Three Inspiring Advice for Entrepreneur Women in 2022

2021 is quickly coming to an end and here at kay me we’ve taken time to reflect on a few of our most cherished memories of this year. As our team grew with every new store opening, we celebrated our 10th anniversary with a special collection, as well as many exciting events! Among these were our Exclusive Interviews, hosted by kay me founder Junko Kemi, where we met esteemed guests in the top of their fields in Japan to share their experience and wisdom with us. Here is a recap of our first three remarkable guests who graced us with their abundant knowledge and tips for blossoming female entrepreneurs!

The path to leadership with Ms. Natsumi Akita, Marketing VP of Adobe Japan

On our very first episode, we welcomed our guest Ms. Natsumi Akita, Marketing Vice President of Adobe Japan. Before Adobe, she extended her marketing chops in both the U.S. and Japan (from the likes of Master Card, Citi, HSBC to name a few), handling large-scale global teams. According to Ms. Akita, for ambitious individuals chasing the top, the first step to becoming a leader is to simply envision yourself in that position:

“It’s important to hold an image of how you want to be seen, and planning steps on how to become that version of yourself. If it’s a leadership role you are envisioning, you need to take a step back to see what parts you are missing and slowly take your time to obtain those missing elements.”

From there on with time and experience, you mold into the shoes that you create for yourself.

From large-scale global team management, dealing with cultural differences to male-dominated environments and maintaining leadership, and advancing to the global stage, Ms. Akita shares her seasoned advice in wealth in our exclusive interview below:

Weathering the economic storm with Ms. Sakie Akiyama, founder of Saki Corporation Ltd.

Our next remarkable woman we spoke to is founder of Saki Corporation Ltd., Ms. Sakie Akiyama. Pursuing the path of entrepreneurship in the industrial machinery sector, she has had her fair share of tough times and knows the importance of turning a bad situation into a chance for opportunity – something she has done for the past 25 years to keep her company running.

With the impact of COVID-19, many businesses have exhausted their resources, including their optimism and spirit. Similarly during Ms. Akiyama’s company presidency, she led her entire team through the devastating Lehman Shock of 2008 and not only recovered company earnings, but brought it to a steady increase just simply through a change in mindset. She recalled her toughest memory of the Lehman Shock:  

“During that experience, the least I could do as an entrepreneur and a company president was to look at the situation through numbers. I used this to communicate with my employees for them to understand the situation, and… brainstorm what steps needed to be taken to alleviate it. In order to do this I had to truly believe in what I was going to tell them and to make my mind up prior in order to truly convince them with my words and to win their trust over… I learned quickly how important being able to convey your thoughts is.

That’s when Ms. Akiyama adopted a new approach and what she recommends to those facing adversity and struggling to regain composure: imagine yourself in the worst-case-scenario and realize that it is not so bad. Stepping back to imagine herself in the worst case, where she sat in a dim-lit dingy room, eating a simple bowl of eggs over rice across her husband, she accepted she would be OK even at “rock bottom”. With this new positive outlook and no longer overcome with negativity, it was easier to concentrate on work and for Ms. Akiyama, a turning point both in her life and business from there on.

Check out her story and advice for women seeking global advancement below:

Finding your drive with Ms. Miwa Koyasu, founder of Will Lab Co. Ltd.

Finally we spoke to Ms. Miwa Koyasu, founder of Will Lab Co. Ltd., a company working to promote women with career opportunities, mentorship and development especially in the rural areas of Japan. Founded around the principle of ‘Will’, a term she uses to describe your ideal version of yourself, she walked us through ‘Will’, ‘Can’ (what you can do), and ‘Must’ (what you must do), three key features of drive that allows one to complete tasks and reach goals and explains why any entrepreneur needs to find their ‘Will’:

“There’s a lot to do, a lot of ‘Can’. They possessed skills and knowledge but no ‘Will’, which caused people to become lost, especially in their careers.

Of course I knew the importance of ‘Can’. It’s important to have skills to be able to complete the tasks at hand. But those who had skills but no ‘Will’, from my observation, did not grow as quickly as those who possessed ‘Will’. Although it is important to be able to complete given tasks, without ‘Will’, people lack the drive to push forward, which is key for any entrepreneur who is planning on starting up their own business.“

Pursuing who you want to be and how to find your ambition utilizing ‘will’, to exercising self-reflection, Ms. Koyasu shares her advice she imparts at her very own company in our exclusive interview:

With each interview we felt more motivated and inspired by these powerful women who shared their incredible journeys with us, both in their professional and personal lives! With more stories and advice from remarkable women coming up, visit our Youtube channel and subscribe to stay tuned for future interviews coming in 2022!

Meet Catherine O’Connell, the “Lawpreneur” empowering women in law – Part 2

We met with busy trailblazer Catherine O’Connell, an entrepreneur, lawyer and leader to one of Tokyo’s leading networking group for supporting and empowering women, Women In Law Japan. In Part 1, we dove into her success becoming a “Lawpreneur” and learn what it takes to step up as a leader in the female community in Tokyo. Today, we get more personal and hear about the people and books which inspire Catherine and her points to dressing for business.

A role model in New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern

I got to meet her in person in Tokyo in September 2019 and also got to sit with her and talk all manner of things during a business luncheon meeting. How down to earth, smart and funny she is. I’ve loved seeing her be a role model for global leaders, for women, and for men.

I especially loved it when she said “One of the criticisms I’ve faced over the years is that I’m not aggressive enough or not assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I’m empathetic, it means I’m weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong.”

This is the essence of true leadership. She said that following the terror attack in Christchurch in March 2019 and it has resonated with me ever since. If only I can be half the leader she is, I will double my current leadership energy in the community.

Finding inspiration in memoirs and women who challenge the status quo

I have just finished three amazing books. One is a New York Times Bestseller “Lead from the Outside” by Stacy Abrams and the other is a memoir by Karen Hill Anton called “The View from Breast Pocket Mountain”. I also just finished reading another incredibly amazing book called “More than Enough” by Elaine Welteroth, from which an inspiration for driving my “Lawyer on Air” Podcast comes.

She said: “there is so much wisdom locked up in the stories women never tell”. I’m doing what I can to tell those stories and amplify women’s voices in Japan.

Know your rhythm to make your schedule

A day in the life of Catherine O’Connell:

7:30 AM: I’m an early riser so I’m typically at my desk doing creative work for my business and always 20-30 minutes reading for pleasure or a chapter of a business-success book.

8:30 AM: I am on calls and in mastermind groups working on self-development. Usually around mid-morning, if it is a day that I am recording a podcast episode with one of my guests, I would jump online and do the recording, and work on the show notes and social media content with my podcast producer after that.

10:00 AM: By this time, I’ll be on my second coffee of the day (only 2 coffees/day) and I will be right into client calls or client work.

12:00PM: At this time, I turn off lights in my office and take a break including a walk outside. I prep all my lunches on a Sunday so lunches working @home are a breeze. There is nothing like preparation to set you up well for the week.

From 13:00PM: I tend to devote the afternoon to networking, introductions, pitch type calls with clients and potential clients and people I may build long term relationships with. Usually in the evening I have online meetings with organizations I’m involved in such as FEW Japan (a network of women empowering women in Tokyo) and some of the Chambers of Commerce. Before COVID-19 I was consistently out in the evenings networking, but I now (secretly!) relish being at home in the evenings and connecting with people online for fun or building relationships for business.

From January 2021, I adopted a “healthfirst, immunity-first” approach and intermittent fasting is part of my lifestyle now, so I will finish eating by 7:00 PM in the evening through around 1:00 PM next day. To me fasting is not a diet but a lifestyle and it provides me with great liberation, and freedom around having only two meals and the rest of the day for exercise, working, self-time and enjoyment.

Dressing as a sign of respect

I always aim to look stylish and put together for the day from the first call to the last.

How we dress is a mark of respect not only to ourselves but to the person we are meeting with or the event we are attending.

Nowadays, the shift to on-line has allowed people to be more casual in dress style. That is not wrong but it is not the style for me. I like to wear outfits that inspire confidence and professionalism with whomever I am engaging with.

Tip 1: Make it “Stylish”

When I say “stylish”, it isn’t something over the top or the latest fashion trend, but more of a preference for classic designs. I tend to go for separates and love dresses to emit my feminine personality. I usually choose one or two bold colors (blue, red, yellow, orange, pink, green, silver, gold or rose gold) to set off a traditional black and navy core garment.

Tip 2: Accessories make the perfect conversation starter

On my travels overseas I have always looked for interesting jewelry to incorporate in my outfits. I make a point of dressing with one special eye-catching item that is a talking piece like a brooch, or a ring I have made (yes, I make accessories) or a statement necklace. You can style-up any outfit with accessories and keeping an eye out for interesting and novel pieces is a curious activity I adopt.

Tip 3: Don’t let your game down for online meetings.

When I need to work online, from top to ankle I am dressed as I would if I were in an office setting. From left and right of my iMac screen, I have excellent soft yellow lighting prepared and I always have my lips colored and ready for action.

Impressions wearing kay me

kay me clothing is so versatile and really fits my image.

I moved away from suits as a lawyer some years ago, and prefer the dress and jacket look now. I also really love prints and so kay me is easy to fit into the image of professionalism x femininity that I want to portray to my clients and business stakeholders.

A lot of thought has gone into the design and the selection of the stretchy materials of kay me dresses so that they flatter women’s different sizes, and heights and are truly easy to co-ordinate.
I loved the playfulness of the Tiny Dot pattern, and this can easily take me from daywear any season, through to evening if I slip on a jacket. It was such a breathtaking moment to put on the Tiny Dot dress and I squealed with delight when the zip went right up! It cinched me nicely at the waist and glided over my lower body and it felt really nice to wear. I loved the pockets in this design especially. 

I am a big fan wearing color as well, and my eyes were drawn into the Japanese design of the Takeyabu Green Wrap dress that I wore in Part 1. I loved that this was a wrap dress and how easy it was to wear. It would be simple to take in an overnight bag or in-flight and arrive fresh and ready for business meetings. There is no way anyone would not see you and remember you in this Japanese print. It’s a signature piece of clothing and I felt elevated wearing this design. 

What I noticed wearing the pumps was how they gave the illusion of longer looking legs, which was a new discovery for me. I had such a great time trying on the perfectly made dresses and look forward to seeing further designs in the various ranges they have.

Meet Catherine O’Connell, the “Lawpreneur” empowering women in law – Part 1

At kay me, we are always inspired by the amazing achievements and examples set by ambitious individuals who stand up to the challenge. In this series, we chat to International female entrepreneurs who are paving their own paths and leading the way for others in Japan, and hear their stories, advice and perspectives starting up their success.

Recently, we caught up with “Lawpreneur” from New Zealand, Catherine O’Connell, the first international woman to start up her own law firm in Tokyo, who is now empowering women in Japan to reach their potential. She shares her career story and networking advice with us.

Tell us about a little about your background

Born and raised in New Zealand, after leaving school and delving into an intense course of study of the Japanese language, I dived into a first career as a tour guide with JTB.

I then pivoted into law and became a lawyer working with Japanese businesspeople and ex-pat corporates. An opportunity arose to come to work in Japan for 1 year and, well, I’ve now been living and working in Japan for 18 years! 

After building experience as in-house legal counsel in big Japanese corporates and working in Tokyo and London for an international law firm, I became a “Lawpreneur” – a entrepreneurial lawyer – and launched my own boutique law firm in Tokyo. In 2020 I won an Entrepreneur of the Year Award which I am most proud of.

When I am off work, I love watching rugby, wine tasting, making jewelry as a pastime as well as taking walks which I call #soulstrolls.

Making the career jump: the road to establishing her law firm in Japan

Boldness is not a muscle you are born with; boldness is a muscle you can build and learn over time. After amassing experience in all four corners of the legal world (working in-house at headquarters; APAC head of legal in a US subsidiary; International law firm solicitor and several secondments) I had enough boldness to take a leap. I knew it was time to utilizing all this business law experience to give clients are truly practical business-based lawyer experience. I wanted more balance and flexibility in my professional life, and I wanted to disrupt the legal services industry and provide a fresh approach to legal services with a flexible lawyer option.

On International Women’s Day in March 2021, Japan’s first lawyer-led legal podcast program “Lawyer on Air” was launched. We talk to female lawyers working in Japan, all things law and entrepreneurship. I decided to launch this podcast so that I can shine a brilliant light on the extremely wonderful women lawyers who surround me, inspire me and support me as they excel in their work in Japan. I’m passionate about giving them a platform to share their stories and successes as a woman lawyer working in the Land of the Rising Sun.

If anyone knows someone who would be a wonderful guest on my show please let me know!

https://www.catherineoconnelllaw.com/podcast

The key to success is “Networking”

Networking was and still is absolutely central to my success. Without the extensive and deep network I have, I don’t think I would have had the courage to attempt to launch a law practice in Japan. It is our networks that sustain us – for information and advice, for directing potential clients to us and for keeping their ears open for us to share our voice through various speaking opportunities. For me networking means “building relationships” and because I had built relationships over many years I had the confidence to open my own business and be supported by these people I had built relationships with.

Catherine’s Three Tips for Networking

Tip 1: Every connection you make is a valuable one.

I had built a network of people over the last 20 plus years and so I would recommend anyone setting up in business that they have some finances and have an established network of people to call upon for the spectrum of support you need to run a successful business. I think the biggest challenge when I started was the initial setup, and the time it took to do the paperwork with the Ministry of Justice, and with the banks in Japan. The paperwork bottleneck is still a big problem for setting up business in Japan. Other than that, I really didn’t have many challenges, as I had savings to financially sustain me and many people, male and female reached out to help me and refer clients to me in my early days.

Tip 2: Build bridges that last. Don’t burn them.

Networking is a long-game play and not about what you can grab.  I also think it’s very important when you leave a workplace to go to new pastures, that you do not burn any bridges. It’s bound to be the case that in future roles, your path will cross over the network of people from your past. Keeping professional relationships is critical for strengthening your networks even more and a sour relationship will weaken your network.

Networking is a two-way street and I always have at the forefront of my mind what I can do for that person to help them, and usually they help me further down the track.

Tip 3: Asking for introductions is key

If you are a little bit shy, I would suggest you ask one person in every meeting you are in, to help introduce you to someone in their network. In order to do that, you need to be able to introduce yourself well and say what it is you do to help others. That way a person can easily introduce you to the right people who you can build relationships with.

Being the leader of a diverse network for female legal practitioners, “Women in Law Japan”

I love working with this group of fantastic lady lawyers and I am really proud of what insights and knowledge sharing we produce for the big network of lawyers and people working in the law in Japan. Our members are all full-time lawyers working in house or in private practice and they are super busy in their daily work. However somehow they all manage to come together in unison to create and curate all of the events and activities that we deliver to our 300-strong membership. I have to give big credit to the previous President, Rika Beppu, who set up things very nicely and efficiently so that I could walk into the role from January 2021 with ease.

In such a leadership role you have to be really well organized, prepare agendas, instigate and oversee the event planning, and build comradery so that the team work as one unit. I also take the time to guide so that others can take charge of different aspects of the organization such as social media channels, the website, specialist committees. I’ve learned a lot as the leader of this Not for Profit board.

I would like to provide full support to all female lawyers. The more people there are, the wider the network and the stronger and more empowered the community becomes.

Find our more about “Women In Law Japan” here:

https://womeninlawjapan.org/

In the next part, we take a closer look into the day of Catherine’s busy schedule, hear her inspirations and find out more on her style philosophy. Read Part Two.

For more beautiful kimono-inspired dresses made in Japan, see our selection below:

Meet Connie Sui Fung, Working mother and entrepreneur from Malaysia helping women look and feel their best – Part 2

We sat down with Connie Sui Fung, image consultant, business owner and working mother to learn more about her story in Japan. In part one, we looked into her journey starting up her Color Me Tokyo business, from her challenges to advice and glimpsed into the origins that drove her to where she is today. For part two, we take a glimpse into the other side and learn what goes behind the scenes in a day of this busy working mother.

You are a busy mother of three! How is it like raising children in Japan?

It was not easy when they were young. In Japan, the mother is supposed to do everything herself, but I got lucky! My husband and parents-in-law supported me most of the time, which I am grateful for.

My Japanese was not good when I first came here, but my kindergarten mom’s friends helped me a lot. They shared information on child-rearing in Japan and they always made me feel at home. I really appreciated that.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Depends on which day. I usually work from 10am to 3pm.

Like yesterday, I made breakfast for my kids and got myself ready. After my girls left home for school, I did some quick housework before meeting my client at 10am. Then I had lunch with my husband at neighborhood restaurant. 
After that I worked on Color Me Tokyo homepage. Since I created the website, I manage it myself. 

Then, I dropped off my youngest girl to swimming school and I prepared dinner. After dinner, I dropped off my Junior High school girl to cram school and did the laundry. And finally, I prepared for a business meeting today before going to bed.

What do you need out of clothing to meet your current lifestyle as an image consultant, business owner and mother? Any rules that you set for your style?

As a mother I need to run after my children and take them from here to there and have to meet clients on the same day, so I want clothing that is easy to wear and comfortable, yet I do not need to change out of …. I call it a multi-purpose dress, functional dress or an all-in-one dress. If I travel, the last thing I want to be concerned about is having wrinkled items when we take family photos and I need to get ready quickly in the early morning, so wrinkle-resistant clothing is important for me.

Trying kay me for the first time, what are your impressions of the items?

The kay me dresses are the perfect fit for my preferences and lifestyle. I am a ‘Made in Japan’ fan and I prefer having machine-washable items. Most importantly, I need comfortable, functional, all-in-one dresses to wear from day to night. For example, with the Aqua Dot Marilyn Dress, I can wear it with sandals for the weekend or on a casual outing with my kids. If I throw a bolero on – for work. With high heels on – when I am on a date night with my husband. I like the softness, stretchiness and comfortable feel of the material, and it has side pocket! This is well-designed. There was time I wore the wrong dress, and my day was haywire. When I wear the right dress, I feel my day is fully accomplished. This dress is very ME. Somehow this dress also reminded me of one of Duchess Catherine’s dresses – I feel very elegant in it!

Where do you find inspiration nowadays?

I am in my mid-40’s now, I always want to prepare myself on how I look and be in 5 to 10 years from now.  I do research and read magazines aimed at women in their 50’s or 60’s like Eclat Magazine for style inspiration, or I would search from Pinterest with keywords such as “fashion for women over 50”.

What is your recommended spots to enjoy your family time in Tokyo?

The hotel buffet and musical theater.

They both sound like fun! We would love to know the hotel buffet you recommend and the musical you last watched.

Since Covid-19, we haven’t gone out for a buffet dinner, but we went to the same Grilled Eel restaurant Izumoya several times as we could get a private room. My kids like the taste of grilled eel there. The best Unagi in town.

The last musical we went was The Phantom of The Opera. I loved the live orchestra; it was the perfect combination with live stage musical performance. It was wonderful and lively. My kids liked the Aladdin the best. My daughter said it is better than the movie! We are looking forward to the next one.

Connie wears our Aqua Dot Marilyn Dress, White Crew-neck Cardigan and White Two-way Business Bag around Hibiya.

Catch Connie’s career journey in starting up her own businesses in Tokyo in Part One.

Meet Connie Sui Fung, working mother and entrepreneur from Malaysia helping women look and feel their best – Part 1

At kay me, we are always inspired by the amazing achievements and examples set by ambitious individuals who stand up to the challenge. In this series, we chat to International female entrepreneurs who are paving their own paths and leading the way for others in Japan, and hear their stories, advice and perspectives starting up their success. Recently, we caught up with Connie, a mother of three, image consultant and entrepreneur who moved with her family to Japan, eventually starting her own businesses in her 40’s. With little experience in business to start with, she worked her way to establish Color Me Tokyo, her own image consultant agency and now new ventures.

Tell us a little about your background

After I graduated from university in America, I worked for an American payment company as a Data Analyst in Singapore. There I met my husband, got married and had my first child We decided to move to Japan in year 2010, and a year after, my youngest child was born about a month before the Tohoku earthquake. I then started my own business after I turned 40 years old.

How did you start up Color Me Tokyo? What were the biggest challenges you faced starting up?

It was curiosity about how Japanese ladies look fresh and beautiful which turned into a business idea. I went to learn about the beauty culture and etiquette here and how to improve one’s appearance like how many Japanese people in society do. I saw the change myself. From there, I decided to make it my career.

I started the Image consulting salon right after I finished the course as a freelancer. I enjoyed doing the salon business setup, networking, and everything!  Being a newbie in Image consulting and the biggest challenge is customer acquisition.

Any style advice for our readers?

Love yourself.  Once you love yourself, you will care to know more about your style. Sorry back to the style. I would say, style is about balance. Know your face and body proportion. Knowing that, you will know what kind of color, clothing, jewelry, hairstyle, and makeup style is right for you. For example, I have rounded face shape.  I will not put on the round hoop earrings; I will choose something dangle or long to elongate my face.

My facial parts/features are not big, but I know clothing with large prints is not ideal for me.  And then I have my own uniform for work, girlfriend outing and family time.

“Talk to friends or any one you know about your ideas. You may never know; they may be your big investors. “


Could you share with us your experience with networking in Japan? How has that led you to where you are today?

I got distracted from my goals at times, so then I would attend networking sessions once a week, which helped me realign my focus, my goals and purpose. Being surrounded by like-minded ambitious people was a great reminder for me and I even met my current mentor there, who I turn to for advice even today.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start up their own business?

Talk to friends or any one you know about your ideas. You may never know; they may be your big investors.  Do not sit back and let life happen to you. Just get out of your comfort zone and try it. One other thing is you must enjoy the process. If you do not, then that may be not ideal for you, but never give up on the big picture.

Do you have a role model you look up to?

My mother and my sisters of course. My mother is very energetic. She taught me the mother’s role is just like the pillar of the house and making a good balance between business and family matters is key. As for my sisters, I respect my eldest sister business management style. She manages family businesses very efficiently. Then my younger sister is the true entrepreneur. She started her business from scratch. Now she has successfully made her clients look more luxurious with her jewelry.

In Japan, I admire many female entrepreneurs who are shaping the world around us and making a difference. I read your founder, Junko’s story and I admire her innovation.

Connie wears our Fresh Lime Daily Dress, Champagne Pink 29 Pocket Wallet Bag and Coral Pink Vegan Suede Puni Puni Pumps at our Ginza store.

See Part 2 coming up for more on what goes behind the day of Connie Sui Fung.

Event Report: kay me talk show with andu amet’s Hiroko Samejima

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Long time kay me blog readers might remember our wonderful interview with andu amet founder Hiroko Samejima.

Hiroko founded andu amet in 2012, a high-end brand specialising in producing luxury handbags made in Ethiopia by locally trained and supported artisans, using quality Ethiopian sheepskin.

kay me stylist Yoko gives us a glimpse into our recent talk show held at our Shinjuku store and members club, with Hiroko in conversation with kay me founder Junko Kemi…

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Hi everyone, it’s Yoko from kay me Shinjuku!

Lat month we held a special talk event with andu amet founder Hiroko. Prior to the talk show, andu amet items were on show here at our Shinjuku store and guests could touch for themselves the super soft sheepskin and see all the lovely colours and designs. All the kay me stylists and I were so excited.

For the event, we prepared drinks and nibbles and Junko Kemi even specially selected which wine to serve!

As we don’t use a podium for our talks, the speaker and audience are closer, creating a more connected atmosphere.

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Hiroko gave us great insight into working as a founder and manager in Ethiopia and shared a lot of advice.

We received a lot of questions, and time flew by!

As part of the audience, I felt so lucky to hear this talk session between two designs and founders.

I think many people are now considering entrepreneurship!

After the event, Hiroko and Junko both exchanged business cards and networked with the audience, and as a stylist I loved pairing kay me items with andu amet accessories.

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Our next session with a new guest speaker will be at the end of March, and I can’t wait!

Until next time… Yoko.

Seven Questions with… Maki Kado, Representative Director and President, Subsidiary of a Global Beverage Company

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Maki Kado: born in Hiroshima, Japan, majored in computer science at Kagawa University in Shikoku, worked as a software engineer, followed by experience in marketing and product licensing, and business management of a major software company in the US and Japan, currently Representative Director and President at a procurement subsidiary of a leading global beverage company in Japan.

With a career history that spans several industries as well having worked in both the US and Japan, Maki Kado has brought her positive outlook with her wherever she is in the world. Combining motherhood and business, and applying lessons learned from these key experiences has seen Maki rise to the top – here she shares with kay me her advice, influences and essentials for herself as a busy women on the go.

What’s keeping you busy these days?

My youngest son, he’s 16 years old, he recently broke both his arms while weight training – he’s got one cast off now, but he still needs a lot of help with everything from feeding to dressing, so it’s almost like having a baby again.

I also love reading historical novels and business books, but my secret is that I always have to read the final chapter first! It sounds a little strange, but I’ve always done it since I was young and I find it helps me to control my emotions. I have a tendency to empathise too strongly, and knowing how the story ends, helps me to stay in control.   

“my desire for change has come from wanting to try something new and challenge myself”

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How do you unwind on a day off?

Just last weekend my youngest daughter and I went to the movie theatre together, and we spent the whole day watching multiple films together. Just like with novels, I have to know the ending first, as otherwise I might cry out loud in the cinema! So I checked all the internet articles about those movies and was prepared for Dolly to find out about her family and knowing what our pets do when we are away during the day.

When did you decide you wanted to get into your industry?

I’ve worked in many different industries, and my desire for change has come from wanting to try something new and challenge myself. For example, with my first software job, the security was so tight I couldn’t even tell my family what I was working on – my son asked if I was a spy. That was when I decided to go into a totally different industry so I can explain better to my kids what I do when they are at day care. When I worked as a licensing and product marketing advisor, I loved working for a small company and wearing many hats, and that’s when I became fascinated with business, how the world works and how money goes around. I lived in the US for a while and worked for an international software company, but after the 2011 earthquake in Japan which directly impacted my husband’s relatives, we decided to come back to Japan to be closer to our families. All these changes happened without any stable long term planning, but all turned to be a great experience and are building blocks of where I am today.  I am not sure if I ever thought hard about which industry I would like to get into in the future, but I was and still am open to any new challenges that I will be given.

“Looking back, being a mother has helped me a lot in my professional life – I have been trained on a daily basis to be patient, open minded and always have fun”

Who has been the biggest influence on your life and why?

I married young and I’m a mother of five. As you can imagine, without my husband partnership I could have never been where I am today. He’s my biggest supporter, and he’s the best husband I could ever imagine. I couldn’t operate my daily life not even to mention my career without him.

My parents have been also a big influence to who I am. My mother was a nurse and my father was a business man travelling around the world. It was hard for the whole family for the parents to be juggling their business, travel, and family, but was also shown a great example of how it can work.  I have 2 younger sisters, but I do not think it is a coincidence that they all have a successful professional career and are working mothers.

What has been your most challenging professional experience so far?

There were many incidents and situation where people call them as challenging but to be honest I am not sure if I personally would call them challenging. I have a tendency to stay positive and optimistic, I am not sure if I can pin point any particular situation that has been extremely hard on me.

For example, when I became pregnant with my second son, my commute was about two hours each way and I had to stand in a crowded train, so I decided to find something closer to home. I registered with a temp agency while heavily pregnant, and after I had my son – when I was still in the hospital – they asked me to interview at a major software company. I had happened to wear a dark navy maternity dress so was able to interview that day – I got permission from the doctor and borrowed my husband’s belt, and I went out and got that job. Even in that situation, I did not find pregnancy or having an infant in my arms not as a “challenge” but just another element of life.  Looking back, being a mother has helped me a lot in my professional life – I have been trained on a daily basis to be patient, open minded and always have fun.

“Don’t take things too negatively and seriously, look on the positive side. We were chosen to make history”

What advice would you give someone wanting to get into your industry?

The beverage industry is quite masculine, the percentage of women was only few percent until a couple of years ago, partly due to the nature of the work – carrying heavy boxes of beverage bottles, filling vending machines – you need a lot of muscle power. But recently it’s shifted a little and now is close to getting at 10% range. A woman coming into this industry would need to be prepared that there may be times when she would be uncomfortable once in a while. Don’t take things too negatively and seriously, look on the positive side. We were chosen to make history, and there are not many places that we can do this in such mature industry.

Having said that, most likely things I mentioned are nothing particular to a specific industry.  I have opportunities to connect with leaders in other industries and they say it’s almost the same for anyone anywhere – these recommendations are applicable for being a human, nothing specific to being a female or male, or any industry in specific. I’ve moved among very different industries, from IT to beverages, but the approach and the way of thinking is almost the same anywhere.

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What attracted you to kay me?

Actually, here’s a true story: when I wore this dress [Edo Bingata] for the first time and along with day to day usual meetings I went to a doctor’s appointment that day, and he invited me to the opening party of his new clinic. I thought it would be a great opportunity to celebrate and meet people, so I said yes. But it was a formal event at a hotel and if I hadn’t worn this dress I probably would have hesitated or had to go home and change – but I didn’t have to worry, I was able to just say yes!

I think that’s the kind of confidence Junko Kemi was referring to when wearing kay me dresses – you don’t have to be worried about being properly dressed, you don’t need to have any second thoughts. I was able to concentrate on meetings just as a normal routine and also have a chance to be in a big official party right after that without any side concerns even when it was a last minute invitation. In that way it’s impacted my productivity and saved me time by not having to change clothes, and above all, look good while doing so.

I also use this jacket [white bolero] a lot, I wore it on a couple of business trips as I can just open my suitcase and wear it. In London I only brought this jacket with me and washed it in the hotel bathroom. I hung it up overnight and it was ready to wear the next day without any wrinkles.

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Maki’s travel essentials:

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E-reader: I love reading, so my e-reader has quickly become essential, especially on long flights. I also have a cute sticker with a photo of my youngest daughter.

Mp3 player: When I got this mini mp3 player, I handed it to my son straight away and asked him to download some music for me. It’s really special to me as it’s all songs he chose for me, and I haven’t changed any of them since then. I always listen to his playlists on trains and planes.  He has now moved out of the house and has his own career but I feel as if we are travelling together when I listen to his collection.

Folder: My assistant Makita-san prepares an amazing folder for me when I travel that are full of all the information I need at my fingertips. This one has everything about my last London trip: maps, hotel information, hard copies of travel tickets, and local recommendations too. Business trip and needing to accomplish many things in limited time is already stressful enough, little things like this add up to make the trip effective and productive or not. 

Seven Questions with… Mizue Murai, Owner of Madeline Lapin, Tokyo

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Mizue Murai: Born in Yokohama. Enrolled in Tsuji Culinary Institute then attended Brown University in the United States and majored in Visual Art. Worked at JP Morgan and Boston Consulting Group, recently opened a madeleine cake shop, Madeline Lapin, in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo. Mizue is also the author of “Visualisation Makes Things Easy” (Zude Kanngaeruto Subete Matomaru) published by Cross Media Publishing.

Mizue has a unique history: after graduating from high school, she attended Tsuji Culinary Institute and went on to Brown University in the USA, and after graduating university joined JP Morgan. 

“When I started my career, I thought having expertise in both cooking and finance would be really beneficial in the future since there were few people who knew both areas.”

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Seven Questions with… Hiroko Samejima, atelier andu amet CEO and chief designer

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Hiroko Samejima: Born in Tokyo. Worked at domestic manufacturer as designer, went to Ethiopia as a member of Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV). After returning  to Japan and working as a marketing executive, founded aterlier andu amet ltd. in Japan in 2012, as as plc. in Ethiopia in 2015. Received many awards including the “Women of the Year 2013 (career create category)” from Nikkei Woman and “Changemakers of the Year 2015” from Nikkei Business Online.

Hiroko Samejima founded atelier andu amet in 2012, a high-end brand which produces luxury bags made by local artisans in Ethiopia using quality Ethiopian sheepskin. The first time she went to Ethiopia was when she participated in JOCV as a volunteer:

“I got the basic idea of andu amet when I conducted a fashion show which was a huge success there. They loved the products I designed and local craftsmen made. That’s when it hit me. I thought it was the business model which makes everyone happy. It was totally different from the business of mass production and mass consumption in Japan.”

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Seven Questions with… Janelle Reiko Sasaki, Diversity and Inclusion Services at a Major Auditing Firm, Japan

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Janelle Reiko Sasaki: Born in northern California, third generation Japanese family, attended University of California Berkeley, worked at Cisco Systems, currently director of diversity and inclusion services at a major global auditing firm in Japan.

Making an impact takes more than the work of just one person, and to become an influencer requires a lifetime of learning from and collaborating with others. In this new series of features from kay me, we explore the trailblazers and entrepreneurs who go out of their way to achieve their dreams, those who embody kay me’s core values and who have something to teach us all.

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