work values, regardless of their experience or age. I think the Recruit Group is amazing in how they have managed to make exceeding the customers' expectations an innate part of their company culture, and the things I learned there play a valuable role in everything I do today."
Solving things as a group, rather than finding someone to blame
In order to shift his efforts towards renewable energy, Mr. Isono left the Recruit Group in 2006 and joined a wind power company. At the time, there was still little to no recognition of, or demand for, renewable energy in Japan, despite it being viewed as an industry of major social and economic value in Europe and other parts of the world.
"Renewable energy can make immense contributions towards solving environmental problems, because the greater the sales, the greater the reductions in CO2 emissions, so for me it really seemed like a dream job. But, when the Japanese government repealed the introduction of renewable energy in 2008, I started to question it as a viable choice. And then the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake happened. This disaster brought many issues into sharp relief, one of course being the question of nuclear power. The world was full of debate about Japan's energy woes, but the one thing that really stuck out in my mind was that everyone was trying to find someone to blame. At the same time, I also felt that in this situation the only thing to do was work together to solve the problem. It takes 20 years to set up and operate a power plant, so you can't make a business of it unless you're taking everything over at least that 20-year span into consideration. I was 30 at the time, so when I thought about how I would be 50 in 20 years, and then 70 in another 20 years after that, I just knew that we had to solve this energy problem within our generation. That's what inspired me to start the Shizen Energy Group. I even got the crazy idea that we were, in fact, the only ones who could solve the energy problem (laughs). But as luck would have it, our smaller scale meant we could work quickly and decisively. We also got really fortunate with our first client. Despite us having no real achievements to our name yet, they commissioned us for a 600-million JPY project. We were truly blessed to encounter people who understood our mission."
In 2013, the Shizen Energy Group teamed up with German company Juwi, who have built 150 wind power generators with an output of nearly 2,000 megawatts, as well as 1,600 solar power plants with a total output of nearly 2,200 megawatts, to launch the international joint venture "Juwi Shizen Energy".
"Even though we said we were going to run a renewable energy business in Japan, the fact of the matter is we didn't have any of the relevant knowhow to do so. We had all sorts of problems, like the blades on the propellers of our wind power generators breaking. And the main reason for all of this was our lack of experience. So, we decided to go study in Germany, one of the leading countries in the field. Though we didn't even really know anyone in Germany at the time, all three of us founders headed off together to see things firsthand, renting a car and sharing a hotel room as we went to each of our destinations. I think perhaps I learned to take action like that during my time at Recruit.
▲We went to learn in Germany, one of the global leaders in natural energy
juwi was one of the several companies we visited during our trip. Thinking back on it now, it really was a miracle that we got to meet them. At the time, their revenue was over 150 trillion JPY, whereas we had only 3 million JPY in capital and revenue of practically zero. Despite this, we explained to juwi our desire to learn and our philosophy, and as a result we created a fifty-fifty joint venture together. What made this all possible is hope. That, and we all shared a lot of interests outside of work as fellow outdoorsmen. We still enjoy a sort of rich relationship with them like that of lifelong friends. They, too, have said that this joint venture is the greatest success of their lives. It makes me extremely happy to have found comrades out there in the world with whom we could build such a trusting connection. At the time no one wanted to hear us out or understood us, so to be where we're at now is truly miraculous in my mind."
▲A dinner with some of the Juwi team who came to Japan
Being busybodies, in the good sense
Today, the Shizen Energy Group has a team of nearly 120 people drawn from over 10 countries and regions around the world. As the one in charge of running the entire show, Mr. Isono says that his experiences at Recruit play a role in the management of his current company.
"Our staff members come from many different career paths, from specialists to those with experience working as executives at the world's leading consulting firms or at government agencies. What I learned by having all these people from different walks of life join us is that the best businesses in the world always have a company culture for cultivating their personnel and guiding their team in better directions. The surprising thing, however, is that the nature and policy of these cultures are usually almost identical. What I'm getting at is that everyone is a busybody, in the good sense of the word. To put it differently, everyone, regardless of rank or team, is concerned for each other's well-being and tries to help each other grow. Everyone is on the same level, with no top-down or bottom-up hierarchies. I think this has been a key element in the strength of the Recruit Group.
▲Our company's five-year anniversary event
At our company, we create opportunities and an environment for engineers in their sixties and seventies to take an active hand in what we do. Their generation was the backbone of the rapid economic growth of Japan, so they truly are living treasures. If the younger generation doesn't learn as much as they can from them, we are going to lose our competitive edge in the international arena. This is particularly true for small to mid-size companies in Japan, who of late have been increasingly focused on globalizing and actively trying to expand worldwide, only to find that in practice this isn't such an easy thing to do. The key to being successful in that situation is to make the effort to have that spread of team members in their twenties all the way up to their seventies so you get a circulation of knowledge underway. Doing so would allow Japanese companies to become much stronger."
"My twenties were full of failures,
but all the dots started to connect in my thirties"
Ken Isono loved nature and had an innate understanding of its magnificence ever since he was a child. Even today he continues to trust in his own hopes and determination by working with people around the world to connect the bounty of nature with our future.
"The truth is that all of the challenges I undertook in my twenties were failures, no matter what I tried. Not a single one succeeded. But, you could also say that's why I had a bit of experience with starting things from scratch and understood how difficult it is to do so. As I left behind my twenties and entered my thirties, each of those points of failure began to connect, until eventually everything was connected. It was exactly like the 'connecting the dots" Steve Jobs spoke of in his speech at Stanford.
Every task or goal must be my own in my mind, or I can't do anything
I think the reason I've been able to make it this far, though, is that I have hope and determination. In order to make renewable energy more widespread we're going to need to have an impact on the government and policy, and of course we're also going to need employment and cash. We have absolutely no intentions of calling it quits and exiting as an organization. We also have no plans to do an IPO so far; we operate using techniques such as project finance. What's more, we made a fund for returning 0.5 to 1 percent of the proceeds from our power plants to the local community, and conduct all the redistribution ourselves. We have a strong passion for creating renewable energy and new styles of finance platforms for new industries or endeavors in communities. In order to do all this, we also need to work with rural communities and not just adhere to a city model. Our head office is currently located in Fukuoka Prefecture, so we want to cooperate with the local people and government to help revitalize the region. I sincerely hope we see renewable energy become the main energy source in the days to come.
At heart I'm the type of person who only pays attention to the things I'm truly interested in. All the money in the world can't budge me, and I can't work for others. Basically, there's no way to get me moving, no matter the task or goal, unless I think of it as my own. I will always have a connection to the natural environment, but at the same time it's something that's connected to others, too. So in that sense the things that concern me there are perhaps connected to the concerns of others. At any rate, my strongest desire is to create a better future, and I will continue to work with determination towards this end."
Representative Director, Shizen Energy Group
After completing college, Ken Isono was placed in charge of advertising sales at Recruit. He later moved to a wind power generation company, where he was tasked with developing, constructing and maintaining wind power plants all over Japan. In June 2011 he founded and was appointed representative director of the Shizen Energy Group. He is now mainly involved in new project development. He is also the representative director of Shizen Energy Farm, Inc. Mr. Isono is a graduate of Keio University's Department of Environmental Information Studies, and holds MBAs from Columbia Business School and London Business School.