Matthias Bausenwein, Asia-Pacific President and Taiwan Chairman for Danish wind energy company Ørsted, didn’t originally intend to forge a career in Asia. But reflecting on the past four years he’s spent here, he’s happy where he landed. Asia, and Taiwan in particular, is a huge new market for offshore wind, and Bausenwein has led his team through success after success here.
Bausenwein and TOPICS Deputy Editor Jeremy Olivier sat down recently to discuss Taiwan’s unique advantages and challenges for renewable energy developers, some recent developments at the company, and Bausenwein’s adaptive management style.
You have a master’s degree in economics and business administration and have taken executive education courses on business in Asia. How did your education prepare you for your eventual career? How did it help with your transition to leadership roles in the Asia-Pacific?
My university education in Germany provided a strong general basis for business and would have been helpful for going into any sector. The rest of my education was mostly learning on the job.
In the early days, I tried not to be too specialized in any one area, but rather determine the right industry for me by getting some broad experience. Once I found my niche, I decided to take the executive education courses, learning about leadership and business systems in Asia.
I had always been interested in doing business internationally, and from a renewable energy perspective, I knew it was the right moment to come here when I did. Asia is growth market number one for renewables, and I knew my experience and education would help me with really making something happen here.
What initially attracted you to the wind energy business? Why did you choose it over other business fields?
I initially worked in management consulting after graduation, mainly in the automotive, energy, and healthcare sectors. When I had the chance to do some work in renewable energy, I found that I really liked it. I wasn’t in a big rush to find a specific industry back then, so I waited for the right window of time to find one that I would be really excited about.
At that time, no one really knew what would happen with offshore wind; it was a very niche industry. When I started, a lot of the wind energy sector was focused around Denmark, so I went there early on. The industry had yet to consolidate and was transitioning from one dominated by experienced and strong personalities into one that could potentially scale up and professionalize. So, there was a degree of uncertainty, but also a lot of excitement.
What observations do you have on the wind energy industry in Taiwan compared to Denmark and your native Germany? How do you find doing business here?
In terms of similarity, there is a need for renewable energy in Taiwan due to issues with air pollution and emissions, as well as opposition to nuclear power. Furthermore, there is good, strong wind in Taiwan, and a lack of space onshore. There is also a very good framework in place for getting permits and registration. These aspects in combination make for a good foundation for growing the offshore wind energy sector. This brings a kind of push from the public and government that I’ve also witnessed in certain markets in Europe.
Now, where Taiwan differs is that it is a new market, unlike Europe where wind power has been around for almost 30 years. So, while there is a positive attitude and strong ambition, a lot of the basic necessities are not yet in place. We thus need to work together as an industry to overcome some hurdles.
The newness of the industry in Taiwan means there is also a limited understanding of what offshore wind means to the local stakeholders, and we therefore need to educate people and explain what the benefits are. It’s not just clean energy; there’s a lot of direct and indirect job creation as well.
In general, there’s a very strong agenda to localize the supply chain here. This is not unusual per se: governments everywhere have high local content expectations for new industries, especially in the initial phase, when infrastructure and energy projects are still subsidized and where there is a keen interest to build up local suppliers.
We see, however, a very rigid approach to localization in Taiwan, which I think may become very unhealthy for the industry, to the point where it could actually stall development. What we need is competition, reasonable prices, and flexibility because if the local content rules are very strict, that could create a less competitive environment. Moreover, it won’t prepare Taiwanese suppliers to compete in the region or globally.
In terms of the general culture, I don’t think there is a better place to enter in Asia than Taiwan. There’s a very international mindset here and a friendliness toward foreign investors. It has been very professional, international, and not so different from other new markets in Europe.
Ørsted recently launched a NT$60 million Offshore Wind Industrial Development fund in Taiwan. What gaps will this fund fill in the island’s wind energy development?
What we are aiming for with this fund is to strengthen Taiwan’s local sub-suppliers, providing them with the necessary resources – whether human or financial – to ramp up their capabilities, standards, structures, technologies, and training, and enable them to eventually enter into the offshore wind sector. We do, in fact, want localization, but we don’t want it to be a showstopper. One of the ultimate goals is that local sub-suppliers not only deliver to Taiwanese projects but go regional or global as well.
The fund also seeks to nurture offshore wind professionals. Talent is one of the key bottlenecks in Taiwan, since the industry is so new. Taiwanese graduates generally choose to go into semiconductors and high-tech, or they go abroad because the salaries here are low. We need to explain to them that there is this new, exciting sector that has started big and is also here to stay.
What are the most challenging and most fulfilling aspects of expat life? Are there any that are particular to Taiwan?
To be honest, I don’t consider my life here to be that of an “expat.” I came here with my family, and we did not view this as a temporary move. I personally saw it as a mission – to start something big and long-lasting here.
Taiwan is a great place for foreigners, one that I think is very underestimated by international travelers. I myself didn’t face too many challenges because I had been traveling to Taiwan and Asia for many years before we decided to invest and open an office here. Still, living here is very different than traveling in and out and being in a hotel. You need time to adapt, but that’s normal, and it is a minor inconvenience at most.
In general, people are so friendly and open-minded, and a lot of them speak good English. It is fairly easy to acclimate and we’re very happy here.
Do you have a particular style or philosophy as a manager? What do you consider to be your main strengths? Any weaknesses?
Overall, I don’t want to predict what could happen, but rather create what will happen. When Ørsted started in Taiwan, we took kind of a startup approach to management. I’m personally very curious and enthusiastic about changing the energy sector and I aim to transfer this enthusiasm to my team to motivate them accordingly. I want them to feel like they’re starting something new and to have this entrepreneurial desire to make tangible changes in the world.
I don’t want to predict what could happen, but rather create what will happen.
It is also important to be adaptive in terms of leadership because my management team and the Ørsted team here in Asia have varying degrees of experience. Sometimes I need to be very involved in coaching or explaining the details, while at other times I need to give them space and just let them do their job.
Now, what I described earlier as a positive attribute – being enthusiastic, trying to do new things – that can easily turn into a weakness. Sometimes, if you’re constantly anticipating the next big challenge, you don’t get to stop and appreciate the feats you’ve already accomplished. And so, I try to tell myself and my team to slow down and take some time to be proud of our achievements.
What advice do you have for young people looking to get involved in the energy sector?
This is a pretty cool, high-growth industry and it’s totally different from where energy was even just a decade ago. Offshore wind has turned into an exciting sector that’s present in our daily lives, and it has a long-term character.
My key advice to young people is thus to be very interested and to understand that while offshore wind takes time, it can also be very rewarding.
Know also that this is an area where you can really make a contribution. We are helping transition the energy sector from black to green, reducing emissions, and working toward climate goals. It’s important that you have an underlying motivation for your career, that way you know you are doing something good.
How do you like to spend your leisure time? What activities make you feel “recharged?”
I like to play basketball and soccer, and I enjoy some outdoor activities. I didn’t hike or cycle before I came to Taiwan, but I do it a lot now that I’m here. I also spend a lot of time with my family – I have a wife and four kids. It’s very busy, very lively, and it requires that I switch off from work and focus my full attention on them.
Lastly, I really like to travel, both for business and for leisure. It’s unfortunate that we are unable to travel abroad recently, but we’ve enjoyed traveling all over Taiwan in the meantime.