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Interview with Mrs. Kazuko Sakaguchi – The Journey of Becoming A Strong Leader

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Waseda chapter.

She’s got everything it takes to make a history.

Sakaguchi-san is the 3rd Japanese lady ever to take the position of CEO in the Japanese financial industry. While being hugely successful in her career, and leading a large group of professionals, she has also managed her role as a mother, wife, and many others.

How did she get there? After she came to a leadership course at Waseda as a guest speaker, Her Campus Waseda reached out to her. Here’s the journey of Mrs. Kazuko Sakaguchi and how she became one of the powerful female leaders in Japan today.

Name: Kazuko Sakaguchi

Role: CEO of Alliance Bernstein (as of Dec. 5, 2018)

Career Background: about 30 years in Finance, especially in the field of Asset Management

2017 ~ 2018 Executive of Client Relationship at State Street


What do you consider as the attribution to your success?

“Having good roles models around me at all times. I am lucky because of that, but I have always had someone who I wanted to be like in a very close distance; which, in a way, has helped me to have specific objectives in my career.

Maybe this could be a difference from others…

My goal is always “improving myself”, not focusing on which position or how much salary I want to get. I think about what is missing in my ability at the moment and how I can improve… then, as a result, I have earned what I have now – my position and such.

It’s also important to openly say what you want. By sharing what you want to accomplish, there will be someone who would help you achieve it – ‘想いがあればかなう (if you dream of it, you can make it true.)’

Don’t forget to be humble, too!”


What is important to become a good leader?

Being a leader is about managing people;

and supporting people almost like a shepherd. Do NOT run away when some kind of problems occur. Not from your subordinates or anything – and do NOT give up on them. You yourself cannot take over the problems your people are facing, but never leave them alone.

This is what I learned from my previous bosses. When I was running a venture team inside a company, my boss – the CEO of one of global asset management firm never left the office until I did. Even though he was not involved in the project and was just in the office taking care of his own business, that was very valuable to me; just knowing that someone is there watching over me.

I want to do the same for my people.”

With her team (Courtesy of Mrs. Sakaguchi) 


What is your motivation?

Watching my people succeed.

I learned this from my previous position at the State Street.

When I find someone’s great abilities that everyone else is not aware of yet, and I secretly support them and push them to perform well with the specialty; and when the person finally glows and blooms…

That’s such a great moment when others finally realize their talents; and I’m the one who secretly knew and assisted them on the way. It’s more important than getting higher wage. My job is to make those successful moments as much as possible. And support that from behind the scene.

With doing so, good results would follow.

Somehow, at all the companies I’ve been, they got the best sales when I was there. And I leave when I see them succeed. Because then, I already know that they have a platform to be continuously successful and they can do it on their own.”


What kind of person were you when you were a college student?

I was the very first student in my university to take a one-year break – and I went to England to study English.

It started after I met my English teacher at school, who became a good role model – being the breadwinner for her family, a strong lady! She and the Dean of my department suggested and greatly encouraged myself to go study abroad. Indeed, the Dean even came to my house to convince my parents by telling them that he will manage the one-year tuition at my home university in Japan!

On top of that, all the money I used in England was coming from my own pocket that I earned through my part-time job; so when I learned that there are too many Japanese exchange students at the English school, I faked my nationality and put myself into a situation where I speak only English for the 10 months there.

Also, I was a quite ambitious girl! While in college, I already knew that I wanted to deal with a large scale of business after finishing university, eventually. Which came true!”



Have you encountered any challenges in your career, simply because you are a woman?

“If I have to bring up something…maybe it is that companies lack showing clear career paths to their employees, which especially makes female professionals anxious.

Once you get to a certain position, companies choose which employee to promote to the next step. They invest in you; but the problem is I dont know ‘what they want to do after that’. They do provide training, but these opportunities are to actually used as a part of learning.

What’s next is missing. It’s probably the same for many women, but we cannot see the ‘visible’ future plans to utilize our abilities and training results. We cannot see what companies want after training us. While men really don’t find issues about the ambiguity, women need ‘detailed plans’ (especially considering that women has to think about their personal lives, such as getting married, making own family, and such).

So many companies are lacking clear career paths being shown to their female employees – that’s a common challenge for both companies and employees.

But other than that, I don’t really consider being a woman as a disadvantage. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had great bosses and wonderful female leaders around me. People consider female professionals easier to talk to than male colleagues… that’s even a plus!”


What is your goal for next 5 years?

I want to work in Talent Management.

Perhaps as like a coach or consultant… I want to work more with people and how to develop people. Being CEO requires me to obtain talent development.

After managing the company successfully about 5-7 years, I would like to hand over my role to the successor. If I could, I would focus on talent management of the firm across the region or globally- in terms of mentoring, skill development through training, regional or global employee exchange and such.

Because the development of talent is unlimited! And it’s really fun to watch people changes and being successful. My responsibility is handing over the experience to the next generation by giving as much opportunity as I can. That leads to the growth of both the firm and people.” 

(via Medium)


Lastly, can you give us, college students, one last advice for life and career?

DO NOT be afraid of making mistakes.

Try everything you want to do, so that you can avoid having regrets of not doing something as much as possible.

Particularly, for female students…you won’t be able to manage your destiny by yourself at all. So much uncertainty as you age; married, not married, having kids, not having one, stay at the company or leave the company, look after your parents…all through your life. Therefore, it’s better to focus on what you like and what you want. Get the job you like, travel as much as you want, meet and learn people as many as you want and don’t worry too much about what has not come up to you yet.”


Thank you very much for sharing your stories with us, Sakaguchi-san!

Check out other articles on her accepting the CEO position; Nihon-Keizai Shimbun, Nikkan-Kogyo Shimbun.