March 2021 Member of the Month: Yuko Masuda

How did you hear about WCS and what prompted you to join?

My company Marubeni Corporation sent me to New York from Tokyo for a few years, and then to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2018. I didn’t have a local network when I moved so I was looking to join a diverse group in cleantech. I heard about WCS at a big ISO conference and joined right after that.

It was important for me to find connections. I’m so passionate about cleantech. I was one of the persons who climbed up to the top of the tall wind turbine at our wind farm. I’ve been in the renewable sector for 10 years, but local connections helped me step into my new business field in a new location.

Marubeni is a large Japanese corporation that invests globally in many energy sectors. What do you do for Marubeni?

At my corporation, power business goes far back in history. With cleantech, Marubeni has been active in wind and solar. When they decided to send me to the West Coast, they started thinking of open innovation to further support energy transition. So I’m like the facilitator to show them there are more opportunities in clean energy business models.

Another thing that is interesting – initially, I thought investment was the only way for Marubeni to engage with a startup. However, because Marubeni has a global power portfolio, it’s possible for an innovative startup to try its technology in various use cases as a kind of testbed. Marubeni is active in the Middle East and in Asia, an area where market regulation is different so that could be a new perspective. Their retailer or O&M service provider insight could be valuable. So that’s another way a corporate can bring opportunities to a startup. It doesn’t have to be only the cash investment.

What sorts of skill sets do you bring to your job?

I graduated from undergrad with a general studies degree, leaning towards the business side. Everything I learned about renewables came from the on-site personnel of the wind farm.  They had to teach me every single thing like, what’s this bolt for? What kind of data analytics do they need? It was really on-the-job training and I’m so thankful for those people who taught me.

It was interesting when I came to the West Coast, the start-up entrepreneurs have the excellent idea or technology but sometimes they don’t have on-site experience, like working on real power plants. I find myself with experience in asset development and also on the day-to-day operations, that I can bring to my job.

I see you are enrolled in an advanced degree program. I am curious how you decided on the Quantic School of Business and Technology. 

 It is actually an EdTech startup. Their concept is that education doesn’t have to be in person. And broadcasting the class material is not really the best way to do online education. It’s not traditional at all. They accept applications every month for instance. It is interactive app-based learning. There is an MBA and an EMBA at an affordable price. I think the EMBA is about $9,600. 

It’s not a university but it’s accredited as higher education so it is an actual MBA. There are group activities that work with case studies as part of the program. There is Q&A and communication with the fellow students as well. It just a perfect fit for me during this COVID time.

Can you give us an anecdote about something or a project that you are particularly excited about at work right now?

It’s not really an actual project itself but simply experiencing how every situation involves a different way of thinking. I am the translator between the startup and a big corporation. How risk is valued is so different on each side. Each side may come to criticize the other side or be kind of uncomfortable with their opinion of the other side so they really need a facilitated conversation. I find first of all where we all share the same view. Let’s start from there. It’s just a different way of approaching and I gather and kind of see what comes from that. Common ground. 

Can you say anything about being a working woman in a large Japanese corporation?

Japanese society is still pretty much male-dominant. I haven’t seen any senior management position by a woman within the company. Yet what’s interesting is the company has just released an announcement that they have a target to have new hires 50/50 male and female by 2024.  Right now, women represent 10% of employees. So I’m kind of being lucky to work there at the time of transition, that I am hoping to share my experience in the United States working with a lot of women role models such as Emily Kirsch from the Powerhouse Accelerator, Marubeni has a corporate partnership with.

What is your opinion about climate change and humankind’s ability to steer the planet towards a decarbonated future? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

I’m optimistic about it.  I see a big corporation like a large ship. It takes a long time to start running and to turn it, but once it starts going, it’s gonna have a massive impact. Just over the last year, more corporations have started to think about ESG and sustainability. Once they accept the concept, they go for it. To have the social acceptance and the publicity from big corporations to run on that movement that can be very big.

Interview conducted by Jeanne Trombly, an Oakland, CA-based Writer in Residence for Women in Cleantech & Sustainability.

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