世界で活躍するグローバル・リーダーを bimonthly (隔月ごと）にYGCでインタビューしていきます。全て英語でインタビューが記載されていますので、是非最後まで頑張って読んでいきましょう！第14回は、セガゲームス株式会社の代表取締役社長COO、松原健二さんにお話を伺いました。
- Please describe your typical day as the President and COO of SEGA Games.
My days are typically spent in meetings. As an executive, many of the meetings relate to the company’s business status and determining future actions.
More specifically, my company produces video games, so we often first discuss a game’s concept and decide if we will go forward with the idea. Next, we discuss simple prototypes, which are the simple versions of those games. We evaluate them, and if we decide to proceed with the project, we move on to creating the game in full. After that, we design a marketing plan and promotional strategies, and make the final decision to ship the product.
It takes two to five years to create one game, and there are multiple titles at the same time, so decisions must be made almost every week. Moreover, many titles are created and sold in the U.S. and Europe, not only Japan. So, the meeting times always vary.
Other than that, I check the financial status of individual business, so I can understand the profits and plans within each area. If a product sells well, I try to improve on its good points, and if not, I think of countermeasures and ways to take action. We have review meetings regularly where divisions gather to discuss the plans they have for the next three years and the resources/investments needed. I review the plans with the company’s current condition in mind, and propose our next move. Then, we gather six months later to follow up on those plans.
Meetings examining various business updates and determining our next actions are held in different time spans: every week, month, three months, six months, and so on. My schedule is always packed with meetings.
- How often do you use English at work?
I have meetings in English almost every day. I have two meetings in English today. The first one is about potentially creating a game with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the theme. Then, I have another meeting with the staffs in Britain to discuss about the progress of a game’s development. I generally have one or two English meetings a day.
- After graduating from Tokyo University and entering the workforce, you went to study at MIT Sloan School of Management. What made you want to study there?
Since I was a child, I had an admiration for Western countries, especially the US. I had a vague feeling that I wanted to study, live, and work there. My journey to study in the U.S. started when I was a freshman in high school. My cousin, who had just graduated from an English literature department, announced that she passed the exam to study abroad. I asked where she was going and found out that she was planning to get an MBA degree in the U.S. MBAs were uncommon around 1975, and I was astonished to learn that there was a degree that specialized in business and management in the U.S.
My dream to go to America hadn’t changed after becoming a university student. I decided not to continue on the academic path towards a doctorate and graduated with a master’s degree to pursue business. After joining the company, I had the opportunity to work with Hewlett Packard, where I was able to build experience with presenting my results at conferences. Because of those experiences, I strongly felt that I wanted to earn an MBA degree in the U.S. I was about 30 years old at that time. From 16 to 30 years old, I only had a vague dream of go to America, but after turning 30, I finally resolved to prepare to study abroad in earnest. After preparing everything, I flew to the America at the age of 33. I was married then, so I left my wife behind.
- How did you prepare yourself to apply to MIT Sloan School of Management?
I began preparing to study abroad when I was 31. I started taking the TOEFL and GMAT in 1993, and enrolled in MBA preparation courses beginning in January 1994. I studied for almost a year, studying for the TOEFL and GMAT and practicing writing essays starting in the fall. Beginning in November of 1994 to January of the following year, I began sending in application forms. In retrospect, I was able to prepare in such a short amount of time thanks to the MBA prep school. It took a lot of work to balance work and studying: listening to English tapes on the train and studying for the TOEFL and GMAT after getting home from work at 10pm. By utilizing my classes at the preparatory school, I was able to analyze what kind of studying I had to do to improve my scores. This helped me achieve the scores required to pass by summer, which allowed me to switch my focus to preparing essays in the fall. I was told by my colleagues that it usually takes a year and a half to prepare for those exams, so I think I was very efficient with my time management skills. I am grateful for my experience studying at night while having a full time job.
- You obtained a Master of Business Administration at MIT Sloan School of Management. What is the most important thing you learned? Furthermore, please share with us your best and most difficult experiences during your time at MIT.
Since it was my first time living in the U.S, I had to learn about American culture, including the lifestyle. I learned not only about communication but also things like how to pay rent, fuel, and light expenses. In Japan, we usually pay by bank transfer, but I had to fill out the checks and send them in every month. There were certainly difficulties I faced from time to time, but the experience was definitely interesting.
The most difficult part of my experience studying abroad was definitely my schooling. I was astounded by the amount of pre-lecture preparation and homework that needed to be done. Reading assignments were especially challenging, since my reading ability was slow and I had to constantly look up words in the dictionary.
As for the content, everything we learned was new to me, since I had studied engineering in my university days. This made things interesting but also challenging. Now that I look back, however, I’m glad I took on the challenge. What I learned at MIT has definitely helped my business endeavors to this day. The experience taught me valuable skills like asking effective questions and making good judgements, all the while taking a consultant’s input into account.
- Kindly provide any advice to students who wish to attend MIT or other top schools.
My greatest advice would be to improve your English. Without adequate English skills, you will not be able to master your studies, let alone get accepted to schools in the first place.
Japanese people tend to be competent in reading and writing, but I find many people struggle when it comes to listening. For me, a technique that really worked was shadowing; i.e. listening to an English tape and repeating what I hear immediately after the speaker. This technique was very useful when preparing for TOEFL. In the listening section you’re tested on how well you can recall the content and answer questions within the time limit.
As a non-native who studied English on my own, my advice is to establish a learning method that works best for you, as quickly as you can, and stick to it. What works for each person differs according to the individual. For me, that method was shadowing. When I started out I couldn’t understand even a word of the recordings I listened to, let alone repeat it, but using that method I was able to drastically improve my listening skills without the help of an Eikaiwa school.
- What do you value the most about your profession?
A big part of my job is accurately assessing a situation and making judgements, so I take extra care to stay healthy so I can be sharp at all times.
Another thing I keep in mind is being clear and succinct in my explanations to make sure everyone is on board when I make management decisions. For example, I will often say to my employees, “This decision is good because of these points. However, it does have these negative aspects, which we can make up for by doing this. All things considered, this is why I think this route would be our best option.” It is our employees that actually execute the projects based on the judgements we make, so I think it is very important that they understand and agree with our decisions.
- What were some of the difficulties (if any) that you experienced when working overseas or with people from overseas?
I can’t think of anything in particular. As long as you can communicate your thoughts frankly, I don’t think there is a major difference between working with Japanese or Western people. Certainly there can be language barriers and differences in religion and culture, but I have never had any major trouble communicating – especially if it’s business-related. On the topic of religion and culture, Japan itself is a mix of people from a diverse range of different backgrounds and heritages, so I don’t particularly believe that working with people from Western countries is especially difficult.
If I have experienced any difficulties, it would be the environmental differences like the laws and systems of the other countries. There are often differences that make us say, “This is what we would do. Why wouldn’t you do it?” That’s not because of the way people think. It’s more likely due to the environment. It’s normal to consider environmental differences in business, so I don’t think of it as a difficulty.
- What are some of the issues Japanese people face when working with people from different countries? On the other hand, are there any particular strengths a Japanese person brings to the table when working internationally?
I think it is extremely important to think about what it means to be Japanese and what kind of place Japan is when we work with people from different countries. We don’t have to have a universal commonality. Instead, we should think about our differences and use them to discuss the best way to approach things. Japanese people aren’t usually aware of their unique identity, but I think they should know the special characteristics of Japan when they work with people from other countries. They should accept each other’s differences and discuss solutions together. I believe it is important to have a positive attitude.
I think one of the strengths of Japanese people is that they pay attention to details. They are particular about details when making good products. Another strength is that they are extremely flexible. Japan talked about “Omotenashi” at the Final Presentation for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which represents their ability to adapt to any circumstance. Working in Western countries, the job descriptions are clear. In Japan, if you join a company as a generalist, you will do everything your boss tells you. Japanese people pay careful attention. When there are problems, they’ll say, “I’ll take care of it,” and go beyond the job description. If the job description is clear, some people might say, “This isn’t my job,” even when there are problems to deal with. I think Japanese people are excellent at paying careful attention to the details, ensuring quality, and looking out for others.
- In what ways does SEGA Games aim for globalization?
When I became a company executive, I always told myself to “Create globally, then deliver globally.” Sega has many game creation studios not only in Japan but also in Asia and Europe. This is what it means to “create globally.” This is a unique trait that our rival firms do not share.
This is the same with “delivering globally.” We have marketing divisions all over the world. The same can be said for other companies, but that’s because there are consumers all over the world. Because of this global system, half of Sega’s employees and profits come from outside of Japan.
Let’s say I’m selling a product made in Britain to Asia. Games are something that you play, so they are usually produced and sold locally, since the creators have an idea of the consumers’ demands. On the other hand, “Persona 5”, developed by our subsidiary company Atlus, is about Japanese high school students in local areas like Shibuya and Sangenjaya. It was created by Japanese people with a Japanese viewpoint, but it was popularized internationally thanks to translating Japanese culture along with the language – on top of good marketing/promotions. The games created by Atlus actually have higher sales overseas than in Japan.
By building the skills to “Create globally, then deliver globally” and localizing the products properly, we can create games that will be played all over the world. I want everyone working for our company to understand that and put those skills into action.
- What level of English ability does SEGA Games want Japanese staff to have in the international affairs division?
We are looking for a very high level of English. In the international affairs division, the staff is required to hold online meetings and use email or messenger on a daily basis, so we seek staff members who have the ability to communicate smoothly in both English and Japanese. The staff must persuade others and ask for their opinions, so they are required to communicate deeply instead of relying on one way communication. Even if there are disagreements, they must come up with solutions and move forward. With those communication needs in mind, we look for people with the same level of English as Japanese.
- Who do you respect as a global leader? Who is your ideal leader?
Two leaders come to mind. I have never met him, but the first is Louis Gerstner of IBM. I have experience creating computers with Hitachi, so I respect him greatly in the field of computer development. In the 90s, he drastically changed IBM from a company that “creates products” to a company that “provides service.” He changed the business model and culture of a company that represents the world of computing. Having the ability to dramatically change a company and achieve great success are aspects of a leader that I deeply respect.
The second is Takeo Shiina, former chairman of IBM Japan. I had the opportunity to meet him once, and got to listen to his talk on Louis Gerstner’s methods and its effects on the company, as well as his plans to develop IBM Japan. I respect his ability as an executive to garner respect within the Japanese industry for Louis Gerstner while using a foreign firm, as well as for building a company that contributes to Japanese industry.
- Please share your message with the potential ‘global leaders’ of the future:
Japanese people have many strengths, so I want you to take note of how you can share those abilities with the world and aim to succeed in any business department. If you are willing to study abroad, you must acquire skills communication skills, especially in English. It’s important to understand English to maximize your knowledge and skills during your time abroad.
Engaging in global business is possible in Japan as much as it is overseas. I think Japanese people should be more confident in themselves. If you combine that confidence with the ability to speak English, you can share your strengths with the world and make a difference.