Japan-US Business News: What were the most demanding conflicts that you faced?
Shibata-san: At one stage in my career, the company I worked for had a location in Houston, which isn’t high on the list of places people in Japan hope to visit. I was chosen to oversee our expansion on the East Coast in our Washington, D.C., office in Virginia, which enabled me to make many trips there over the next five years.
From my base in D.C., I traveled all over the US, visiting potential partner schools that would offer our services. It sounds exciting, but most of what I saw consisted of the inside of airplanes, taxis and hotels.
However, I did get a feel for how tough it was to be a global businessperson. Picking up and moving from one city to the next in a foreign country, being far from family and friends, traveling from hotel to hotel, I gained an appreciation for the human challenges that our clients faced as their companies grew internationally.
I learned to be ready for anything, and to take the unexpected in stride. Often things don’t go as planned. Suitcases went one way and my airplane went another. Flights were canceled, leaving me without a place to stay for the night. Rooms were sometimes filthy, and the bar sometimes closed before the stresses of the day had been dulled by a sufficient quantity of the dry martinis I enjoyed at the end of a long day.
Through it all, I managed to enjoy the little miracles and pleasures that I encountered along the way. I learned a lot and grew strong.
In particular, I gained the ability to quickly make decisions and adjust to whatever situation I found myself in. Now, whenever it seems that things are going wrong, I look for the nuggets of wisdom or personal growth available in the situation.
“Never give up!” has become a guiding philosophy of my life.
Over the years, trends toward the “internationalization” of Japanese businesses turned into the now-popular “globalization” movement.
Through it all, I continued to support this growth through educational and experiential programs that broadened the minds of participants.
Just going abroad doesn’t necessarily result in acquiring a global mindset, however, so we developed programs that included real-world experiences, tough challenges, and rich opportunities for people to grow as human beings as well as business leaders.
Seeing the changes in their faces convinced me that we were doing the right things to enable them to be ready for the changes and challenges ahead. I felt I was finally doing something I could really believe in.
Japan-US Business News: Tell us about where you are in your career now?
Shibata-san:After over 23 years of working in the industry, I was finally promoted to an executive position in my current company, ALC Education, Inc. On that particular day, I was invited to a meeting with the founder and CEO of our company, and was told about the promotion. This was an especially big deal because I was the first woman within our company to be promoted to an executive position, what we call being a “board member” here in Japan.
The promotion wasn’t based on age or seniority, as is still the case in some Japanese companies.
The overseas programs we’d been running had grown into global programs in Japan, taught by consultants from abroad, and the revenues and profits of this new business had grown significantly over the past couple of years.
Our success was undeniable, and I think my promotion was a direct result of that, and of my ability to communicate effectively in complicated circumstances where many parties need to reach an agreement to achieve some desired result.
Some people say that I single-handedly started this new area of our business, which now accounts for the fastest-growing part of our business.
But I’m mature enough to know that no one does something of this magnitude alone, and I owe much of the success to the wonderful people who have been on this journey with me. (Nevertheless, I always enjoy hearing how people appreciate my contribution to this work.)
Future dreams and goals...
Japan-US Business News: What are your plans for the future?
Shibata-san: I’m still holding on to my dream of helping to usher in the changes that Japanese businesses need to make in order to help solve the problems of our world.
I even have the audacity to imagine that I might somehow be contributing in some way to world peace through my work. Of course the world has so many problems that I also sometimes wonder whether one small Japanese businesswoman can make any difference at all.
Although I’ve been tempted to give up many times, my belief has grown stronger since I’ve started building my mental muscles. Now I’m guided by the inspiration that I first heard from my friend and associate, Kimberly Wiefling: “What seems impossible is often merely difficult.”
Japan-US Business News: What things do you find personally rewarding and satisfying?
Shibata-san: I understand the importance of inspiring others. Personally, I’m doing whatever I can to help in my own way to contribute to a greater purpose than my own life here on earth. I hope you’ll join me in that adventure. It’s exciting!
Japan-US Business News: What do you want to see happen for women in business in Japan?
Shibata-san: Women supporting women more and more so that they can continue their career while raising their children since we cannot and should not wait for companies or the government to change the situation.
We should take action because it is so important and necessary for more women to be in powerful positions in business to make Japan better.
Japan-US Business News: What do you want to say to the world about Japanese women and their business potential?
Shibata-san: Hold up a hope for us, we will show our power soon!
Japan-US Business News: If you could do one thing to bring about a change to Japan, what would it be?
Shibata-san: Change our government completely. People with real hearts for Japan and the world should be in charge.
I would like to thank Shibata-san for being so gracious and allowing me to interview her and taking a chance with Japan-US Business News as the first interviewee in this year long profile series.
I think this will be an exciting, inspirational and educational series. As she stated “Japanese women will be showing their power soon”. I think they are already are and with the changing climate in Japanese business, women are going to come more and more to the forefront. _________________________________________________________________________________________
For more information about Yuko Shibata and ALC Education, Inc. and their Global Management Programs, please visit:
ALC Education (English)
ALC Education (Japanese)