The President’s Profile

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Principal of a global talent training school (Sejinjuku)

Developer of those with TOEIC scores above 700 into global talent

When I turned 20, I forwent my privilege to have a stately kimono made in honor of my coming-of-age ceremony and, instead, got permission from my mother to visit my father who was stationed in Germany by his company. That was my debut abroad. At a garden party of 50 guests, I found myself the only one unable to communicate in English. The experience forced me to have a reality check: The world I had been familiar with was but a tiny speck of the whole wide world out there. It also gave me the motivation to study English harder, for I knew it would hold the key to communicating with multitudes of people from around the world. It would be so fun!

I passed the highest grade of the prestigious STEP (Society for Testing English Proficiency) at the age of 22 and, upon graduating from college, joined the human resources department of GE Japan. Working in an office environment where 50 out of 250 employees were expats from head office, it was easy to delude myself into thinking that my English was adequate for performing my responsibilities in that language.

At the age of 25, I went on my first business trip abroad to Boston. There I was in for a culture shock. It was an informal, down-to-earth environment where I was on a first-name basis with guest lecturers with Ph.D.s and where my coworkers would tease me for my petite physique. But much more than that, what flabbergasted me was that I failed to follow what they were saying (except when they were teasing me about my height!). It was then that a double realization hit me like a thunderbolt: Those expats in the GE Japan office had gradually learned to speak slow to accommodate us Japanese coworkers; East Coast Americans are known to speak particularly fast. The upshot was that I fell short of understanding the seminar talks. It goes without saying that I never got around to making a single statement in public. In misery, I cried myself to sleep in my hotel room that night.

In my long career track in human resources, I have had the privilege to interview more than 10,000 persons. It has been a learning experience, for in the process, I have honed my powers of observation, acquired the acumen to help the interviewee attain a better self-understanding, sharpened the ability to assist the candidate with taking stock of their career path, and developed the expertise to offer advice on writing an English resume and preparing for an English interview.

My learning curve has been a trial and error process. On one occasion, I gave my American boss a piece of my mind in my belief that nothing short of outspokenness would work with an American. When I saw that he was about to fire me, I hurriedly jumped ship and changed jobs. On another occasion, I fought tooth and nail with the American head office for a year and a half trying to talk them out of the ongoing worldwide layoffs. I was fortunately successful in influencing them to change the course. These and other experiences taught me how to modulate my communication mode in English; they also played a critical role in helping me develop requisite skills for working in English. When I was head of human resources with DHL Japan, 12 of the chief executives of this 300,000-people strong company paid us a visit in Japan. I was chosen as one of the three presenters—and the only Japanese employee—on this occasion. After my presentation, I was called over by the CEO and was personally commended by him.

When I returned to Japan after 18 months in Australia, I was genuinely struck with a sense of crisis when I saw that, despite their years of rigorous education, most Japanese cannot speak English—even when they can, they do not possess the level of proficiency to work effectively with foreigners. Japan is faced with the double challenge of a declining birth rate and an aging population. However, I strongly believe that our future as a nation is bright so long as we have a young generation of global talent to lead us. It is with such conviction that I daily devote my cumulative experience and skill sets to train future global leaders at Sejinjuku.

Bridging Japan and the World Mikako Suzuki, President, AT Globe

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