Jeremy Tole is the Director of Research, Development, and Innovation at Azbil Corporation, a Tokyo-based company that sells a range of products related to building automation.

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While Azbil’s headquarters is located across the Pacific, Jeremy and his team operate out of the company’s Silicon Valley research center — the first of its kind outside of Japan. Jeremy is also the Vice President and Board Director of the Wireless Communications Alliance. We spoke with Jeremy as part of our IL Member Spotlight series, which profiles members of the Innovation Leader network. 

What’s a recent success or achievement that you want to spotlight?

We’ve seen some pretty clear progression [since 2014] from when we started the group to now. We went from a very small core of three people, and now we’re up to almost 10 people… We started to get that technology theme more defined. … Now we’re doing prototypes and actually making videos of these things…and things have exploded. We’ve got business unit attention… 

We are chartered with showcasing secure and reliable wireless communications/control and wireless power technologies relating to factory automation to provide sensors in applications such as conveyor belts and robots.  Our team has delivered several prototypes demonstrating these technologies to our parent company in Japan.  Usually these are in the form of informative videos to describe the innovations. The videos make it easier to share with a larger audience, as well as minimizing the logistics challenges of sending prototypes to another location.  We also host live demonstration through internal webinars.

Do you have any tips for other innovators that might be working in an outpost very far from headquarters or internationally? 

It’s become a lot tougher now with this pandemic, but going in visiting people and getting out and having some meals with them, and getting to know them more on a personal level. That always works better than formal presentations in just getting that trust built up. … Early on, I didn’t travel to Japan that much. And then after that, I was going three times a year, which I think is a reasonable amount, but probably not still not quite enough to get that level quickly. 

Learning the communication style of the people that are receiving the communication. … Now I know…what they’re looking for. What style is going to fly? What’s not going to fly? What you can say to these guys during meetings? What can you joke with them [about]?  

You need to have advocates there [at headquarters]… It’s challenging to have my boss [in Japan]. But it’s also super-helpful, because he’s on the same timezone [as other leaders in Japan], and he speaks Japanese. … That’s actually accelerated our innovation by having a representative in that region. 

Do you have any advice for consultants looking to work with corporate innovators? 

If we can’t use them [consultants or consulting firms] right now, don’t despair. Let’s stay in touch on a regular basis, and just see what happens. And eventually, if it’s meant to be, it will happen.