Women in Leadership: Getting to know Reiko Nakamura, Managing Director, Japan – Q&A

It’s not everyday you are able to hear first-hand about the personal and professional journeys taken by those in leadership. Reiko Nakamura, Managing Director at our Tokyo office, recently sat down with Japan-based online publication, Riarumi, to share the events that shaped her childhood, the milestones that led to her the advertising industry and what it means to be a female in a business leadership position. Here are snippets from her Q&A:

How did you go from radio DJing to being in the advertising industry?

When I was doing radio DJing, sometimes it would get quite late and I’d have to go to karaoke together with representatives of our sponsors, or with the radio producers. At the time, I didn’t realise how lucky I was to be a radio DJ. Some people really want to be a DJ and they put a lot of effort towards it. But I would have to say I became a radio DJ without putting in so much effort at the time, almost by accident, and so I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was. So, when I was having to go on these karaoke evenings, I started to think I should have a more “normal” life. And so I thought about getting a job a sales person at an advertising company. This was in my final year of university, when I was 22 years old, and it was during Japan’s bubble period and advertising companies were kind of difficult to get into. But somehow, I managed to find a job at an advertising agency in Kobe. So that was the second time I felt I had accomplished a goal.

And I enjoyed it. I stayed there for seven years. But this was a local Kobe company, so I dealt with clients exclusively in Kobe or the Hyogo prefecture. They weren’t such big-name clients. I was able to learn a lot about media and advertising but then I felt I wanted to deal with more national clients. And so I started to look for another job. The second job I found was with Pacific Creative in Osaka, whose biggest account was Panasonic. Since Panasonic is a big, national client, I decided to join them so that I could deal with other, bigger clients as well. But again, they were mostly domestic companies and I was starting to think, “This is good but I want to deal with global clients!”

Could you tell us about how you came to be in Tokyo, working with Schawk?

When I joined Schawk, I was in Kobe, working on-site at P&G (Procter & Gamble), and also working with Vidal Sassoon, Pampers and other global projects for the Japan and Asian markets. One day, my boss asked me to step up to help grow the business in Japan. I started acquiring some other new accounts in Tokyo. Except for P&G who are in Kobe, most of the global companies are in Tokyo, right? And so my boss started to say, “Hey Reiko, why are you in Kobe?” So that was the reason I needed to move to Tokyo six years ago.

What advice would you like to share with other young women who are at the very start of their careers, or are yet to begin?

One thing I want to say to girls is, “Be ambitious!” When I was doing radio DJing, I actually kind of decided on the limitations to what I could do. At the time, my thought process was that I became a radio DJ without really wanting to, and I just happened to be there in that line of work. And even if I continued being a radio DJ, there are so many other radio DJs and so I can’t be number one. That’s why I changed my career to advertising. And, in the end, it was fine but one regret I have is that if I’d kept it up, could I have become a famous and accomplished DJ? So that’s something: don’t decide your limitations. Explore your full potential and understand that you can be much more than your own expectations. And don’t just dream it. Make the effort for it. It won’t happen without effort.

Also, before I joined Schawk, I’d always worked in Japanese companies. So I didn’t really look into other countries. But now I regret that a little and I wonder, if I’d started to look for more international opportunities earlier, maybe I would have seen more things in life. So my other piece of advice would be to remember that the whole world is open to you. Not just Japan.

What are some of the best things about being a female in a business leadership position?

I don’t really like to emphasise the fact that I’m a woman. I’ve been thinking about what equality is. It doesn’t matter, women or men, Japanese or foreign, whatever. Everyone has skills. And my strategy for hiring people here is how I can combine their collective experience or knowledge or talent. I don’t want to hire the same types of people but, rather, “this person has this skill, so next time, let’s hire a person who has a different skill”, so that our staff have a mixture of complimentary skills.