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！
- You graduated from University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Liberal Arts – International Relations Course which led to your experience working in both the New York Branch and International Division of Mitsui Bank. Additionally, you occupied the position of the Bangkok Branch Manager. What made you decide to go into banking after graduation?
I graduated from high school and entered the University of Tokyo in 1965, which was about two decades after Japan’s recovery from WWII. Our country was entering a period of economic prosperity and had just hosted the Tokyo Olympic Games. During that time, Japanese businesses advocated the need for globalization. Japanese companies had increased their export volume, and furthermore many companies were beginning to invest directly overseas by establishing manufacturing bases in other countries. It was because of this that I developed an interest in international business and thus focused on trade and banking as my future career options. In an unexpected turn of events, I accepted a position at Mitsui Bank.
My father had worked for Mitsui & Co., Ltd. before the WWII, so I was familiar with the industry. Hoping to start my career at a different company, however, I applied for a position at Sumitomo Corporation. I traveled to Osaka and took the employment examinations, including interviews, along with Kyoto University students. After returning to Tokyo, I had yet to hear back from Sumitomo Corporation by the time the financial institutions started their recruitment process, so I applied at Mitsui Bank and immediately received an offer. A few days later, Sumitomo Corporation finally got back to me and explained that their delayed response was due to miscommunication between Sumitomo’s human resources offices in Tokyo and Osaka, the two cities between which I was traveling at the time. I had to tell them that I had accepted a job offer from Mitsui Bank since I hadn’t heard back from Sumitomo. They told me that if I ever lost interest in Mitsui Bank, there would be an open spot for me at their company. Had I received both job offers at the same time, I probably would have chosen Sumitomo Corporation, but it is not unusual to end up getting a job by a twist of fate.
- Following that experience, what was it that led you to a position at SMBC’s International Relations?
I already had an interest in international relations prior to being hired, but I was initially assigned to the Yaesu Branch for training as a professional banker. After that, I was transferred to the International Sales Section to serve our clients regarding their cross-border needs and transactions. Back then, Mitsui Bank required its international business staff to have the following four skill sets (which helped me become a more valuable asset to the company):
(1) Ability to process international administrative tasks (such as foreign exchange settlement and trading);
(2) Practical experience in processing foreign exchange transactions (such as in JPY, USD, and GBP) as a dealer at a money center in either Tokyo, New York, London, Singapore, or Hong Kong;
(3) Ability to execute Corporate sales such as negotiating foreign trade business and foreign currency lending for clients; and
(4) Ability to deal with cross-border transactions.
- You’ve been studying English since elementary school. How did you achieve such great proficiency and how has your approach towards language study changed over the years?
When I was in the sixth grade, my mother thought it would be a good idea for me to take an English class. When I was in the second grade at Kojimachi Junior High School, I met a fascinating English teacher and immediately joined his English club. For about a year, I kept an English language journal, which the teacher would read and correct. To be perfectly honest, my main reason for continuing with my journal was to spend more time with that teacher. His constant positive feedback gave me such joy and cultivated in me a strong sense of confidence. Looking back, this experience was a significant turning point on my path to language proficiency.
Later on, I attended Hibiya High School, where I read George Orwell’s Animal Farm in my first year. Even now, I can still recall my struggle to decipher passages because there were at least 30 unfamiliar words on each page. After that, James Hilton’s To You, Mr. Chips was introduced as supplementary reading material, which also proved to be quite challenging. Again, there were at least 30 to 40 words or phrases per page that I had to look up, but I persevered, and the experience helped strengthen my language skills, for which I am extremely grateful.
- Are there any other experiences in school that left a huge impression on you that you can recall?
In those days, the term “active learning” didn’t exist, but I believe it was put into practice at Hibiya High School. For instance, when studying the Roman Empire, we were divided into groups of five or six students, and the teacher assigned each group a particular area to research and report on. Looking back, the lessons taught at Hibiya could perhaps be considered a typical example of active learning, as it was a time when students were definitely engaged in the learning process.
This active learning was even implemented in our math classes. The mid-term and final exams had only one item: “Choose a theorem and prove it.” For example, congruent triangle theorems that were taught in junior high were treated as rather self-explanatory, but demonstrating these theorems required well-structured logic. Given the fact that math is a logic-focused field, the teacher would evaluate students based on how logically structured their answers and interpretations were. So even if the answer part of the exam was right, it would be considered incorrect if the logic portion of the answer was flawed. The students’ grades were evaluated based on their thought processes rather than the end result.
These lessons and experiences have made me accustomed to the theory and practice of active learning.
- Can you elaborate on your time spent working at the International, New York, and Bangkok offices? What was the atmosphere like at that time?
In the 1980s, the Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Act was amended due to pressure arising from trade friction with the United States. Before then, overseas transactions were basically prohibited, but the amendment enabled trade liberalization and the expansion of foreign trade business. With the deregulation of interest rates and globalization of the yen it became more important to be well versed in cross-border trade and foreign exchange transactions, not only within the domestic market but in global markets as well. In other words, work in the international sector changed from specialist professions into work related to the overall operations of the bank. Around this time I was working in the planning department where we not only dealt with operations pertaining to the domestic sector but also to international and security markets. Indeed, the boundary between domestic business and international business became ambiguous.
In the later part of my career, I served as an executive in charge of the international section at some time, but most of my responsibilities pertained to the planning department, where the majority of tasks involved dealing with the post-bubble recession. Just before I became an executive within the organization, the bubble economy collapsed and Japan lapsed into a state of economic disarray. As the head of the planning department, I dealt with the work related to the injection of public funds in 1998 while deeply contemplating the future of Japanese banking businesses. In view of Japan’s unstable economic state, there were too many financial institutions in Japan, and many of them therefore began to consider consolidation as a means of survival. Sakura Bank was no exception. That is how major banks in Japan merged with other financial institutions to arrive at their current form. Analyzing the pros and cons of consolidation strategies was one of the tasks I was deeply involved in during my time at the planning department.
- What were some realizations and hardships you have experienced when working in overseas offices and with international business partners, clients and/or organizations?
In 1975, just before my 30th birthday, I moved to New York and stayed there for six years. This was right after the first oil crisis, in which Japan suffered a major economic setback, but regained its stability within a year or two. It was also during the expansion of the Eurodollar market. Oil-producing countries were gaining large positions in US dollars, which were derived from inflated oil prices. US dollars were then being deposited into European or Japanese banks for fear of deposits being frozen due to the Iran hostage crisis. With Japan’s economic recovery and stability, Japanese banks started serving as an intermediary, where providing funds in US dollars became more accessible. Prior to that, the majority of business transactions were so-called impact loans, lending of dollars to Japanese corporations by US banks; Japanese banks were not able to lend US dollars for terms exceeding one year. US banks, European banks, and consortiums were the only institutions able to administer mid- to long-term lending of US dollars, which Japanese banks are now in a position to guarantee. Aligned with this expansion of global transactions, Japanese enterprises started to establish direct manufacturing plants and subsidiaries overseas and Japanese banks invariably began channeling capital, including oil money. This continued until the Latin American debt crisis of the 1980s.
Within this dynamic trend, I encountered the most hardship regarding funding US dollars. At that time, the Japanese market relied on a solid base of individual, private deposits; in overseas financial markets, however, most of the funding was derived from the money markets. So, should any country risk become apparent, there would be a shortage of dollars, curtailment of loans, and a mid- to long-term currency mismatch. That reflects the limitation of the US dollar for Japanese banks. Besides, much like restrictions concerning the ratio of mid- to long-term funds, there were many other regulations to adhere to in supplying US dollars at that time. Additionally, it was the period of Pax Americana, where everything Japan did, whether in the realm of the defense force or the economy, revolved around the United States: the Japanese banks had to play in America’s backyard to run foreign currency businesses.
In terms of difficulties regarding communication skills, I actually didn’t experience much of that despite never having studied abroad. However, during political discussions with my peers there were times when topics I knew nothing about were brought up. Interestingly enough, it was those natural, spontaneous interactions where my language skills would just come out instinctively.
- You’ve served on several boards as Chairman, usually in relation to the field of education. Currently, you’re serving on the board for the Central Council for Education. What is it that gravitates you towards this professional environment?
Ten years ago, I was the vice chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives. I was recommended for the position of chairman of the Committee on Educational Issues, which, by coincidence, happened to be available. I gladly took the position because, with education, I thought I could choose a topic I’m interested in. Since my predecessor had made recommendations on primary and secondary education during her term, I decided to address issues relating to higher education in my first year. In that year, the Democratic Party passed the Act on Free Tuition at Public High Schools. This turned my attention towards the impact of parents’ economic status on children’s career after graduation from high school. I put forward the idea that academic performance should be one of the criteria for scholarships and that non-refundable scholarships should be introduced. From then on, my main focus was on the higher education system. In my second year, I decided to delve deeper and chose to tackle issues relating to the disclosure of information and the Evaluation and Accreditation system for higher education institutions. Following that, I received an offer from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to serve as a committee member of the Central Council for Education (CCE), which I gladly accepted and thereafter became deeply involved with the CCE.
Before becoming the chairman of the Committee on Educational Issues of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, I had absolutely no experience working in the field of education. All of this was just a lucky happenstance and I feel very fortunate.
- What do you think is necessary in today’s Japanese education system in order to improve globalization?
It is essential to acquire human skills by the age of around 22. Building upon your professional specialties is also necessary but there is no problem with starting that later. During junior high school, high school, and university years, nurturing soft skills that help you better interact with others should take priority. I often say to young people, “You should form your character in the shape of π.” The horizontal bar symbolizes broad human skills and the two vertical bars symbolize your expertise. I would like students to build their character into a π-like form.
- Is there anyone who you respect as a global leader?
I admire the late Yotaro Kobayashi, who was the president and later the chairman of Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd. I first met him in 1985 in a working group of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives. Japan was just starting to transition to the economic bubble period and Japanese enterprises were promoting globalization. He introduced us to the words “independent” and “interdependent,” concepts that must be put into practice by Japanese corporations. Both concepts are included in the Third Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education (which was approved by the Cabinet in June, 2018) as well as in the Second Basic Plan. It was 30 years ago that Mr. Kobayashi advocated the integration of these ideas into Japanese businesses by practicing diversity through the acceptance of individuals regardless of their race, nationality, or age.
- A message to future potential ‘global leaders’:
I encourage you to develop non-cognitive skills, so-called human skills. Persevere and become a person who has a challenging spirit, and can communicate with anyone in the world. Having expertise in specific areas is essential but so is a focus on acquiring human skills that will broaden your network and introduce you to people of different and diverse backgrounds.