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“Having lived in Japan for 26 years, I want to help Japanese companies transform the architecture of

BA in Humanities, University of Bucharest, Department of Foreign Language Studies.

MA in International Relations, Hirosaki University Graduate School or Humanities.

Cristian came to Japan in 1990. As the first foreigner graduating from a Japanese university ever to be employed by Toyota Motor Corporation, Cristian joined the F1 team of the automotive manufacturer, working within the Overseas Marketing Division in Tokyo (event planning, stakeholder negotiation and distributor training). After eight years of employment, Cristian left the car manufacturer’s payroll, but he returned as consultant, working with a Tokyo-based marketing consulting firm. He later re-joined Toyota as a mid-career “u-turn employee”, working in Corporate Value Creation within the Product Planning Department, conducting communications projects and market research on next-generation mobility, developing an ecosystem of innovation and collaboration with thought leading creatives from different industries. Cristian later joined Globis University in Tokyo as a senior researcher within Faculty Office, training lecturers and conducting research on advanced business strategy, marketing and modern hospitality practices in the service industry. At present, he is the Founder and CEO of JCE (Japan Creative Enterprise), leading a team of passionate experts and lovers of Japanese culture, who dedicate their time to help various organizations with their innovation process and the development of creative products, services and solutions, as well as to better communicate with customers overseas. Cristian has continued lecturing on marketing and creativity-based curricula within the MBA program of Globis University, helping the institution enhance its reputation overseas. In parallel, Cristian is an IBM consultant, advising corporate clients on Talent and Organizational Transformation projects.




Going back in time, Mr Vlad and myself began our friendship through a series of career counseling discussions. He seemed extremely bright and aggressive in his approach and he also impressed me from those early days with his vision and the choice of companies that he was showing interest in. At that time, I could not be of much assistance to him right away. Now he has brought his career to a completely new dimension, starting his own company to better support the organizations we were talking about back in the days when we first met and to help young and passionate lovers of Japan better achieve their dreams. Mr. Vlad is now offering interesting insights and sharp opinions on Japanese companies going through rapid globalization, and on the future of human capital and talent management.






The study of the Japanese language began in early high school, and continued in Japan

■Kinoshita: In the first place, you stated working very early. Can you please share about your first working experience and your initial contact with Japan?

■Vlad: I started working when I was in high school. I was living the port town of Constanta, in Romania, and the city was visited by tourists and delegations from our sister city Yokohama. In my second year of high school, during the summer vacation, I heard from a local travel agency that they were looking to hire tour managers. I reached out to them and I soon learnt that this was an opportunity to begin a part-time job working as a cruise escort cruise ships sailing on the Black Sea and a guide for land tour operators. Though I did not know much about Japan, some of my first guests turned up to be Japanese celebrities and TV personalities, people with who I soon became friends and who helped me deepen my knowledge and interest in Japan. Before then, I had never lived in Japan, apart from a short visit to Yokohama, where I spent nearly half a month living with a Japanese host family.

After entering the Japanese Studies department of the University of Bucharest, I continued learning about Japan, including, of course, the Japanese language and culture, and I started thinking what I could do to help Japan and Romania come closer to each other.

That was a big turning point in my life. I was really fortunate to meet Ms. Angela Hondru, a great teacher of Japanese in Bucharest. Angela herself is a pioneer of Japanese Studies in Romania. She often said to me, “in Japanese, being a good communicator is not only about words and vocabulary, it is about mastering the art of conversation and being able to do so with the mentality of the Japanese people”. A life-time mentor, Angela always encouraged me to try to see the bigger picture and to take a more anthropological approach to Communications, rather than a pure linguistic one. “Foreign language acquisition”, Angela would often remind me, “is only about the mechanism of the new language, we also about the new culture!”. At that time, I was also considering becoming a teacher of Japanese, just as my mentor, but one day, during an informal discussion, she said to me, “If you teach things to the people, you should not only teach words. Be a man to can teach beyond what words can describe.” She looked me in the eye, but I was so confused. I didn’t really know what to make of that statement. A few months later, I happened to be chosen for a scholarship offered by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, and I ended up studying at Hirosaki University in Aomori Prefecture, in Japan.






Part-time job in a regional bank? Working for two years of college student.

■Kinoshita: You were really blessed with a good teacher, but once your studying in Japan was decided, what did you do next?

■Vlad: This was also a unusual encounter. There was an Aomori Bank branch right next to Hirosaki University. Once day, I saw poster announcing part-time positions with the branch. At that time, there were plans for the Shinkansen “bullet train” to extend service from Morioka onwards to Aomori and later to Hakodate, and that lead to steady rises in the price of the land. As many Tokyo-based banks and other financial institutions from the metropolitan area and major cities were already prospecting the opportunity, investing in land and related real estate was not easy for local individual farmers. Simply put, it was a financial power game, which would leave little to the local people. So, the first thing that came to mind was teaching the concept of “financial instruments” to the local people who wanted to know the mechanism of investments and financial trusts. It was just a part-time job, sitting in front of regular customers who were coming to the branch for regular business.

■Kinoshita: A part-time job! You were doing serious work up there!

■Vlad: Oh, yes! It goes without saying that I did not have all the specialized knowledge or the expertise necessary for the job, neither did I have any strategic intention, such as a specific “career plan” in mind, but I tried to learn as much as I could by conducting regular daily tasks commensurate with my “window business” position and, frankly speaking, I learnt there things I might have never learnt in school. I enjoyed every single minute of this two-year commitment.


The first new grad coming from a Japanese university ever to be hired by Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan



■Kinoshita: How was your job hunting experience at the time of graduating from college?

■Vlad: I wanted to work in a Japanese company. I took advantage of my part-time experience with the bank to apply for some financial institutions. Among them, there was also the Bank of Japan. After applying for the Bank of Japan, I started looking for Japanese providers of mobility, such as Toyota, All Nippon Airways, and the like. Finally, I got a good reply from both Toyota and the Bank of Japan. That made things a bit complicated. Thinking about it, though, I soon realized that working with the automobile manufacturer would be a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about typical Japanese organizations, their people and their working spirit, so I decided to join Toyota, as a result. It was the first time, I found out later, that a foreigner graduating from a Japanese university ever joined the life-time career track path with the car manufacturer.



■Kinoshita: So, you said “no” to THE Bank of Japan?

■Vlad: Yes, I said “no” to THE Bank of Japan. They were very nice people indeed and I remember them with great pleasure. Had I chosen, at that time, to work for the Bank of Japan and not for Toyota, I often wonder what kind of life and career I would have had. A choice is a choice, though, and that is what life is all about, to my mind.









■Kinoshita: So you started working at Toyota. What was that all like?

■Vlad: My first assignment was in marketing. I was helping with global motor shows and other events within the scope of the Overseas Marketing Division, considering how to best introduce new car models, concepts and core messages both in Japan and overseas, while also supporting overseas marketing teams with their motor sports events, such as Formula One, in terms of branding and media communications. So, it wasn’t marketing only. I was sometimes doing communications and in-house public relations, other times I was doing other things, such as market research or distributor training. In fact, as most of the marketing and communications was done with the help of outside agencies, it became important, as I soon figured out through the interaction with those agencies, to ensure that the core concept was communicated to the right audience, with the right language, the artwork, though a good match of feelings and emotions.

In those early days, I met a truly inspirational person, Mr, Tetsuya Kaida, who was working in a completely different department. He was working together with his team to develop some of the core concepts and car models which we would exhibit at global events. Just when the Prius was about to be released, I was working together with his team in the Product Planning Department, trying to engineer a good communications plan for the hybrid vehicle. I then learned the importance of connecting directly with the engineers in order to create truly engaging communications, while also having ultimate fun in the process. When I first worked with Mr, Kaida, although he was not my immediate supervisor, there was something absolutely fascinating about him, something which made me want to know more about his vision and plans. In time, he turned out to be my mentor at Toyota, a person who influenced me a lot in my career and who helped me develop my own professional working style. A few years later, I moved internally to a new training position, helping overseas associates and distributors learn and better connect with the “Toyota Way”. Whenever I needed help or inspiration, Mr. Kaida was always a great point of reference and a bottomless spring of ideas.

At that time, one of the most difficult things for me to understand was the concept of MUST. Things just MUST be done one way or another, sometimes without any sustained logic or specific reason, just simply because they had always been done that way. The more I was trying to figure out some logic, the more I was feeling that I was diving down into an ocean of mysterious emotions. I would sometimes be told that it was the tradition to do certain things in certain ways, or that simply “this is how things are done in Japan”. Full stop. Other times, I would hear that “We Japanese are this and that”, but was said had no relationship whatsoever with human reason; it was just a combination of strange rules which had to be deployed globally to culturally mesmerized employees and business associates.

I often found myself wondering how come the work experience is so different from a Japanese perspective to a non-Japanese one, even though everybody was working for the same organization. It was like there was a wall which is was not visible to the eye. There were a few almighty magicians, such as Mr. Kaida, who could skillfully engage with nearly everyone. But there were many others who couldn’t. Some people were dry, some others were defiant. Some would take things for what they really are, some others would accept nothing but logic. Is it cultural or is it personal? How can I connect with them all? This is how I developed a keen interest in emotional engineering.










■Kinoshita: Once you started learning about the engineering of emotions, how did you use that internally?

■Vlad: The whole process of engineering emotions starts with learning from people working elsewhere, outside the organization. For example, architects and fashion designers working in different countries, people who, at a glance, have nothing to do with the automobile business, but who, in their way, shape the future of our society. They take life very seriously and they think deeply about the dwellings of the future, about how people should dress and move. So, we joined these artists in effort to consider the cars of the future through a series of workshops (conferences, meetings, etc.), where Toyota engineers would meet with the artists and have real-time access to revealing information about future developments of the society first-hand. The concept of personal mobility came out of these sessions, where participants we invited to consider who mobility is really for, where the customer is likely to be in the future, as well as how the world is likely to change. After joining the Corporate Value Creation team lead by Mr. Kaida, I spent about 5 to 6 years conducting such sessions in an effort to help change the organizational culture.

Our mission was to come up with the vehicle of the future. While working together with this new team, I felt compelled to remind my technical colleagues that successful products are not only about Japanese engineering or traditional manufacturing systems, just as our customers were not only the local residents living in the Mikawa region, where Toyota’s factories are. Successful products are introduced to global customers through a combination of successful distributions and sales channels, as well as successful communications, which convey the concept of product, what is fun interesting about the product. Without these sales channels and efficient communications, many great products do not reach their customers. So, we went on considering what could be done in order for our concept products to reach the global customer in the most efficient and impactful way, as my colleagues started to realize the importance of this process. We started thinking about what kind of communications were needed in order to be able to best introduce our technology and products. This was a unique trial for myself too, as I had never been involved in a similar project before, but I soon realized that I could play my part contributing with structure and organizational development.

I was fascinated with people operations. HR processes, talent acquisition (in a broad sense, everything related to the recruiting strategy, starting from building awareness and interest all the way to the very process of bringing people on-board), networks and recruiting pipelines, on-boarding sessions, talent management (placement, training, etc., and systems for talent engagement), all these aspects of people operations seemed a work of pure magic to me. On the other hand, it was also clear to me that without an immediate change of work climate and organizational culture, a serious shift from the mindset of “no foreigners here!”, it would be very impossible to hire and engage global talent.

So, I reached out some of our insightful leaders to ask for their support in setting up a project aimed at transforming the organization and the culture. Our agenda soon piled up with topics such as how to manage non-Japanese employees, diversity and inclusion, organizational non-conformists and other rare talent. What soon became obvious was that a change in the workstyle was needed. People coming from other countries would not be able to integrate into a climate whether tradition defies logic, where working from morning till night, 15 hours a day, is a given, just because everybody else Japanese does so. Many people coming from other countries have a life of their own. We all agreed that the ultimate goal of our project was to provide value to the organization by creating a safe environment for these new comers to maintain their identity and aspirations.






■Kinoshita: How long did it take you to see this project come to life at Toyota?

■Vlad: It took about two years, from the moment I officially joined the Corporate Value Development project. It was a continuous battle, a repeated process of failure and success. Words don’t mean anything until you show results. Especially when it comes to doing things new. New talent, new organization, new projects. And when it comes to money, the business is obviously not ready to invest into everything that is new. Two years after we embarked on this journey, associates, who had never seen a foreigner anywhere else but in movies, stated talking to others internally about how much fun it actually is to work in diverse team and this slowly helped change everyone’s mindset and perception of life. Of course, this is not something I could have ever done all by myself. I was now working with people coming from different countries, with different backgrounds and aspirations. Most of them were highly motivated interns, young people who were not thinking that they would come to work and follow directions; rather, they were all thinking what they could do to play a bigger part, to stretch and go beyond the attributions of the internship program in order to make the most of their opportunity. These are people to would choose to sleep, let’s say, an hour less every day in order to better prepare for their work. That was why they would often go beyond the simple attributions of an intern and bring their whole selves to work. This attitude, though, was not embraced my all. To some Japanese people, it seemed that the interns were crossing the line, that they were doing something that they should not be doing. Therefore, discussions ignited about the immediate necessity of implementing rules and regulations to manage and control this kind of unruly talent.

What people often forget, though, is that freedom is so important to humanity. It is so important to have a space where you are able to think freely. Of course, as this was a truly special project with a special mission, there were inevitable aspects of conformity. However, innovation does not happen when you have your bag checked by security people every single day as you come to work and every single evening as you leave the office. After two years of continuous debates and repeated discussions, the atmosphere started to change as more and more associates began to recognize this reality.








In an attempt to help change the style of work in Japan, I decided to take a break from Toyota.

■Kinoshita: After your experience with this two-year project of organizational transformation and raising talent expected to develop next-generation mobility at Toyota until now, how has your career changed?

■Vlad: Well, after experiencing “change” in the office, I soon realized that to me, personally, “change” meant “changing the work style”. “Work” to me and the people in my entourage is not just “ticking a box” or just “getting the job done”. Modern technology, AI (Artificial Intelligence) can easily do that. “Work” is what only people can do in their human ways. I personally love my work and, through it, I like to bring value to the world, to help others being happy in the long term. Checking the box and getting things done on a hand-to-mouth basis may surely be important tasks. What I take even more interest in, though, is learning how a certain task has come life, what could be done to make work more interesting and enjoyable, how I can contribute to making work fun in modern Japan. This is how I came to re-acknowledge the importance of freedom in one’s work and necessity of changing the current work style. When I was on Toyota’s payroll, similarly to many other Japanese companies, Toyota was preventing its people from alternative employment through invisible chains and ropes. It felt as if we asked to fly, to innovate, while having our hands and feet tightly bound behind us at the same time. Whenever we tried to create new opportunities, it felt as if the organization was coming back to us telling us a hundred times why we should not do so. Even when I left the company, to me it never felt like I truly resigned from the Toyota – I simply took a longer break from it. I felt that I could contribute more to the business and to my colleagues by being away and creating better and more significant output elsewhere.

The moment I departed from Toyota, I started JCE Japan Creative Enterprise. I thought to myself that as long as there is something I really want to do, there should be a way to do it, even if I have to it all by myself, as a self-employed consultant. However, as many corporates would rather not have anything to do with small consultancies, things did not go easy. At that time, a young girl in her early twenties told me that there was a very dynamic organization in Japan, named Globis University, and everyone I knew seemed to agree with her. This is how got to join the Faculty Group Office at Globis in Tokyo and work there for two years. My mission here was to help with the development of the English content, case studies and other curriculum, ranging from venture classes, to “work” and “people” related coursework, value creation and so on. I was driven the sole idea that “changing the education” meant “changing the country”.








While discovering modern work practices at Globis, I carried on with corporate HR consulting

■Vlad: GLOBIS, at that time, was the pinnacle of modern work style to me. Everything that was taboo at Toyota seemed to be daily practice at Globis. People were expected to work elsewhere a certain amount of hours and collect practical business experience. Lack of practical business experience leads to lack of persuasion in class. Therefore, people were encouraged to collaborate or advice on other businesses in order to collect practical expertise. Globis did not seem to be the same type of Japanese organization as Toyota at all. It simply felt good. I was feeling a bit confused and insecure in the beginning, but, in time, good results started showing and today Globis is one of our main JCE clients. It is an indispensable partnership. I can believe that it is nearly six years since I first walked through their door. Even today I teach Innovation Management and Service Management classes there, once or twice a month, sharing my work experience with the students and helping them discover their true potential and calling in the modern world.

■Kinoshita: Your encounter with Globis has obviously been of great impact to you. What other projects have you recently been involved in?

■Vlad: Recently, I was involved in the rebranding process of MetLife. It was at the time when the organization changed its name from MetLife Alico to MetLife. I took my chances, once again, experimenting alternative employment. To begin with, alternative employment does not really resonate well with financial institutions. However, I did not give in. I explained my thoughts and principles to the management. Even if there was not a system in place for such a case, I carried on to explain why, for me, at least, alternative employment was a necessary reality. As a result, the management, who believed in diversity, saw my point and agreed to experiment working with such an uncommon case as myself. This is how rare cases make room for new standards. After this one year project at MetLife, I joined en Japan in an effort to help the business with their innovation strategy. As the business was going through a large-scale M&A process, a shift in mentality, culture and organizational structure was becoming imperative. However, when trying to change corporate culture you can immediately hear breaks squeak and rattle all over the place. People will not say it openly, but you can feel that the difference in mentality between Japanese and their non-Japanese colleagues bring innovation to a halt.

In recent years, flashy words such as “innovation” and “transformation” are on everyone’s lips. However, people’s mentality and true feelings are so hard to change. This is mainly so because everyone is increasingly aware of their differences, rather than what they have in common. Trying to change work practices through innovation is pointless, as long as you do not reach the unconscious bias, deeply rooted into people’s hearts.







■Kinoshita: Abe administration seems to be quite keen on changing the way women work in Japan and everyone seems to be talking about doing less extra hours and changing the work style in the country. To your mind, what should organizations and HR people be doing about this?

■Vlad: Frankly, I think that is quite simple. Experiences and information are necessary for human growth. Helping people acknowledge how truly backward Japan is in these practices might be a first step. Showing everyone how great talent leaves the country in search of employment elsewhere. The big ship needs to be steered back on its course. There is an increasing number of young Japanese people, both throughout Europe and North America, who do not want to return and work in Japan. There are so many great things in Japan: great technology, goods and products, and so on. Yet, businesses which lose their vision, such as Sharp, for example, end up being purchased by overseas competitors. What people need to understand is that transformation is not cherry picking. The times have come for a new type of talent, for a new type of media. Mr. Kaida used to tell us about the importance of “cherishing transitions”. Evolution is all about change. Transformation and metamorphosis are necessary for human evolution. The same goes for HR and organizational practices. Modern thought will not come out of business as usual, out of same old talent management practices and workstyle. The social architects of tomorrow need to start thinking about meaningful work climate engineering and welcoming spaces of work. Personally, I would really like to see HR associates shift their mindset from “General Affairs” to “Strategic HR”. Be professional! I have met quite a few HR professionals in my career who recognize a pattern for a pattern and who maintain a strong functional role in their daily operations. However, they also consider what can strategically be done for the organization and the business, while constantly revising operations. It is all about making room for innovation in the work place. These people do not think only about their own companies, but also about other companies as well, about the industry in which they work, about the world, about what is currently best practice at a global level. They test new practices and they try to implement them right away. They test what works and what does not for their organization and they fine tune their HR system constantly. They commit and invest a lot in their own personal growth and they spare no effort in expanding their networks and spheres of information.






■Kinoshita: On an individual level, what can be done?

■Vlad: I think that individually people need to start thinking of work as an “opportunity” rather than “entitlement”. It is important to develop turn this into a habit. I myself do not work exactly in the same field I thought I would when I was student, neither did I ever get on an elite course of any corporate rail. I only thought of what I could do to be of best assistance to others while also enjoying the process. I still often think of where and how I can provide value through my work, because “work”, to me, is a great “opportunity” to do something meaningful for the society. I always think about what there is that I can do in order create good results and to impact the world positively. However, “opportunities” don’t drop from the sky. We need to search for them and to be able to recognize them when they present themselves. Therefore, we all need to be aware of the changes taking place in the world, search for relevant information and develop an image, even if it is a vague one, of where we want to be next year, the following one, in five years’ time, in ten years’ time and so on. We all need to keep searching for our own way in life. In Japan, many people think that employment is life-time entitlement. When hired, we all need to be able to find growth opportunities internally. Even if the organization may initially provide us with an opportunity as we get started, it may not do so for ever. We need to be mindful of what other opportunities for growth they might be around us. Private businesses are capital centric organisms. Regardless of whether we are new grads, mid-careers, managers or whatever else, we all need to be aware of what we can do (and what we cannot) in order to contribute to the meaningful growth of the business.




昔、「made in Japan」の時代の良さがあると思います。これからのデジタル革命が起きた時でも日本人ならではの価値提供の仕方、日本の面白さを持って、世界のこれからの社会に一つでも多く伝えていき、日本人の心を支えるようなことができればと思っています。



■Kinoshita: I see. . . So we need we also need change at an individual level. Change is not only about the company, but also about the organization and the people.

Finally, what kind of change and aspirations do you still hold for the future?

■Vlad: Frankly speaking, in my case life, things have never turned out to be the way I planned or imagined them, ever since I was a child. However, during my 26 years in Japan and I have experienced many interesting projects together with my friends here and I would like to dedicate my career to contribute to the Japanese society and support Japanese manufacturing organizations through their process of transformation. A while ago, “made in Japan” was a symbol of the times. From now onwards, even during the days of this rapidly evolving digital revolution, I would like to see the Japanese people contribute with their own authentic value and pride to the development of future products. When travelling abroad, I often get asked where I come from. When I respond, “from Tokyo”, I usually get looked with a slight suspicion. This is another evidence of how bizarre it still appears to the world that someone like myself could be coming from there. I am not ashamed if this at all, though, and I hope they the Japanese people would be inspired and motivated by my determination to bring the best out of themselves and co-create value for a better future world. I want to help raise a few generations of young people who will be proud to say that they are Japanese and that they come from a country that is once again respected and admired worldwide.

■Kinoshita: I feel you are thinking of Japan more than Japanese people do. I think that there is a side of Japan which is still not that flexible and ready for change. That reminds me, though, that there are so many opportunities for growth in the area of HR and People Operations here in this country. Thank you very much for your time today!






Editor’s note

This interview is a cocktail of first time experiments. This is the first time for me to interview a foreign national living in Japan, to do it all by myself, to do all the photography, to create the transcript straight from the voice recording, and then also to create an English version of the text. Altogether, it took a considerable amount of time. Therefore, although there is still a lot of room left for improvement, I would like to release it as a first-time trial of doing everything on my own.

I occasionally meet Mr. Vlad for lunch and we talk about the future of our country and various issues related to talent acquisition in Japan, and in most occasions our conversations lead to the same topic: “the future of the Japanese people”. We both have similar concerns and we both try to find out what can realistically be done.

On the occasion of this interview, I listened once again to Mr. Vlad’s memories from his university days. It came to me as a reconfirmation that, while experiencing a considerable amount of change and transformation, Mr. Vlad himself has continuously transformed with great agility and flexibility, without giving in to cultural stereotypes and prejudice. Maybe that this is the very reason for which he has also been able to lecture with so much passion and inspiration at Globis for 6 consecutive years.

“Cherishing transition” is all abou being flexible, while also having a strong will of one’s own, a will needed for purposeful transformation. This is what I felt throughout this interview, and this is what I wish to convey to the younger generation, in hope that this report will be a good trigger for all of them to re-think their own future. I am so grateful for this opportunity!.

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