Describe your job in couple of sentences:
I am a project manager and the senior editor at a Japanese/European semiotics branding agency in Tokyo, helping global companies understand Japanese culture, and vice versa.
When did you know what you wanted to do?
I still don’t. When I left Oxford, I was entirely sure I wanted to be a barrister (since the age of 13), but that didn’t survive one term at law school: I had had enough of studying. Suddenly the world seemed to open up (totally terrifying) and I did an internship at a London
art gallery, Christies, and a couple of film production companies. I really wanted to work at a theatre, but never succeeded. None of them felt like a perfect fit, and all were way less glamorous than they sound.
I totally ran out of money to pay rent (I was doing a bar job at the same time), and so I crashed some milk-round banking open days, and was hired in Pan-European Equity Sales at Citigroup, where I stayed for about six years. After that a short stint in national politics (the policy review unit, which was fascinating, but where you realise that no one puts a price on your time so they waste it, which can be annoying), and then I helped to raise money at a start-up hedge fund,
run by a former Citigroup client. I didn’t enjoy working there because I had preferred the team environment of a big sales desk, and decided to go back to university and do an MA in Classics at UCL.
We then moved to Japan, where I now work after spending a few years looking after our daughter when young. I think the one theme that has been constant throughout has been a love of stories, and hence writing. Writing, and perfecting others’ written work, is one of my
Did you go to university, go straight into the workforce or do an apprenticeship?
What did you study?
Classics (Latin and Ancient Greek). More useful than it sounds, and certainly I have never regretted spending four years studying it.
What was your first job:
Does it relate to what you do now?
As above: internships in various arts organisations. It has all provided
background for permanent deep interests in my life: writing, drama, poetry, art, philosophy. All the super-cool stuff. I think seeing highly creative people
work incredibly hard for love rather than money was important, even if I did end up in the City.
Have you done other jobs in your life – if so what were they:
Did they have any influence on what you do now?
I think they have all fostered a desire always to learn more, an abiding belief
in the overwhelming importance of being able to think laterally and logically
(to be dispassionate does not need to mean to lack passion), and a focus on
analysis. Even working in the City was a good lesson: I learned to do
something I thought I had zero talent for – speaking to people I didn’t know
and getting them to trust me, rather than hiding away in a library to do
research- and that gave me real confidence. And because I have worked for
almost nothing and conversely for huge amounts, I know that you find good
and bad people in all industries, which I think is important in not forming
ossified judgements on others’ worth based on their career choice.
How did you find out about your job (how it existed)?
I was lucky: I came out to Japan with a very tentative job offer, went to a couple of conferences
and forced myself to network (I hate it), met someone who worked at the Economist who later
set up his own think tank, helped him to do so and became an adviser on his board. He then
suggested that a company he knew interview me once I was ready to start working again after
our daughter was born, as he thought we would be a good fit. That was Yuzu Kyodai.
How did you get the job you wanted- steps and process?
I did some research on the last projects that they had been involved in, read up on classic
semiotics texts and turned up with them, thought about what I would say as some examples of
my thoughts on what they did. The very young and multilingual co-founders had been
immensely skeptical about hiring a non-Japanese speaking mother, who was a decade and a
half older than they were, but we just immediately got on, and they offered me the job by the
end of the interview. I was very honest about the time I could offer them, as there is never any
point bringing these things up afterwards: much easier to preempt.
What qualities do you need to have to be successful in your field?
Intellectual curiosity, fastidiousness and an attention to detail, a wide cultural knowledge and a
desire to know more, energy, an ability to listen and actually hear what clients and colleagues
say they want, an ability to size up those you work with and for, and to adapt to that without
losing oneself. A generous and optimistic spirit in any job is always incredibly important: people
respond to it positively, and it doesn’t mean one cannot still be opinionated and cynical when
one feels like it. Which is often.
Give 3 tips for someone hoping to follow in your footsteps:
I can’t see why anyone would want to, but, 1) aim always to do the best you can, right from the
start: a First class degree is still one of the most important elements of my CV even now, as it
shows dedication and effort, not just intelligence. I imagine it must be frustrating years later to
think that a few hours more work a week might have helped so much, even though of course
these things can be survived. 2) Never ask what a company can do for you, but what you might
be able to contribute: any other attitude will mean job offers are rare. 3) Take pride and joy in
what you do, as interest and passion always shows. Sorry these are all so obvious: my footsteps
have been rather random at times.
Who inspires you?:
Anyone I know who has stuck at the same thing for many years, thereby acquiring an incredible
depth of expertise and knowledge. I have never really done that, but often wish I had. I still
occasionally regret, for example, not sticking to law school and becoming a barrister: it is
impossible not to think of all the millions of paths one never takes.