Sunday 15 April 2012

Inspiration Sunday with Paula Sugawara

Today's interview is with Paula, a fellow Brit who is also married to a Japanese bloke and lives in Tokyo, she runs a successful business, Tokyo Coaching Services and is forever jet setting to different places.

Could we start off with you telling us a bit about yourself...
Originally from Yorkshire, I am married to Shigeo. Two children - Hugo 13 (Year 2 at Junior High) and Romy 10 (year 5 at Junior School).

How long have you been in Japan?
I have been here 23.5 years. 
What bought you to Japan in the first place?
During my last year at University I applied for the JET program and was turned down for it (maybe due to my strong Yorkshire accent at the time??). However, the whole application process had sparked my interest in Japan so I started reading a lot of Japanese literature such as Kawabata, Tanizaki, Endo etc and particularly fell in love with the work of Yukio Mishima and decided I had to come and see Japan for myself. So I got myself here and managed to find a job teaching English within a week of arriving.  
What kind of level is your Japanese?
For a long time you were involved in investment research, what made you decide to switch to coaching?
At Goldman Sachs I was a senior investment analyst with a research assistant, secretary and MBA intern as part of my team. Despite the negative impression a lot of people might have about investment banks firing people at liberty Goldman was not like that. If somebody in your team was not up to the required level then it was up to the analyst to get them up to speed and up that performance curve. So that got me interested in managing people, helping them to improve their performance and working together as a team. Plus, I had both my children when at Goldman and decided that as much as I loved my job I wanted more flexibility to be with them and organise play dates, attend yochien events etc. I had always had a long term plan to work for myself at some stage in my career so decided to leave finance and retrain as an executive coach.. 
How did you start on the coaching path? Did you take any courses?
I wanted to use my business background and interest in people to help other people realise their goals so I decided an executive coach would be a better option for me rather than just a life coach or one of the other niche coaching areas. I did my training online and via conference calls with the International Coach Academy and qualified in their Professional Coaching Certificate Program in 2004. 
What sort of clients do you have as a coach?
Multi-nationals and Japanese companies. As I have a backgrond in finance a lot of my clients are also in the same area - funnily enough my two largest clients are both my former employers - Goldman Sachs and Nomura Securities! Other key clients would be Panasonic, Coca Cola, AON, L'Oreal, Stryker, Guerlain (LVMH Group), Barclays, Astellas Pharma, Komatsu, Hitachi Group, Nippon Sheet Glass, Lenovo etc. 
If someone is interested in having coaching sessions with you, how do that go about that?
Mmmmh, I don't tend to coach people on an individual basis since executive coaching is quite expensive. It is usually the company who pays not the individual, so if I ever coach somebody who is paying out of their own pocket I charge them a much lower rate and it is only if I am feeling very very charitable or it is an interesting coaching case.... However, if somebody is really interested in being coached I can usually introduce them to somebody who focuses more on life coaching than executive coaching.
As a woman and a foreigner, what difficulties have you encountered running your own business in Japan?
I would say a lot of my clients view me almost as third gender. They don't treat me completely as a man nor as a woman - and in some cases are a little bit daunted by a professional foreign woman. I think the fact that I speak Japanese and am quite assertive helps too. But there are always going to be people here who discriminate against women and feel that a Japanese person or a male would do the job better. One very recent case was where I delivered a leadership training program for a client who said they had really enjoyed it and wanted to introduce the program to other management levels within the organisation - but they prefer a Japanese guy to do this so asked if I would introduce them to a Japanese male trainer and train him to deliver the program. They would pay me to train him but then he would take over and do the rest of the training on his own. Even though this would have been quite a profitable project for me I said no. If I am not good enough to train their employees then why should they think I am good enough to train a guy to do it. For me it was the principle of the issue and not the money.
Many foreigners fall into either the ESL teacher or translator style jobs but that doesn't suit everyone, what advice would you give to those who want to do something other than teaching/translating work.
There are a lot of opportunities open if you can speak Japanese so I would very strongly encourage people to work hard on their Japanese language. You can get away with not being able to read everything but if you can speak it then it can open a lot of doors. If you have another skill to offer then that will also strengthen your position. In my area of training and coaching for example, there are very few people who can operate in both languages so there is a real premium on people with those skills.
As a busy mum running your own company and with two kids, what are your top tips for other mums out there?
Delegate!! If you have extra income then use that to make your life easier. I have a cleaner who comes once a week for 3 hours which is not that expensive. If I finish work late then I pick up bentos or something already prepared from the station or local supermarket. I have my shopping delivered and am lucky to have my MIL living nearby so will ask her to do things now and again too. Don't feel guilty about working and make time for yourself.

Try to be at school events - Japanese schools and yochien have a lot of observation days, class events, park gatherings etc. I couldn't go to all of them but I tried to go to as many as possible and if I couldn't then my husband would try and go.

Anything else you would like to add?
I try not to get too heavily involved with some of the school mums! Some of these women have no work, hobbies, interests and spend a lot of time at home texting each other, gossipping and going out to lunch. I try and join them now and again but sometimes find that the gossip etc can get negative - a lot of it is about school, other people's children and other Mums so maintaining a balance between keeping them as friends/acquaintances but not getting in too deep is very important.
Thank you Paula, it is always interesting to hear about other ex-pats and how they make a living, or maybe that's just me being nosey!

If you want to learn more about Paula or hire her services for your company you can find her at Tokyo Coaching Services.

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Sounds like she has quite a different experience from most moms I know in Japan.


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