Despite the progress made by women in recent years, there are still a multitude of stereotypes left to be broken. There is a particular stereotype in Japan that both men and women suffer from and that is the idea of “stable employment.” As many people reading this already know terribly well, Japan has typically preferred to enter ONE company and spend a lifetime there, dedicating their entire existence to the company. Stability was the primary benefit of doing this but, status was the runner-up.
Times have changed, though, and career women like Aya Yamanouchi at LVMH Japan are proving that the “entrances” and “exits” that are part of any smart business model can also be leveraged to further an individual’s career path as well. One Young World Japan Director, Daren Afshar, sits down LVMH Japan’s charisma trainer to learn more about her path to the top.
Aya, thanks for making time for me. I know how busy you are.
One of the common denominators I find in leaders that I know is that none of us had a perfect plan to get where we are today. Would you mind if we get a little personal today? I find your journey incredibly inspiring.
Sure! I’ll do my best.
Take me back to your elementary school days. If I remember correctly, this was a crucial part of who you are today, right?
Yes, it really was. Both of my parents were career types and my school was filled with students who were returnees. Many of them had lived abroad and returned to Japan, speaking multiple languages. It felt like I was living overseas even though it was a Japanese school.
And your parents were well-traveled as well.
Yes, they were. Particularly, my Dad who had his own fashion-related business. He shared a lot of his experiences with us and taught me about the foreign countries he did business with.
Now I understand why you’re in the fashion biz. Did you study fashion design in college?
No. Even though I loved art and fashion, I actually studied economics. My father thought it would be better (and safer) for me to understand business and economics.
A lot of young people in Japan feel pressure to carry on the family business. Did that happen to you as well?
It did. I actually learned a lot about the fashion business working with my Dad. But, I still wanted to go overseas and learn more.
Your first “exit.” Where did you go?
Paris, France. I studied French Literature. It was an amazing experience. I was surrounded by artists of all types and all languages. It was very inspiring. By the time I came back to Japan, I had a good grasp of French and English. I even became a certified French teacher. Unfortunately, by this time, my father’s business was in trouble. I needed to find work outside of the family business.
This must have been the turning point of your career.
It was a catalyst to be sure. But, I wasn’t sure how it would eventually catalyze me. I worked several types of jobs for a while until I landed a great gig at Gucci, where they asked me to become a training manager. It was the first time for me to manage colleagues who were older than me. It was a great challenge and I discovered the joy of people management. Gucci was a massive company and I learned a great deal during my time there. It was the true “entrance” to my current career path in fashion and luxury.
Tell me about how the “exit” from Gucci materialized because a lot of people associate an “exit” from a large company as a failure to succeed. Was this the case at Gucci?
Not at all! After such an amazing experience with such a large company, I was curious how the smaller fashion houses did their training and development. So, I chose my own “exit” from Gucci, left on good terms, and found an “entrance” at Christian Dior.
How long did you stay at Christian Dior? And how did the LVMH Japan “entrance” present itself?
I stayed at Christian Dior for a few years and really enjoyed my work there because they allowed for more creativity and autonomy. But, a member of the HR department at LVMH Japan heard a few good things about me and sat in on one of my sessions at Dior. She let me know that she would be leaving and that I should consider talking with the head of HR for LVMH Japan, Stéphane Voyer. After meeting with Mr. Voyer and discussing the opportunity, I decided to seize the opportunity and joined the LVMH family.
Your purposeful use of “entrances” and “exits” reminds me of a saying we have that “a life not lived is a life wasted.” Have you heard that one before?
I have, and I think it’s really true. I know there are still a lot of people who prefer to have one job in one company to have that stability. Personally, I find it more stable to be in control of my life; determining when and how I move on to the next chapter of my life.
Speaking of “the next chapter,” didn’t you just start a new podcast as well?
I did. It’s called “CREATIVE MINDSET” and I’m really enjoying it now. A lot of my colleagues at LVMH Japan were the first people to LIKE it. They have been very supportive.
Keep it up, Aya. LVMH Japan is doing some great work with the SDGs and clearly doing everything they can to further empower YOU ! I look forward to seeing how your story and your podcast inspire other young leaders to try new ideas in their own careers.
Thank you, Daren. That means a lot to me. Make sure to catch my next podcast!
I will !