(Picture above: On graduation day, Yuichi-san (left) and fellow student.)
Full-time student, full-time work
In my last job, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of very interesting and inspiring people – all leaders in their own right.
If you are not new to our career guide, you would know that leaders are defined in different ways.
Today, I would like to consider the leaders who have decided to really take charge of their destinies, by having a clear vision of where they want to be, charting the path and executing a strategy that included sacrifices.
The person I would like to introduce is a mild-mannered gentleman, learned and highly intelligent, purpose-driven and inspiring, Yuichi Saito, who readily agreed to share his journey with our readers.
So Yuichi-san, tell us about yourself.
I’ve been working in the medical device sector of Johnson & Johnson for 15 years. I’m based in my home country, Japan.
Although I am Japanese, I grew up in Paris, France when I was in elementary school, so I have learnt diverse cultures from young.
Recently I completed an international MBA (Master of Business Administration) course at the University of Tsukuba, Tokyo and aspire to contribute to the medical device industry in a senior management role in the future.
What was your career path?
I was a sales representative in Japan for eight years, following which I was based in our headquarters in the United States (US) on assignment as a sales training manager for new hires.
After one year, I returned to Japan as a product marketing manager and then as Asia-Pacific regional marketing manager.
Currently, I am the strategy and product pipeline management manager in Japan.
You certainly have covered much ground. Did you find the changes very challenging?
I would like to share my challenge when moving from my role in Japan to the Asia-Pacific regional role. My first challenge was English and communicating with native English speakers. As many people know about Japan, almost 100% of communication is in Japanese.
People living in most Asian countries (like Malaysia) can speak several languages, thus whilst most of my counterparts could understand my challenging situation, my Australian counterparts could not understand it.
Fortunately, our company had a big new product launch initiative in Australia six months after my assignment started, so I had the opportunity to build strong relationships with them.
What do you find exciting about your role in marketing with this international healthcare company?
Healthcare business is not simple because interactions are face-to-face, live human communication. Most businesses have been simplified by electronic communication, but healthcare deals with patients who receive care from medical doctors.
Hence, people in the industry, like myself, must have the human element, and not purely be a businessman.
I love this aspect of humanity in our business and am really excited to create win-win-win situations for the patients-doctors-industry.
Why did you decide to pursue the MBA programme?
Honestly, the MBA degree has not been recognised by the Japanese society because most Japanese companies hire new college graduates, and employees continue to work with their first company till they are 60 years old (same kind of trend in multinational companies in Japan as well). This means a company is a part of the employees’ lives – like a family.
By the same token, for a long time I believed that the MBA degree was not necessary for me. But when I transferred to the Asia-Pacific regional marketing role, I was the only employee who didn’t have an MBA and my daily work required strategic thinking which used specific thinking tools.
That situation was my motivation for pursuing the MBA course. I found a perfect business school which is located in the city centre of Tokyo.
Tsukuba MBA in International Business (MBA-IB) is 100% English and classes are offered by multinational professors. Also, 30% of the students come from other countries, so I could study in a similar environment as those in US business schools.
Another good thing was that the course offered classes on weekday nights and full day Saturdays, thus there was no need to quit my job. Also, University of Tsukuba is a national university so its tuition is really inexpensive compared with other schools.
How did you cope with the heavy demands of studying and working full-time?
My supervisor, who is based in Mumbai, understood my motivation to study in a business school, so he allowed me to manage my overseas travelling schedule.
My school offered core classes on Saturday and elective classes on weekdays so I could control it easily. Still, there were times I had to miss classes.
Actually, my first year was very tough. My average sleeping time was three hours a day (sleeping at 1am and waking up at 4am) and at times I had to study overnight before submitting reports.
Especially since I am a non-native English speaker, it took much time to read case studies (usually Harvard Business School cases) and writing reports.
Now that you have graduated, are you looking forward to having more time with your family?
Sure. Now I’m happy to spend weekends with no specific tasks with my family!
Your message to the young people and professionals of Malaysia.
Tsukuba MBA-IB is a really diverse international business school. If you are interested in studying in Japan, I believe it is the best school. One of our professors is Malaysian and the school has a credit exchange programme with a business school in Malaysia. Do consider it, and “‘look east” again!
Effective leaders recognise that lifelong learning is a must, and though it can happen everyday in an informal way, I take my hat off to those who commit to studying while working full-time. Congratulations Yuichi-san!
Karen is a student of the university of life who maintains a childhood curiousity and gets over-excited about programmes like ‘how stuff is made’. To connect with her, send in an email to email@example.com
First published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 25 October 2014