On Thursday, Ms. Kiyoko Toyama was an invited speaker of the Japan Club, and spoke to Thunderbird Students about her experience working for NKK Switches in Scottsdale, Arizona, a subsidiary of a Japanese firm of the same name.
Ms. Toyama’s story is an interesting one, growing up in Japan and eventually moving to the United States. She attended college on the weekends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin while raising a child, and from there, her bi-cultural background led her to be the fourth employee hired by NKK Switches in America.
Eventually, in 1999, she became president of the company. She was the only female senior executive in the entire NKK Switches company, and elaborated on how she was able to do just that. With the cover story of this month’s Harvard Business Review focusing on gender and the workplace, I thought it was a timely speech. She spoke about how she gained the trust of the Japanese executives through hard work and perseverance, and I’m sure her Japanese background helped as well.
As a global company, Ms. Toyama elaborated on global challenges, like getting the parent company to focus on cultural differences in customers. Sometimes, an issue as minute as the color of a switch changing when turned on is enough for a customer to ask for changes, which NKK in Japan had issues reconciling. She also asked us as businesspeople to always have a plan B, as she had when managing a global supply chain of various components.
All in all, Ms. Toyama had some very interesting insights on how to run a global business. And while I don’t see myself getting into the switch-making business anytime soon, my biggest takeaway from the talk was to focus on quality control, not just in the products that your company is making, but in how you conduct yourself as a businessperson. If you take the right steps, you may just lead the company one day.