Listen to this article
Miki Tsusaka is a senior partner and managing director at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and an MBA graduate of Harvard Business School (HBS) in the US. She currently also serves as a member of BCG’s executive committee.
Born in Tokyo, Ms Tsusaka moved to New York for her studies. In 1984, she joined BCG Tokyo as an associate and went on to lead BCG’s global marketing and sales practice. She has also worked at Goldman Sachs and the International Consulting of Japan.
In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, playing golf and tennis and reading mystery novels.
1. Who inspires you?
My grandmother. She was the first woman in her family to go to college. I remember in elementary school she would say to me: “Even girls have to be able to make money to take care of themselves, so study hard and prepare to take care of yourself”. My grandmother started a woman’s trade school which evolved into a college, with specialities such as early childhood education and home care and an affiliated high school and nursery school that now has 3,000 students in northern Japan. She ran the school as well as being an educator herself. My grandfather was her co-partner but he would say she was the one that drove the vision, the mission and the enterprise for years.
As part of the BCG delegation, I have attended the World Economic Forum in Davos four times and I get inspired each year I attend. The global shapers are so young and what they have already accomplished is truly impressive. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Indra Nooyi, chairman and chief executive of PepsiCo, give me great personal energy as I feel I can relate to their challenges and their backgrounds as leaders who are women.
2. What academic achievement are you most proud of?
As I graduated from high school in New York at 17, my parents were being transferred back to Tokyo. While I contemplated getting a degree in Japan, they allowed me to stay in the US if I got a place at Harvard College. I did and graduated magna cum laude in government and East Asian studies. I returned to Harvard for business school and discovered I was the sixth or seventh Japanese woman to get a degree from HBS. My first mentor and manager at BCG, Eiko Koizumi, was the very first Japanese woman to receive an MBA from HBS; I am proud I was able to follow in her footsteps and many more have followed since.
3. What is the best piece of advice given to you by a teacher?
My HBS marketing professor once said to me: “less is sometimes more, Miki”. HBS has a strong class participation culture and he was coaching me to step back, relax and focus on the few things that matter the most. This approach has worked well for me whether it was making a shorter but sharper comment in class or writing a thoughtful but concise paper today.
4. What is your favourite memory of business school?
Suffering and surviving first year with my study group. We burnt the midnight oil and helped each other prepare for class every day. My husband was also a part of that – we were one of two married couples accepted to HBS that year. Looking back, it was that support that helped me get through the most challenging part of my two years and things just got more fun and easier after that.
5. What is your biggest lesson learnt?
At HBS, my favourite class was a first year mandatory course in organisational behaviour. It was seen as an ‘easy’ class vs. the other required classes and I didn’t know then it would leave such an impression on me. I have lived and breathed the principles of that course every day since. People make business happen and appreciating and embracing that human component is the most important business lesson anyone can learn.
6. Who is your ideal professor?
I attended my 25th reunion at HBS and thoroughly enjoyed the lectures from Amy Cuddy, a professor and social psychologist, and Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a specialist in strategy, innovation and leadership for change. They are both experts in their respective areas and I couldn’t help but admire how they captivated hundreds of us in the room.
7. What advice would you give to women graduating this year from business school?
Remind yourself you have made it as you continue to hone your skills to be leaders in business. You have earned it and you deserve to succeed. Those around you will surely benefit from your energy and drive. Take a great holiday and then prepare to arrive at your next destination with great energy. Keep moving onwards and upwards. Remember: you need to feel good to look good and to do well, so take care of your health and yourself along the way.
8. How do you deal with male-dominated environments?
I don’t think about it actively most of the time because the business world has forever had an under representation of women. In my college major, women made up less than 20 per cent of the class and at HBS we were less than 30 per cent. It is low single digits in the circles I find myself in Japan, and yes, sometimes it’s lonely. I try to remember that I can more easily draw attention to myself vs. the male majority any time I want and stay true to myself to lead, listen and speak out.
9. What are your top tips for networking?
Networking can sound like a chore. I think of it as creating connections and relationships with a wide range of interesting people. They may help you, you may help them. My personal tip, especially if you are coming out of school now, is: find people just like you that you are comfortable with, and create a regular rhythm for staying in touch (breakfasts, dinners, etc.). They will become an important source of energy and support.
I’m a member of several formal networks in Tokyo today, including Kansai Keizei Doyukai, an association of corporate executives and J-WIN Executive, a women’s innovation network.
10. What is your plan B?
If I redirect my attention to non-corporate opportunities, I’d like to contribute to a cause in support of women and children in a non-profit or public/private sector partnership. If I remain in the corporate world, I’d like to practice what I preach and run a big business and/or serve on a few boards of companies I admire and would like to improve.