Interview/ Spatial (placement and piping) design

From Plant Layout and Piping Design to New Business Development

Hiroshi Ikeda

Hiroshi Ikeda (joined the company in 2011)

Layout and piping engineering / Chemical plants

Spatial Engineering Department

Graduate in mechanical engineering with a major in Engineering Mechanics and Energy

Interview

Ninety percent of my work is overseas-related and in an environment where I can speak frankly

Hiroshi Ikeda

I interned at a power generation plant while I was a student, and I was amazed by how meticulously all the necessary equipment was laid out in the plant’s limited space. This experience is what got me interested in the world of heavy industry that works with large-scale plants.
As I researched various companies, I found out that the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group (MHIG) has a plant engineering division. So I attended an MHIG recruiting seminar, thinking I could put to good use my knowledge of mechanical engineering and fluid Dynamics that I had learned at university. I wasn’t shy about asking questions to the MHIG employees at the seminar.
A long-held hope of mine was to work overseas. So I was attracted by the global outlook of MHIG’s plant engineering division, where 90 percent of the work is overseas-related.
Moreover, all the MHIG employees I met were mild mannered and easy to talk to, which also enticed me. Maybe it was because they had had lots of overseas experience, but the majority of the people I spoke with were frank without any sense of rank or hierarchy.

I recognized the importance of diversity and leadership at the layout and piping design department

In my first five years at MHIG, I worked on piping technical analysis, basic design, and detailed design at the Spatial Engineering Department, which is in charge of piping and layout design. Piping and layout design is known as the “crucial role” of chemical plant design. My job was to compile information on designs from many different departments. These included process designs, equipment and mechanical designs, civil engineering designs, electrical instrumentation, construction plans, and operational and maintenance plans — all of which were constantly being changed and updated. From this information, I had to work out where to position each piece of equipment as well as the piping sizes and routes. From there, I had to figure out exactly how much space was necessary for people and vehicles to pass, as well as for maintenance operations, and integrate all this into the overall plant space. I worked in close contact with a tremendous number of people, because we had to share information, consult, and coordinate not just with other internal departments but also with outside partner companies. Over the five years, I was given responsibility for a wide range of plants, such as a fertilizer plant in Malaysia, an integrated coal gasification combined cycle power plant in Japan, a large-scale polyethylene plant to be built in the U.S., and a fertilizer plant in Turkmenistan. The project that left the biggest impression on me was the Malaysian fertilizer plant in my second year with the company. It involved a long-term posting at our partner company in the Philippines, where I supervised the piping analysis and detailed design for the plant. Although I was sent in as the area leader, I struggled with how to improve our team’s output, even as I was dealing with unfamiliar operations and with communicating in English to the team members — Filipinos and Malaysians whose working methods and approaches were completely different to Japanese. With the support of many more experienced colleagues, I was able to guide the team to finish off the production of the final design plans. But personally, the project was an invaluable opportunity for me. The experience of working in a multinational environment let me take a more objective view of Japan and Japanese people. I also learned there are many different leadership methods and ways to progress with work.

Signing up for an overseas MBA program

MHIG is a company that puts a lot of resources and energy into employee education. For example, it recruits internally for overseas MBA programs and other educational opportunities. After my yearlong posting in the Philippines and experiencing working in a multinational environment, I decided I wanted to learn techniques to manage people with completely different mindsets and values from my own. So when I got an email detailing the MBA program, I immediately jumped at the offer, seeing it as a new challenge for myself.

I managed to pass the selection test and went overseas to study, but the first year was incredibly tough. One assignment involved consulting a local company with a team of six students. Apart from me, everyone on the team was American and they were already on good terms with each other. I thought frantically about how I, whose English wasn’t particularly good back then, could contribute to this team. Eventually, I started using the frameworks and analytic methods learned in class to organize and explain the company circumstances and issues I had been in charge of. Once I did this, the other team members started to view me differently and sought out my opinion. From that point on, I made it a habit to speak up in other classes and group work.

My biggest accomplishment during the two years studying abroad was becoming able to demonstrate my value to native English speakers. I developed the ability to get my opinion across even in arguments while carefully maintaining relations with the other parties.

This skill is hugely helpful in my current job.

Taking what I’ve learned even further

Taking what I’ve learned even further

I’ve moved slightly away from piping and layout design and I’m now responsible for advancing a new business. My job is to create a brand-new business model and to devise, validate, and implement business investments and services that could become a revenue driver to sustain MHIG in the future. This requires me to think from new perspectives without being limited to our existing products.

As for future goals, in the short term I first want to launch a new business that can be our core business from a long-term perspective. In the longer term, I want to contribute to the company from a position where I can maximize my own talents.
In addition to knowledge and skills relating to basic management, what I learned studying abroad was to respond to unknown or uncertain events by developing and testing my own hypotheses. The other thing I learned was to have a constructive attitude to move forward, even a half step, in challenging circumstances. I will never forget the experience of meeting so many potential future leaders gathered from around the world and the near-physical sensation that nothing will happen unless you take the first step yourself. With these lessons in mind, I hope to take on many more and varied challenges in the future.