Honoring Hispanic Heritage Month: interview with Juan Ibanez
In the United States, September 15 to October 15 is designated as Hispanic Heritage month, when we honor the contributions to renewable energy and specifically energy storage by our employees with Hispanic heritage roots. We start off the month with an interview with Juan Ibanez, Director of Quality Assurance at IHI Terrasun.
Tell us about your heritage? Where does your history come from?
My parents were born and raised in Bolivia, South America. My father’s side was originally from Spain and my mother’s side is a mix between Spaniards and native Bolivians.
I was born in Bolivia and lived there for about 15 years until I went to US for college.
My wife is from Colombia, so we share a great deal of cultural similarity. We’re raising our kids with the same values and history. We always remind them to be proud of our culture and speaking Spanish. As a result, our kids are fluent in Spanish and English.
How did you get into engineering and Quality Assurance (QA)?
When I was in high school, I hated studying math, but enjoyed doing it. I know it sounds contradictory, but I enjoyed the concepts, and could easily grasp them.
In high school, I decided that I wanted to attend engineering school. Northern Illinois University has a multidisciplinary engineering program, so I chose Industrial Engineering because I’m a hands-on person, not a design person. I like to be in the middle of things: on the manufacturing floor, doing QA, in factories, problem solving, etc.
Out of college, I joined General Electric (GE) and went into the appliances business. At GE, I was in a rotational program, where every 6 months I joined a new team, such as operations, QA, sourcing, manufacturing, etc. I got to see different functions and I really liked quality assurance. Going to the factory allowed me to understand the problem and pull in the right people to solve it. Ever since then, I’ve been doing QA. It’s been over 20 years now.
How did you get into renewables?
I first started with oil and gas at GE Energy but realized that this business was going to die out and renewables would take over. As GE acquired renewable energy companies, I kept with QA roles, which solidified my skills in renewables.
What’s been the most interesting thing to work on at IHI Terrasun?
The Gemini Solar + Storage project. No question. Going from small Distributed Generation(DG) projects to such a large one has been monumental. Some things can scale up. For other things, we must reinvent ourselves and how we do our work.
DGs were small: 2-3 inverters here and there. At Gemini, there is so much equipment. We had to change our mentality about equipment delivery and testing. I had to learn micromanagement from the QA side. Now we have a good process for QA of large volume equipment delivery.
Gemini is an exciting, critical project, not just for us. It’s a showcase project for renewable energy in North America, as well. I love that I work on a project that will make such a large shift in clean energy.
How does your background influence your work at IHI Terrasun?
There is one thing that you must know as a Hispanic coming to this country: you come here to work. You don’t come here to sit and rest. When my mom came here, she worked and made huge sacrifices for us. She put us through school and college so we could succeed.
This country provides possibilities and opportunities.
As I see it: if I work hard, I will be recognized for it. That’s what I really like about Terrasun: we work hard, but we make it a point to recognize each other’s contributions.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Back at GE, we used to have affinity forums for Hispanics, African American, women, LGBTQ, etc. It’s hard to identify Hispanics in a company without groups like those. I’d like to form a similar group at IHI Terrasun. I would like to see how we can help each other, learn, and engage. Could that help us recruit more minorities? I think so. Diverse teams bring all sorts of possibilities, including expansion into new markets. So, that will be my next endeavor: create a group for Hispanics at IHI Terrasun.