16 Aug 2020

What Finance and Science Have In Common: Innovation Comes from Open Minds

OIST is proud to welcome Mr. Jesper Koll as a member of its Board of Governors. The Board consists of world-renowned scientists and distinguished leaders of universities and other organizations. The Board provides strategic oversight and ensures the operations of OIST are governed to the highest international standards.

Born in Germany, Jesper Koll became fascinated with mathematics at an early age. When he was 16, he moved to the United States and later completed his master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University. In 1985, he chose to leave the United States for Japan, determined to pursue his passion for finance and economics, just as the country started its “Big Bang” Financial System Reform and Internationalization.

Upon arriving in Japan, Mr. Koll worked as a research fellow at the University of Tokyo and the University of Kyoto before building his career in finance. He worked as a Managing Director and Chief Economist for major US investment banks, JP Morgan Japan Securities and Merrill Lynch Japan Securities, and he now serves as Senior Adviser to US-based asset manager WisdomTree Investments and Japan-based Monex Group. He has been a member of several Government Advisory Committees, most recently the Council to Revitalize and Globalize the Tokyo Financial Center.

With his background in research, innovation, and commercialization, Jesper Koll hopes to energize the innovation mission at OIST. “It is important to develop your research, but what is also important is to consider how the research can be connected to innovation,” said Mr. Koll. “Think about how your ideas and findings can contribute to society, not just as a wonderful idea but also as a real world enterprise. A breakthrough by OIST in Sustainable Innovation would usher in a bright future for Okinawa and Japan.”

From his experience in finance, Mr. Koll notes that a culture of open exchange seems to be a characteristic found in successful organizations. “Although the expertise of the individual is essential to any organization, small improvements in a closed ecosystem do not lead to new breakthroughs or genuine innovation. For that you need an open culture with interactive collaborations that break down walls and silos within the organization. Naturally you’ll then develop a healthy culture of risk-taking where nobody is afraid to capitalize on ideas with a social-impact or private enterprise.”

“Having an open mind is the key to success,” Mr. Koll went on to explain, “This is true both in finance and the sciences. In the financial world, where things change rapidly, today’s analysis can quickly transform into something totally different tomorrow. And there are always multiple factors at play. Being open-minded enables you to adapt by constantly absorbing new information. Unless you are open-minded and relentlessly curious, you cannot progress. There is always a need for greater enlightenment. That is what the top achievements in science and finance have in common.”

When asked about what it takes for OIST to succeed, Mr. Koll emphasized, “OIST’s vision must be to go beyond Japan. We must aspire to become a top-level competitive player on a global level.” He went on to share a personal experience. “I was the national champion of West Germany (at the time) in swimming, butterfly and breast stroke, from age 12 to 15. But when I went on to bigger competitions, with swimmers from all over Europe, I never even made it to the podium. OIST is a unique organization in Japan. But it must have the ambition to go far beyond Japan and become a top player on the global impact and scale. OIST can be the emblem of Japan’s global scientific and innovation leadership.”

To the researchers at OIST, Mr. Koll advises that they continue relentlessly to challenge what they find, “and in so doing, challenge the world. More than ever, the world needs the energy, honesty and pragmatism of real science. OIST is young, is ambitious, and not afraid to lead”.

By Kyoji Nakao


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