Martial arts has played a key role in shaping the career of Daein Cha, the managing director of Australian start-up Transborders Energy.
Born and raised in Kobe in Japan, Cha commenced his career in the oil and gas industry as a domestic gas salesperson for Tokyo Gas.
It was his love of judo that drew him into the industry.
“I was going through their corporate brochure, and in the sports facility they had, it said judo. And it was important for me because I really love judo, the martial art, and the fact the company had a corporate judo team made me feel that they would appreciate some of the values that I have for life outside from work,” he says.
Cha also saw it as an opportunity to establish himself in corporate Japan, overcoming his minority Korean background in an overwhelmingly homogeneous culture.
“I wanted to make a proper footprint and create myself as a reputable person in society, and for me to do that in Japan I wanted to learn the ways of corporate Japan. And Tokyo Gas was a really good place to ground myself to learn the Japanese way,” he explains.
Tokyo Gas also presented Cha with opportunities to further his career, with the company sponsoring his studies in the US.
Upon obtaining his Master of Business Administration, he went to work in the company’s liquefied natural gas procurement and trading department before moving over to LNG upstream business development.
This led him to Australia in 2010, managing Tokyo Gas’ investment in the Chevron-operated Gorgon LNG project, before working directly for Chevron.
While he was busy during the day providing project management for the planned Gorgon expansion, Cha’s entrepreneurial drive saw him working on establishing his own business in the evenings.
I challenge everybody in the industry to think about how we can provide resilient, affordable energy because there will always be a need for that.
He focused on LNG, given his experience from both an LNG offtake and project development perspective, and settled on a concept to develop stranded gas resources and ship the gas to Japan, South Korea and other traditional Asian markets.
The work on this new venture was taking place just as the 2014 oil price collapse hit, and Cha saw opportunity in the market turmoil.
“If I were to try and walk into an industry of giants, I have to do it when the market is suppressed," he says.
"So that’s why that downturn at the end of 2014, when the oil price plummeted, was my perfect timing for seeing whether I can make something out of myself entrepreneurially.”
This saw the creation of Transborders Energy, a company looking to deploy low-cost, floating LNG technology to accelerate the monetisation of discovered but stranded gas resources.
Transborders’ FLNG solution is a pre-engineered, 1.5 million tonnes per annum FLNG facility with a package of streamlined commercial arrangements and a regulatory approval execution plan for gas resource owners.
The company has completed the pre-front-end engineering and design work on its concept, both technically and commercially, and is now looking to deploy it — just as the industry is in another slump.
As in 2014, Cha sees opportunity in the current market turmoil.
“What I promote is, there’s always going to be a need for affordable energy,” he says.
“So whoever can crack that code into being able to provide affordable, resilient energy is going to win out, and it’s a challenge I put upon myself.
"I challenge everybody in the industry to think about how we can provide resilient, affordable energy because there will always be a need for that.”
Cha credits his outlook to his personal and professional mentor, Jack Sato, a man well known among the Australian business community from his experience with multinational giants Mitsui and RIo Tinto. “He drills down on me to ensure that I focus on things that I can control, rather than what I can’t, and to always think in that opportunistic but pragmatic perspective — just try to make the most of what you have,” Cha says.
“Focus on making things resilient," he adds. "If you are entrepreneurial, you have to work with what you have, who you know and kind of build from the bottom up, rather than the top down. And by coming up with a product that is price-resilient when compared to our peers, and making sure you deliver against that breakeven LNG price and try to make everything work from there.”
Martial arts again played a key role in Cha’s career when, meeting at a Christmas barbecue, he learned Sato was also a keen martial artist.
The pair then connected professionally, having followed a similar path from Japan to Australia, and Sato now serves as principal advisor to Transborders.
Martial arts has played a key role in Cha’s journey, from his beginnings at Tokyo Gas, to the formation of Transborders, and it is still an important part of his life.
He is an active member of the University of Western Australia Judo Club, while he also makes the time to visit other academies on his travels.
“Judo has just been my passion and it’s also my way of giving back to the community too,” he explains.
“I’m a third degree black belt in terms of my rank and so when I train here there’s contribution from a teaching perspective that I can give back on.”