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Interview with Lin Kobayashi on her early career: Lead with your strengths

  • 2015-11-04 15:00:00
  • , Nikkei
  • Translation

(Nikkei: November 3, 2015 – p. 25)

 

 Lin Kobayashi (age 41), chair of the board at International School of Asia, Karuizawa (ISAK), [Japan’s only] fully residential private international high school, started her career at a foreign-owned financial institution.

 

 At university, I always sat in the front row during classes I found interesting. I put a lot of energy into my seminars in marketing, microeconomics, and development economics. [As graduation drew close,] I decided to look for a job in international aid or international cooperation at a government agency. However, when I visited an alumnus of my university who was in that kind of work, he told me point blank, “You aren’t cut out for work at a public agency.”

 

 I took a job at Morgan Stanley Japan Limited at the recommendation of my husband. “At foreign-affiliated companies, [new graduates] are given important projects from early on so it’ll be easy for you to show them what you can do,” he said. With that encouragement, I sat for an interview. Then I started to think seriously about what was needed to enable young people to throw themselves into their work. When I actually met employees of the company, they seemed exuberant.

 

 After receiving an informal job offer, I went on a solo trip to Mexico for about one month during summer vacation to write my graduation thesis, and I spent every day of my entire winter and spring breaks skiing. [In other words,] during my university years I threw myself into doing things that I could only do at that time rather than preparing to join the workforce.

 

 Put in charge of large projects from her first year

 

 I was in charge of a real estate fund as an analyst at the company’s investment banking division. The division was only two years old at the time, and more than half of the staff was non-Japanese. Even employees in their first year were in charge of major negotiations as well as legal and tax matters. I had to create financial models, but I am not good with numbers and would sometimes make a mistake with the decimal place. If I had to do a complicated model, I would ask people senior to me for help. Sometimes they would just say, “Do it yourself!”

 

 One time, I had a setback on a project I was working really hard on: The client and I could not agree on the value of some bad loans. After many negotiations and discussions over meals with the client’s executives, I was able to reach an agreement with them.

 

 Finds her forte thanks to a comment from her supervisor

 

 What left the deepest impression on me [at my first job] is what my supervisor told me at the end of that first year as an overall evaluation of my performance: “You really are bad with numbers,” he said. “But you are excellent at negotiations and at handling people.” Since then, I have lived by intentionally focusing on my strengths. I thought to create a career that leveraged my strengths because of these words from my supervisor.

 

 In your twenties, what you want to do is important, but also critical are the kind of organization you work at, your style of work, and the manner in which you gain experience. Working at a foreign-owned financial institution was perfect for me in building skills in a short period of time. Opportunities will definitely come along if you do your best at the job you are given and do not shrink back because you fear making a mistake. I think it is important to find a career that only you can do.

 

 Profile: Born in Tokyo, Ms. Kobayashi graduated from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Tokyo in 1998 and joined Morgan Stanley Japan Ltd. that same year. After working for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she opened ISAK in 2014. Today, a total of 98 high school students from 29 countries and regions throughout the world attend ISAK. Ms. Kobayashi leaves the teaching up to her staff while she takes care of school management, public relations, and fundraising. She is a member of the Japanese national government’s Council for the Implementation of Education Rebuilding and advocates for the reform of teachers’ work environments.

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