By Johnny Wood
When it comes to offering lessons on navigating a fulfilling career in engineering, Mario Gaia has no shortage of rich material to draw on. He’s worked for more than a half century in energy, as an engineer, innovator, entrepreneur and businessman.
Gaia, the founder and honorary chairman of MHI Group company Turboden, started out on the research team of Professor Gianfranco Angelino at Politecnico di Milano, investigating Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC) thermodynamics and design. ORC systems generate electric and thermal power from multiple sources, including renewables, traditional fuels and waste heat from industrial processes, waste incinerators, engines or gas turbines, making them an important and versatile technology in decarbonization.
Enthusiastic about the impact the technology could have, Gaia went on to found Turboden in 1980, which became part of MHI Group in 2013. As his company turns 40 this year, Gaia reflects here on success, failure and moments of inspiration – each of which he considers vital to continual growth and creativity.
In addressing engineers who are just starting out, what would you say are the most important skills and qualities for having a successful career? How about for building a successful engineering company?
Companies grow through fostering creativity and innovation, attributes which help good engineers succeed and are at the heart of Turboden’s continued development. In the field of engineering, technical excellence provides the bedrock which allows creative, enterprising people to flourish.
Whether a new recruit or an old hand, engineers need to feel part of a team where all colleagues, junior and senior, are valued and share common goals. This sounds simple, but it involves everybody working to build a company culture that creates opportunities to suggest solutions, be creative and get involved.
Which do you consider the better teacher, success or failure?
It’s easier to learn from success than failure. The latter is more painful, but both are valid. Success is encouraging. It stimulates analysis and knowledge, which often supports new thinking and novel ways of doing things.
“[Failure] requires you to take full responsibility for mistakes and be honest with yourself about them, and that’s not easy.”
On the other hand, failure generates fear and makes you question the validity of what you are doing. It requires you to take full responsibility for mistakes and be honest with yourself about them, and that’s not easy. When someone fails, it can be both a tough lesson and a good teacher, provided you are prepared to learn from the experience.
What prompted you to start a company based on a new way of generating energy?
Throughout my career I have followed my instincts and let curiosity be the mother of invention.
As a young student, I wondered what the effect would be of using a different fluid in steam engines. Many years later, after joining