As president and CEO of Mitsubishi Power Americas, Paul Browning oversaw an ambitious five-year journey towards a decarbonized power grid, something the Japan-based energy giant is now emulating throughout the world.
PAUL BROWNING WAS appointed president and CEO of Mitsubishi Power Americas five years ago with a very clear goal in mind: help the company and its customers transition to a decarbonized power grid. So successful was the five-year strategy he and his team devised and executed that on April 1 last year he was asked to lead similar efforts for Mitsubishi Power across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
“The power generation industry is going through a real transformation right now around the ideas of climate change and decarbonization,” Browning told CEO Magazine in an exclusive interview. “When I came into the job, one of the first things we did was to put together a five-year plan to transition our company from being one that was specialized in converting fossil fuels into electric power to one that was going to help our customers make the transition into a decarbonized power grid.
“My focus was on the Americas, and as a result of the success we had, the company has asked me to work with our team in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East as Chief Regional Officer. We’ve established ourselves as a leader in providing decarbonization solutions and we now have customers that want to develop a much more strategic relationship with us where we help them with their overall goal to get to net zero carbon emissions.”
Mitsubishi Power Americas is a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Power, itself a business of the iconic Mitsubishi Group. Paul Browning was appointed president and CEO on April 1, 2016, and was appointed Chief Regional Officer of the Americas, Europe, Africa and Middle East on April 1, 2020. As CEO of the Americas, he leads two global businesses that are headquartered in the United States, and three regional businesses in North and South America. As Chief Regional Officer, he works with Chief Executives and their management teams to coordinate strategic planning, brand management and other long-term planning in the region and globally.
CHANGE IN POWER
Upon taking on his current post at Mitsubishi Power Americas, Browning and his team began formulating a five-year strategy to work towards decarbonizing the power grid through the use of gas turbines and battery and hydrogen energy storage solutions. The plan was promoted under the message Change in Power and was something Browning intended to galvanize not only Mitsubishi Power Americas, but also its competitors.
“Beyond our employees and customers, it was really a message for our industry as a whole,” Browning said. “Our customers are changing rapidly and that means we in the power generation industry also have to change. At Mitsubishi Power, we want to be leaders in decarbonizing power generation and turn the climate change situation from a threat into an opportunity.”
Five years later, and the results have been extremely impressive. For example, in 2016, Mitsubishi Power was third in market share for gas turbines in the Americas and had no market share in the energy storage segment. That same year, however, Mitsubishi Power Americas launched a renewable energy project development company called Oriden which now has over 2 GW of projects in development. They also launched a battery energy storage business which in 2020 had $400 million in orders and which Browning believes could reach $800 million in orders this year. Likewise, the company invested in a green hydrogen business, which has also proven incredibly successful.
“Renewable energy power generation will continue to grow, and energy storage is really what our industry needs to figure out over the next decade,” Browning highlighted. “Batteries are the right solution if you want to store power for four hours or so, but if you want to store power for days, weeks, months, or seasons, hydrogen’s a much better solution. As a result, we’ve built two new energy storage businesses that are both on their way to becoming billion-dollar segments in the Americas, and now we’re looking to globalize them.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLABORATION
Browning used the example of Mitsubishi Power’s close and productive relationship with Entergy, a large utility in the Gulf Coast region of the U.S., to illustrate the importance of collaboration in this path towards a decarbonized future. Last year, Entergy signed a ten-year joint development agreement with Mitsubishi Power at the same time as it announced a target to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“What really made us proud is that Entergy’s messaging was that they hadn’t just set a target, they had partnered with Mitsubishi to have a real plan get there,” Browning explained. “Why did they choose us? Because we can provide the gas turbine tech they need, the energy storage tech they need, and we also have a renewable energy development company that can help on that side of things as well.”
“Something that’s emerging strongly right now within Mitsubishi Power is that we want to be strategic partners for our customers, not just a supplier of equipment,” he emphasized. “It’s all about helping the customer meet their goals and us working backwards from there.”
STRIVING FOR EXCELLENCE
Prior to joining Mitsubishi, Browning was president and CEO of the Thermal Products Division of GE Power & Water in Schenectady, New York, and later president and CEO of Irving Oil Company Limited, which owns and operates Canada’s largest oil refinery and crude oil import terminal. He says that during those years he always wondered why Mitsubishi didn’t have a higher market share, and upon joining the company went to work to make it happen.
“One of the things I realized when I came here is that we had great products but we didn’t necessarily have the best commercial capabilities everywhere in the world,” he explained. “Put it this way: it takes about a half billion dollars to develop a new gas turbine product line. On the other hand, it takes a few million dollars to develop the best commercial team in a region of the world.
“That’s one of the major things we’ve been doing in the Americas and are now doing elsewhere, improving our marketing and commercial capabilities and our sales team,” Browning elaborated. “Our products are recognized throughout the industry as being the most reliable, but it’s a combination of having state-of-the-art technology and introducing it in a very low risk way for customers.”
Browning’s tenure as president and CEO of Mitsubishi Power Americas has been so successful that many of the aforementioned changes he has implemented in the Americas are now being regionalized by his company throughout the globe, notably in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, a role he himself is now playing a key part in as Chief Regional Officer for those territories.
“We’ve been working really hard on regionalizing our capabilities, going from being a Japan-centric company to a company that has capabilities in all its regions,” he outlined. “All our success metrics are based on those of our customers. We’re now seeing a substantial increase in our market share in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”
By way of example, Browning described Mitsubishi’s partnership with Hydrogen pro, an emerging European player in the still growing electrolysis industry. “It’s a small industry, and Hydrogen pro is a relatively small company in Europe that does not have the global manufacturing or sales capability we can offer,” he said. “By partnering with them we’ve been able to help them develop a global manufacturing strategy, leverage our global sales and marketing capabilities to help them introduce their products around the world, and work with them on their global supply chain capabilities, combining them with our own.”
The fruits borne by such a partnership are clear to Browning and part of Mitsubishi Power’s broader strategy of becoming strategic allies to its partners as opposed to merely suppliers of equipment. “We’ll both grow faster and achieve more through that combination of a smaller entrepreneurial company with a company that’s been manufacturing around the world for over a hundred years,” he said.
Browning’s vision for Mitsubishi Power moving forward is clear: the idea that in the years and decades to come, decarbonization and energy storage are going to be key, not just in the power industry, but in all sectors, and that Mitsubishi Power can play a crucial role in bringing about that transformation.
“We’re really focused on the idea that there’s a short duration need for energy storage and a long duration need,” he insisted. “Similarly, in industrial applications there are going to be some areas where electrification with batteries is the right solution but there are going to be other hard-to-electrify industries, like steelmaking, where hydrogen is going to play a very important role. Our decarbonization strategy is to cover all durations of energy production and storage.”
By Paul Imison