Yukako Uchinaga, CEO of the internationally renowned language service company Berlitz International, is famous for climbing the corporate ladder -- starting out at IBM Japan in 1971 and rising to become the senior managing director of IBM‘s Asia-Pacific Operations in 2007 -- in the conservative Japanese corporate world.
“If a woman wants to continue her career, the most important thing is whether the top executives understand about diversity. If they do, they will give opportunities to women,” Uchinaga told the Korea Herald during a brief visit to Seoul.
In 1999, she became the first woman from outside the U.S. to be inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.
When she looks back on her career of 35 years, one of her advantages was that she worked for an international company, IBM, which was a strong company in terms of promoting diversity, she said.
To check if the top management understands diversity, jobseekers should carefully watch their speeches and see whether their slogan for diversity is just lip service, she added.
The toughest challenge she had to overcome was in 1989 when she had to do four different jobs in a year at IBM.
She was appointed as the head of the strategy group of the R&D organization in the first three months. Three months later, she was moved to lead the communication product development group for another three months, led the product sales group for three months again and finally, the software development group.
“I was so upset and said to the HR manager it was crazy. But he said it was the only way and I just did it, although it was the hardest time for me,” the 64-year-old said.
While many women face challenges juggling both childrearing and work, Uchinaga suggested that women accept the situation as a great opportunity to enjoy the full spectrum of life.
“Women can have children, a husband and a career. We can say this is a full course of life, an excellent and positive opportunity!” she said.
All they have to do is set priorities, articulate them and manage time and resources according to the priorities, she said.
After retiring from IBM in 2007, she joined Berlitz International as CEO in 2008.
Uchinaga spent the first year as CEO assessing and analyzing the business of Berlitz International.
With the global economy hit hard in 2009, the company’s revenue declined 11 percent from 2008 to post $527.3 million.
However, she did not stop investing and innovating and but designed new strategies to transform the company into a leadership training service provider from a language service provider.
With the recovery of the U.S. and Asian markets this year, Uchinaga is striving to accelerate implementation of her new strategies, especially when so many similar language services are expanding quickly at lower prices on the internet.
“Most of our customers come from the corporate side. Our customers’ needs are shifting from just a foreign language to much more global leadership,” she said.
Her other priorities this year include expanding the company’s ESL study abroad programs in collaboration with U.S. universities and boosting revenue in emerging markets, including China and Korea.
For an export-driven economy like Korea, Berlitz will be able to provide cross-cultural training services as well as English learning services for Korean businesspeople, Uchinaga said.
By Kim Yoon-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org)