Meet Marina Hsu of CISC

Marina Hsu, managing director of Copenhagen Infrastructure Service Company (CISC) Taiwan, is a pioneer in Taiwan’s offshore wind industry. After returning from studies and work in the U.S., Hsu dedicated herself to renewable energy through a local developer and later as a policy advisor for the Danish government.

The entrepreneurial spirit of Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) attracted Hsu to help build its service company CISC’s Taiwan office as its second employee in 2017. Now, CIP is set to power more than one million Taiwanese households, with more projects in the pipeline.

TOPICS Editor Julia Bergström sat down with Hsu in October to discuss the impact of offshore wind on Taiwan, how organizations can apply developmental psychology to improve results, what plants teach us about life, and how CISC works to retain talent. An abridged version of their conversation follows.

You started your career in offshore wind at a time when very few people thought it would succeed in Taiwan, and later joined CIP when it was just setting up shop on the island. What drew you to the industry and CIP?

I worked in the healthcare sector when I was in the States, and when I came back to Taiwan, I wanted to change careers. I was browsing the 104 website for jobs when I saw an advertisement from this small, local offshore wind developer. It looked very interesting, so I researched Taiwan’s energy profile and found that almost all of our energy was imported and from fossil fuel sources. I thought, “this is an area where I could contribute to actual change.”

At some point, I met the Danish Trade Council. They wanted to introduce Danish technology to developers, and after working with me, they asked if I was interested in joining them. They needed a policy advisor, and I had just gone through two challenging years as a local developer. Back then, everybody thought offshore wind was a scam and questioned why I, as a young woman, was involved in this type of “fishy business.”

I thought that if I joined the Danish government, maybe I could convince the Taiwanese government and industry that this is the future for Taiwan. So I worked for the Danish government for six and a half years, covering not just energy but also water and environmental issues. That was how I met CIP.

CIP is just 10 years young, but our founders were the forerunners of the industry in Denmark. They all came from oil and gas before they turned to offshore wind. They’re experienced and senior but super hands-on. Danes believe in flat hierarchies, so the leaders are also the doers. After supporting more than 300-something companies throughout my decade in the Danish government, I felt sure that I wanted to work with these people. So I joined CIP and started working with the CEO at the time – it was just the two of us at the Taiwan office, and now we have 200 people working here. I’ve never regretted it.

What’s your approach to management? Is there a particular philosophy that you follow?

I very much look up to Eleanor Roosevelt. It takes a special type of woman to have such an influence on policy, government, and society during a time when women didn’t have a strong standing. I was deeply moved by one of her quotes – “Good leaders inspire people to have confidence in their leader. Great leaders inspire people to have confidence in themselves.”

That is something that I hold close to my heart, and it also relates to the Chinese philosopher Laozi, who advocated humility in leadership and said a great leader leads without others realizing it. Our work is not about me as a manager – it’s about the employees. They should feel like their best selves at work. It’s a very abstract motto that I try to make tangible through my actions.

For example, unless someone comes to me with task-oriented questions and asks for advice, I don’t want to tell them exactly what to do. When employees come to me for growth or to use me as a sparring partner, I remind myself not to give advice as a senior. Instead, I listen, ask them questions, and see what resources I can contribute. Can I contribute with more budget to optimize support? Or should I rearrange how I allocate my time? At times, it’s tough. It’s a lifelong pursuit.

What did you learn from your college major in psychology that you still use at work today?

I think my background in psychology helps me communicate, listen, and be observant of situations. I constantly go back to my old textbooks – when you read something at 18 and then again at 40, you view things differently.

There’s a lot from attachment theory that can be applied to the workplace. Attachment theory is about how you attach to your family and primary caregivers, and how that influences your personality. For organizations, applying this theory is about creating a positive attachment environment so your colleagues or employees feel safe to explore, be themselves, fight for a goal, and deliver their tasks knowing that the company supports them.

How do you work to retain talent and attract the best people?

It’s an enormous challenge. When people leave for better remuneration, that’s our mistake to fix. But some leave because they feel there’s not enough mentorship. For colleagues who need extra time to grow, the pressure to deliver right now could be a bit overwhelming, so that’s something we’re working on. How do we make sure our people feel that they are taken care of and can grow?

We hired an external consultant to anonymously collect queries, concerns, compliments, and complaints from colleagues. Then, we analyzed the feedback and grouped it into things we could easily fix and things we needed to work on long-term. We are running a very in-depth salary benchmark to see which positions we’re compensating for correctly and which ones we need to improve the salary for. That’s the low-hanging fruit.

The long-term work relates to culture – how do we build a more robust culture? What career development opportunities do we offer? We are only 10 years old and already operating in 40 different markets. When you’re a start-up, things move fast, but once you reach a certain size, it’s vital to look into proper structure and career ladders.

What’s your approach to managing conflict at work? Is there a certain attitude that can help turn conflicts into opportunities?

It depends who the conflict involves. For example, within the management team, we are quite similar and understand each other enough to talk it out. Constructive conflict is a great driving force for improving the organization and relationships within the company. It’s not about who’s right and wrong – it’s about knowing that we all want the best possible solution for the company or project.

Usually, the first step is to listen and to understand why the conflict occurred – is there a misunderstanding? By asking more questions, we can usually work things out. Most of the time, conflicts arise because of simple misunderstandings. 

What impact do you believe offshore wind can make on Taiwan?

Offshore wind could be used as a catalyst for significant change in Taiwanese society and government. How do we transform the government into a genuinely efficient democratic body with a solid understanding of its operations? Renewable energy and the foreign investment that comes with it could really shake up the system. Legislators will have to make Taiwan a suitable environment for foreign investment when, for example, foreign governments’ export credit agencies are guaranteeing offshore wind projects.

We have seven European governments and the Korean government backing our projects in the Taiwan Strait. That means these foreign governments are paying attention to how Taiwan handles its contracts with developers. This could be a good way to push Taiwan to be more global, robust, transparent, and efficient.

This is also an excellent opportunity to open new job opportunities. For example, in Scandinavia, lots of car mechanics switched careers to work in offshore wind. Because of their technical skills, they can quickly transfer industries. We should also see that happening in Taiwan.

What advice would you like to give people who are still unsure about their career path?

Listen to yourself, make decisions that are true to who you are, and stick with your decisions. Throughout life, we have an innate voice telling us whether something is what we really want or not. Pursue what you want and not what you should want, and once you make a decision, take responsibility for whatever happens next. If it doesn’t work out, at least you were true to yourself. But to be true to oneself requires a lot of searching and learning. It’s a task for a lifetime.

What do you like to do in your spare time to recharge?

 I exercise and care for my plants. Because I have to deal with so many stakeholders every day, I think it’s important for me to spend time with non-people – my plants. I learn a lot from them. Some plants take three or four months to grow just one leaf, and then they grow really big in just a short time. That’s how personal growth works, too – building the foundation takes the longest.

The growth process inspires me – sometimes, one of my plants will get burnt in the sun and have some imperfections, but it still continues to grow, and its wounds won’t jeopardize it from becoming majestic. The sun didn’t kill the plant – it didn’t make it stronger, but it didn’t stop it from growing either. That’s life – we’re all moving forward with our scars, tribulations, and difficulties, but as long as we keep going, we’ll be alright.