I Love the Go to Gemba

19 May 2022

The energy company RWE is aiming for rapid growth in the renewables market with its subsidiary RWE Renewables.

Katja Wünschel is to pull the strings as CEO Onshore Wind and Solar Europe & Australia and she spoke with Thorsten Marquardt, Associate Partner at Friisberg, Germany, about the importance of communication in team leadership and about her personal motivation: "We want to realise every renewable energy project in Germany that is possible."

Friisberg: Ms Wünschel, you are also called the sun catcher. Do you like the title?

Wünschel: It puts the focus on the sun, and I think that's good. Photovoltaics play a major role in making the energy transition a success. Sun is just as important as wind and is one of our biggest growth areas. So the title reflects my focus quite well. However, the energy transformation will only work if we are successful as a team - within the company, in business, politics and society. Everyone has to work together to tackle the huge task that lies ahead of us. RWE is ready to make its contribution. We want to realise every renewable energy project in Germany that is possible.

Friisberg: What is innovative about RWE's wind & solar business model?

Wünschel: First of all, we cover everything we need for the implementation of onshore and offshore, solar and battery storage. What is innovative is that we are always looking at new technologies. At the moment, for example, we are looking at floating PV - floating solar systems. We have just connected our first pilot project in the Netherlands. Or Agri-PV - a concept for the dual use of agricultural land. There are initial development fields in Germany, France and Italy. Thanks to our engineering and technology expertise, which we have built up over decades, we can test new technologies ourselves. I find Agri-PV very exciting, but we are still in an early phase. We are testing three different application areas in three countries and can check them against each other thoroughly. Where does what work best and what do we learn from it? This way we can derive the right starting point if we want to take it to a larger scale. Besides technological development, we also look at incremental development. What's new in leaves or foundations. Because of course that is also part of it.

Friisberg: You have been in the wind and solar business for almost 15 years. What is your personal recipe for success?

Wünschel: I am extremely passionate or energetic. In addition, I like to work with a team. That's the only way we can be successful. I love the "go to gemba" - being on the construction site. I combine this reality check outside with the business and its demands inside. Working in the renewable sector is just crazy fun. You know very quickly where you stand with me.

Friisberg: What hurdles have you had to overcome as an executive and what advice would you give to others?

Wünschel: I would talk less about hurdles and more about what has worked and what has not. It is important to always have clear goals - not a one-way street, but a kind of option space. You also have to communicate this. No one can read minds. Only if you communicate goals and plans, others can work with them. And of course a high level of commitment: you should go the extra mile. One thing I also always tell my mentees, and which I also experienced myself once: If you have a supervisor who doesn't share your development perspective and it's not foreseeable that he will share it, then you should leave. I experienced this once at the beginning of my professional development. It is often better to take the initiative yourself.

Friisberg: Would you describe yourself as successful?

Wünschel: It is important to me that the job is fun and that I can create something. That comes together perfectly now. I have fun and can design and implement a lot. That is a luxury in this job, that I can create added value. We are actively contributing to the energy transition in Germany. By 2030, we will invest up to 15 billion euros in our green core business in this country alone.

Friisberg: Did you ever have a low point where you wanted to give up or quit everything?

Wünschel: I'm not the type to quit - I'm more the type to close a chapter and open a new one. Rather, the more difficult and tricky it gets, the more incentive I have to solve and tackle the issue.

Friisberg: How do you deal with failures?

Wünschel: My family and my team give me energy. When I see a problem, I exchange ideas with colleagues. And when I need to recharge my batteries, I spend time with my family and friends. I'm not the type to go for a walk alone in the forest.

Friisberg: RWE is on a long and exciting journey. It needs business focus. How do you take people with you to go full throttle together?

Wünschel: It's a mix of different methods and approaches. I have learned a lot from Operational Excellence. Others also call it the New Way of Working. Just like good communication, which for me is a key to success. With each further stage of development, I became more aware of how important good communication is. In the sense of listening, that "go to gemba", always asking for opinions and feedback and entering into a dialogue. I communicate our goals and expectations consistently. And I always have an open office door for questions from the team.

Friisberg: As a corporate unit, RWE Renewables is comparatively young. How do you want to prevent your team from falling into a sluggish corporate mode?

Wünschel: At RWE in 2021, we looked at the renewables business together across all technologies and country borders. The growth potential is huge, but we also have to take into account the differences in technologies and countries. This is how the division into different business areas came about: on the one hand, offshore with its huge and very complex projects, and on the other hand, onshore wind, solar and battery storage - in the USA, Chile and Mexico as well as in Europe and Australia. This division makes sense, because in Europe we have a lot of projects that, with an average of 20 to 25 MW, are much smaller than those in the USA. This requires different processes, ways of working and a different mindset. Thanks to our more than 20 years of experience in developing, building and operating renewable plants, we have an excellent position in Europe and Australia. We use this and set up our teams country-specifically and very locally. Our goal is clear: we are setting the pace for expansion.

Friisberg: What lessons learned do you draw from the past years?

Wünschel: You can't communicate too little. You have to focus strongly on the team and what is happening there. At the same time, you must not lose sight of your goals.

Friisberg: What message do you give to the energy world 4.0 out there - especially now against the background of the enormously streamlined goals?

Wünschel: I have always said in the past that we have to turbo-charge. It is a Herculean task that we have before us in Germany and in Europe. We can only achieve decarbonisation or the energy transition together. Economy, politics and society must pull together. With the Easter Package, the government is continuing what it announced in the coalition agreement. Even if there is still a need for adjustments, it is a step in the right direction. Now it is a matter of using the momentum to achieve the goal of an independent and green energy supply.

(Image: Andre Laaks/RWE AG)

Thorsten Marquardt, Associate Partner, Germany
As part of the series "Shapers of the Energy World 4.0" for energate.


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