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Campus Now

New Year Issue (Jan.)

Message to the second century

Wanting to do a job that sets the first successful example without being tied up by fixed ideas

Reiko Akiike
Partnership and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group

Reiko Akiike has a history of working for various organizations such as Japanese manufacturers, foreign consultants and the Industrial Revitalization Organization. At the root of that was, from a management perspective, the thought of wanting to aid manufacturing and commercial businesses. We asked her about her recollections of her student days issues about Japanese organization management.

Finding my own way of working from discussions with teachers and friends.

――Please tell us your memories of your student days.

I was in the Applied Physics Department of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, but in my second and third years I had to hand in reports every week and worried myself about completing them on time to make the early morning deadlines. Even if you were one minute late the reception window would close and you couldn't hand in the report, and if you didn't hand in a certain number of reports you lost credits, so we cooperated as a class and, I believe, solidarity levels lifted.

I majored in applied microbiology. It was a time when biotechnology was gaining attention, even in the public eye, and was rated as a new technology to solve social problems such as energy conservation, food problems and pollution issues. I also studied with high ideals of "being of use to society with biotechnology!", but was surprised at the high number of superior students around me.

My days spent in the laboratory were very fulfilling. The laboratory professor is a respected teacher who I feel indebted to for life. There was an enjoyable atmosphere for discussion, and even after graduating, seniors would visit and tell us of their efforts on top of work as researchers and engineers, and the aspects of forced restrictions and the difficulty of making a profit. That gave me incentive, and I began thinking that I wanted to help from a management aspect, so companies could fully demonstrate their research and development results and technological strength.

The importance of having a central focus within yourself

――You have built up your career by working in several foreign companies. The number of students hoping to work in foreign companies is rising. What do you think the difference is compared to Japanese companies?

When you say foreign company, you can't put them all together, but if I was to say what the differences are, I would probably say that the job and personnel requisites that make up the conditions for promotion are clear, and the training system and process leading to promotion are clearly stated. Although there have been major changes compared to 20 years ago, there are both good and bad points compared to Japanese companies which don't express those as clearly as that. By making stipulations, there are merits in being able to easily see goals but, because everything cannot be foreseen and stipulated, contradictions result in the form of unstipulated points becoming difficult to sense. I think that neither one is better than the other because the methodologies differ. It would be good if they both took in each other's good points, but it won't work well if methodology is only brought into the differing areas as a prerequisite. It is necessary to adapt them to the whole set up. It is the same for national policy. There are many instances where foreign policies are brought as is to Japan, where prerequisites differ, and don't work well.

The students' parents' generation may think of foreign companies as being European and US businesses, but businesses from emerging nations will grow greatly in the future. Also, even if you enter a Japanese company, you shouldn't just look for job stability, there is also a way of working in which you can take up the challenge of changing the problems held in the old system. You should try and search for a way of work that suits you and not be tied down by the system and fixed ideas.

――What do you think is demanded of human resources in order to ride out the wave of globalization.

We are exposed to many senses of values, so I think it is necessary to have people who can think and act for themselves. When you comparatively have a lot of time, like when you are a student, I think, through travel and reading books, you should build ideas that became central to you by coming into contact with other people's thoughts and thinking how you would deal with those situations. Even if you can't establish ideas during your student days, it will definitely come in useful in the future.

Not being over-afraid of failure will lead to great reform

――From your experience at the Industrial Revitalization Corporation, what do you think are the issues facing Japanese organizational management?

I think that order and spirit of mutual concessions by the Japanese people after the Great East Japan Earthquake that was praised throughout the world is Japan's strength. On the other hand, this leads to difficulties in having leaders come forth. Japanese organizations are strong in the field, and actually freer than those in Europe and the US. There are many occasions when acting on on-site decisions work well. However, there is no on-site decision making beyond the realms of one's own discretion, bringing leadership qualities into question.

In order to achieve major reforms, it is necessary not to be too afraid of making mistakes. By continuing in the same manner as the past, the risk of falling into diminishing equilibrium becomes greater than before. Not only leaders, but the company must aim to evolve that system, and the workers must also be up to the challenge. In order for that to happen, it is effective to create an atmosphere where radical ideas can be aired in situations such as when a leader gives a task that cannot be carried out as an extension of the current situation for example.

Getting the ability to find answers to questions by yourself

――Please tell us your expectations of Waseda University,

For students, education is a lifelong asset. At the same time as being an educational institution, a university is a place to meet teachers and peers. There are many great professors at university. I want students to find a professor where they can think that meeting such a professor changed their lives. Also, I hope that the university teaches how to think about matters. I think that humans can only grow by finding answers to questions by themselves. When one goes into the working world, you must find the answer to questions with no answer in your own way. I want the university to be a place that raises students with a strong ability to think that can withstand those situations.

――What do you want to involve yourself in from here on?

I want to create a successful example regardless of the field. When I was working in the Industrial Revitalization Organization the market shrank and I created the first successful example of reconstruction in the struggling bus industry. After that, I have been involved in the reconstruction of many companies in the same industry using the same methods. If you can set a precedent, organizations and human resources will continue to come out afterwards. I feel satisfaction with work that sets those kinds of precedents

Reiko Akiike
Partnership and Managing Director, Boston Consulting Group

Born in 1964. Entered Kirin Brewery after completing her master's degree at the Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Waseda University. Completed her course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Management in 1996. Entered the Industrial Revitalization Organization in 2003 after spending time at McKinsey and Company. Held concurrent posts as Kyushu Sanko Group director, Kanto Jidosha director, and Kanebo Cosmetics unaffiliated director. Entered Boston Consulting Group in November 2006. Has served on government affiliated councils such as the Financial System Council.