When I was in school, my friends said I could be a doctor or an engineer. Instead, I chose to go to business school. The skills and knowledge I gained help me today to lead a team of brilliant engineers that keeps Mitsubishi Power up to speed on what’s happening with the global energy transition as the urgency grows around decarbonization.
On a daily basis, I see the importance of both skill sets. As an engineer, you need to solve intricate problems like helping to decarbonize a plant or an entire country that has operated a certain way for years. And as a business leader, you need to understand the dynamics of markets and sectors, which requires strategic vision and seeing the big picture. Together, these skills can drive real, lasting and positive change in the sector.
Energy never sleeps
As Vice President of Market Intelligence and Corporate Strategy, I need to be on top of everything that could and will affect the energy transition. Contrary to what some might think, I don’t read everything out there. But I do read as much as I can. It’s a fast-paced market, and I need to always be thinking, What does that mean for a decarbonized future, and how can my company make an impact?
I’m the person executives text and say, “I’m at a seminar and they’re talking about the this latest storage technology. What do you think?” I can’t say, “I didn’t hear about that.”
Engineering knowledge is potent. Channeling that problem-solving capability to serve a broader market strategy requires mixing science with a bit of art.
The energy markets don’t stop, so our team has to stay vigilant for the latest intel. We have engineers spread across the globe, so we pass work back and forth, using the time zone difference to our advantage. It involves a lot of data-mining, a lot of analysis and a lot of number-crunching, helping turn data into actionable insights.
I guide the global team by asking lots of questions – “I just read about this. What can we do?” – and guiding our smartest people to work answering them. Those are my team’s engineers.
Context is the key
I believe that a team isn’t complete unless it’s diversified. You need a group of people who can see an issue from multiple angles. You need people who have industry experience and can drive innovation. You need project managers and leaders to pull teams together and coordinate what everyone is doing. And you need people to design great solutions.
I’m thankful to have a set of talented engineers who specialize in research, analytics and modeling. When I ask them questions about a particular idea or challenge that may impact our business, they figure out if it matters and what we can do about it. The front-line managers figure out how soon we can implement the solution and how best to optimize our team resources. For example, if a power utility says they want to decarbonize their operations by 2045, we analyze their current operational fleet, constraints and future goals, and we provide them scenarios for how to optimize their portfolio at the lowest cost and highest reliability.
The ability to solve complex problems is critical. But engineers are sometimes so smart and so solutions-oriented that they come up with increasingly complex permutations designed to solve discrete problems. That’s where having a strategic perspective comes into play.
Engineers who can explain their work simply and compellingly as possible, in the context of business, will go much farther in corporate environments.
For an engineer, a model that gives a mathematically correct result can seem flawless. But if customers won’t understand or ultimately adopt a solution, no amount of mathematical precision will actually accomplish their goals. My team and I complement each other because I keep our focus on the big picture and real-world analysis, bringing in the right questions to answer and helping craft the messaging of our solutions to fit customers’ needs.
Combine business intelligence and engineering chops
Engineering knowledge is potent. Channeling that problem-solving capability to serve a broader market strategy requires mixing science with a bit of art. The only way to strike the right balance is to bring a variety of skills, experience and knowledge to bear – much like a diversified team, you should diversify yourself, your talents.
Looking back, I wish I also had gotten an engineering degree. So if I have one piece of advice for today’s young engineers, it’s this: Add some business and soft skills to your toolkit, and never stop learning about the broader business environment your projects solve. Take a course, or seek out a mentor on the business side.
Think about how powerful a basic business skill like making an effective presentation is. Engineers who can explain highly technical work as simply and compellingly as possible will go much farther in corporate environments. If you can communicate with people who may lack your technical knowledge, you’ll improve your ability to be effective. And if you can add some intelligence or context on the broader market landscape, you’re even speaking their language.
An engineer who’s fluent in business – that’s the total package.
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