Japan

Japan

Doing buisness samurai to viking

Since Takeru Kojima became the Japanese agent for Danish Micon in 1991, founding his company, Ecology Corp, in the same year, he has sold 18 wind turbines. Not an enormous number, but more than half of the almost 30 machines running in the country. From those beginnings he has galvanised a string of Japan's top businessman into backing a new company, EcoPower Ltd, which last month announced its ambitious plans for wind energy.

Power hungry Japan suddenly seems to have realised that it has a wind energy resource going to waste. A group of some of the most powerful companies in the country is lining up behind an initiative to get more than 60 MW of wind plant in the ground (story page 20). But for the small group of businessmen behind the plan, there is nothing sudden about the new wind of interest in Japan. Behind it lies six years of hard work, masterminded by Takeru Kojima, a 36 year old firebrand who says he has fought a steady headwind while trying to convince sceptical bureaucrats, foreign suppliers and customers about the benefits of wind power.

Since Kojima became the Japanese agent for Danish Micon in 1991, founding his company, Ecology Corp, in the same year, he has sold 18 wind turbines. Not an enormous number, but more than half of the almost 30 machines running in the country. From those beginnings he has galvanised a string of Japan's top businessman into backing a new company, EcoPower Ltd, which last month announced its ambitious plans for wind energy.

Despite Kojima's relatively young age, at least according to Japanese business standards, he has managed to win over the Japanese authorities to the idea of Danish wind turbines. Convincing them of the safety of these foreign oddities was a monumental battle, with the Japanese refusing to accept the international standards to which the turbines were certified. Only once they were certified as living up to Japanese safety standards were the turbines acceptable, says Kojima.

Such troubles are history, however, and Kojima says he now has a good relationship with the authorities. But he still has to convince the sceptical Japanese that there is enough wind in Japan to be worth harnessing. Much of this headwind stems from the nuclear lobby, which has dripped negative information about wind power to the press over many years -- and the Japanese are not renowned for questioning the authorities. But Ecology Corp's own wind measurements, backed by others, indicate there are potential sites for 20,000-40,000 wind turbines in Japan.

Several serious mishaps in Japanese nuclear power plants over the past two years have probably helped Kojima in his battle for recognition for wind power. People are questioning whether nuclear is as safe as they have been led to believe. What really matters in Japan, however, when it comes to getting things moving, is big business. Kojima has been remarkably successful in courting some of the country's biggest companies -- with an impressive list of shareholders in the new EcoPower Co Ltd.

Securing the charismatic professor and business man Sachio Semmoto as chairman and investor in EcoPower is a scoop indeed. As one of the founders of private telephone company DDI, Semmoto was instrumental in breaking the telecomms monopoly in Japan. Having sold his shares in DDI he is probably a rich man, but Semmoto is not one to sit about. Sharing the concern in Japan that the country does not spawn enough business entrepreneurs to start small companies, as is common in the United States, Semmoto now lectures in venture business at Keio University. It was Kojima's hard work and vision that caught the eye of Semmoto.

"EcoPower and Mr Kojima are going to be a study case for my students. They will realise that venture business is actually possible in Japan," Semmoto told a press gathering on September 3 to announce the founding of EcoPower.

By having Semmoto on board, Kojima has no doubt broadened his network to the top echelons of some of the biggest Japanese companies. In Japan, personal relations are often more important than the actual business. EcoPower's shareholders have tacitly admitted that their interest in wind energy was galvanised on the strength of a call from Semmoto. His involvement in the wind venture, along with several other big names, was sufficient to draw a sizeable press contingent in early September.

oil led to wind

Ironically, Kojima's first job was in a big oil company after graduating from university. But after seven years he started his own business consulting company helping small Japanese companies to expand. This brought him in contact with a Danish company, which agreed to supply its products to one of his clients.

But then came the Gulf War and the Danish manufacturer decided the Japanese market was too small and difficult. Kojima was stung by the decision, which he felt was not only unfair, but also revealed a lack of good sense about an attractive business opportunity. Undaunted, he boarded a flight to Denmark for a face to face talk, "Samurai to Viking." His ruse worked and the problems were solved in five minutes. The Danish business man invited Kojima to dinner at the local inn -- and on the way Kojima saw his first wind turbine turning in the Danish countryside. He also saw a business opportunity.

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