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Business

Japanese trading houses juice up power plant operations

Marubeni and Sumitomo among those hiring to hunt for Asian business

Marubeni Power Systems is hiring to beef up its power plant construction business, which is active in Thailand and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

TOKYO -- Japan's big trading houses are adding more staff to their power plant construction operations to meet growing demand in Asia and Africa and to gain an edge over their Chinese and South Korean rivals.

Marubeni plans to increase staffing in Bangkok from 40 or so to around 60 by the end of March 2018. The 50% increase in personnel will comprise mainly foreign electrical and mechanical engineers with work experience at construction companies, makers of electrical generators and related companies.

Marubeni Power Systems, based in Tokyo and wholly owned by the trading house, designs and builds power plants for utilities companies. It also handles the bidding and contract procedures when competing to supply them with new plants.

Thailand is a particularly attractive market. Costs are lower in the Southeast Asian country than in Japan. In addition, "it is geographically easier for us to promptly handle a project in Asia," said Ken Muroie, Marubeni Power Systems' president.

The company's local operation in Bangkok will work with some 120 employees at its Tokyo headquarters to drum up business in Southeast Asia. At present the company is working on seven projects, both new construction and repair work, in four countries in the region: Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh. It plans to focus on winning new orders, chiefly from fast-growing economies.

Sumitomo Corp., another trading house, has more than 100 employees working on plant construction at its power generation division, including expatriates and those in clerical positions, up about 30% from five years ago.

There is a lot of paperwork involved in bidding for power plant projects. Legal documentation must often be translated into English and French. "Sometimes we have to work overtime for many days in a row before bidding," said a Sumitomo official in charge of the power plant business. The company is stepping up hiring to cope with the growing appetite for electricity in developing countries.

Sumitomo has received orders for thermal power plants in Tunisia, Tanzania, Mozambique and other countries between 2015 and 2017. According to a manager in charge of oversea power plant business, the company is focusing on countries where there are relatively few competitors. Among its rivals are Chinese makers such as Shanghai Electric Group and Dongfang Electric, and Hyundai Engineering of South Korea.

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