Interview – Tomofumi Ono, Geothermal Development Co., Japan

Interview – Tomofumi Ono, Geothermal Development Co., Japan Tomofumi Ono, GPSS, Japan (source: Mira Error)
Alexander Richter 27 Jul 2020

In an interview to a local student publication in Japan, President and COO of Geothermal Development & Investment Co shares details on his company's beginning in the geothermal business in Japan.

In an interview in a “Student publication in Japan”, Tomofumi Ono, President of Japanese Geothermal Development & Investment Inc. shares his experience and background in the company.

Failure in Action” Risk Management is the Key to Success” – Interview in Mira Error of Tomofumi Ono, President and COO Geothermal Development and Investment Inc.

Profile of Tomofumi Ono, President and COO of Geothermal Development and Investment Inc.

Originally from Hyogo prefecture, after graduating from Keio University Faculty of Economics, he joined the Space Development Agency (now JAXA) and was involved in space development. After that, he joined his current position as President and COO of Geothermal Development and Investment Inc., leading the geothermal development business from the beginning to the present. In this interview, we talked about how Geothermal Development and Investment Inc. became a company that develops the geothermal power generation business while making the most of its contribution to the local community, along with the idea that Mr. Ono values.

Geothermal development with local communities

First of all, could you talk about the business contents of Geothermal Development and Investment Inc, which you operate?

Geothermal Development and Investment Inc invests in geothermal power generation projects and builds power plants by securing resources through exploration of underground resources and drilling management in joint projects with local communities.  We are also building a power plant that utilizes the steam of an older hot spring.  In addition, we also import and sell overseas generators and various equipment.

Our company belongs to GPSS Group which, is specialized in the power generation business from five resources: solar, geothermal, wind, small and medium-sized hydropower, and biogas. GPSS aims to the realization of a sustainable society. Recently we have staffs from different countries working throughout the group. It helps us to learn from the opinions of people with diverse ideas and backgrounds, and the company has the depth to tackle issues from multiple perspectives.

We are aiming for a safe and stable 100% sustainable energy society by realizing “grid parity (*)” using purely domestic energy without relying on conventional imported resources.

*Grid parity: The cost of generating electricity from sustainable energy will be less than or equal to the cost of existing electricity.

Why did you focus on geothermal energy from any other renewable energy resources?

Japan is a country with poor resources such as oil and natural gas but has the third largest geothermal resource in the World. However, it is ranked 11th in terms of installed capacity, and despite we own the resources, it is still underutilized.

One of the main reasons is the environment. Many of the places with a large amount of geothermal resources are areas rich in nature or tourist spots, where strict regulations are imposed for their protection.

By making effective use of abundant resources and creating a mechanism that can be given back to the local community, we aim to create a world in which all Japanese people including the local community are happy.

Trust gained based on philosophy

What kind of mistake did you make when you started your business?

After spending a total of 9 months from the time before the company was founded, we created a corporate philosophy “to realize its value with local stakeholders by using unused resources in the area” and set it up first. We asked who the geothermal resources belong to and defined them as commons in the region. By making local resources into pure domestic energy and economic value based on it through joint projects, it is possible to realize profits for oneself and society simultaneously and in the same direction.

[… I tought we did everything right], but the reality was not different. It was rumored that “[we were] a common opportunistic on the boom of geothermal development,” and even more sad was some shocking people who did not accept new entrants from other industries. There were even rumors that there was no basis for [us as a company in the market]. Although we intend to tackle it with a sense of mission, it was extremely difficult for us to differentiate ourselves from other vendors and gain an understanding of our new business model, despite our lack of experience and achievements.

But we were not the ones who would be discouraged there. With the philosophy in mind, “Geothermal is a local resource, so local community should take the greatest benefit. However, it is difficult for local people to develop geothermal power from scratch. Therefore, we would like to contribute to the region by working on the development with our expertise and creating local resources together with everyone in the region,” he explained in a pilgrimage throughout Japan.

The more people understand our values the more we the joint business became more understood [and known], and the number of development projects increased. I think that the people around me wanted to do business with us because there was a trust based on the philosophy and a concrete mechanism that made it possible.

What did you learn from your mistakes?

If you take any action, failure will follow. Therefore, risk management is important. Originally, I was a type of person who decided once and decided to go forward, but by learning a lot from geothermal business and seeing from a broad perspective, what is the purpose, what is the risk, what is the reward I came to think and act. As a result, it is possible to prevent risks from occurring and manage them as a result.

Is it impossible to get rewards while avoiding risks?

It would be best if we could do that, but the reality is that “there is no gain without risks”, and nothing is worthy to take without risks. You cannot erase the risks themselves, but you can choose which risks you do not take. It is best to take the risks that satisfy your philosophy and maximize your rewards. The risk that our company never takes is the risk of “damaging the trust of the community.” Although profits and losses of money are certainly important, we focus on promoting business directly and indirectly to solve local needs and problems through geothermal business. Local communities and local stakeholders are the root of our business. In order not to put our trust in the community at risk, we engage in dialogue with the community over the course of several years, and after consensus with the stakeholders in the community, we form a joint business.

Take challenges to not regret

Finally, please give a message to students.

I think failure is a natural thing if you take action. There is no loss in establishing risk management habits when I was a student. However, if you are a manager, you need to think deeply about risk management, but you do not have to think deeply about it while you are students.

For example, I do not think you will lose much in job hunting. Basically, I think there are many positive points. There is no further risk if the interview does not work, and conversely there is no benefit to doing nothing.

I was thinking in this way when I was a student. Around 20 years ago, when I was doing my job hunting just like you, 50 and 60 companies were taking on the entrance examination, and I was acting without risk. I was able to deepen my understanding as I listened to the stories of people from various industries, and the experience at that time is still true.

New graduates find employment once in a lifetime, so it’s likely that you won’t regret doing it just as long as you do it, and since you can listen to many people’s stories, it will be useful for your future life. I think that there are things that will or will not fit after entering the company, but it is important to finish job hunting for new graduates anyway.

It is important to make a habit of risk management, but when I was a student, there was almost no risk and rewards were much bigger. Therefore, I think it is important for students to continue taking on challenges without thinking too much about risks.

It is very important in your lifetime; therefore, you need to listen to the opinions of various people and take actions and challenges accordingly. The reason is that rewards are overwhelmingly larger when you consider the risks and rewards from it. The process of worthy challenging and passionately working will help us when we hit a wall in our work once you secure the job. So, think about what you can do now and challenge your job hunting so that you will not have any regret about it.

GPSS group

Company was established in October 2012 and has today 185 employees (employees in the group). The company focuses on sustainable energy development and investment business, due diligence service for investors, and power generation monitoring service for large-scale IPPs.

Source: Mira Error