My first encounter with Sony came when I saw the radio cassette player that my father gave my older brother to celebrate him enrolling in middle school. I became a fan the instant I saw the product. It also just so happened that Sony was just entering the computer and workstation businesses around the time I was job-hunting, and with me being into computers, I knew that Sony was the only place for me.
Once I had secured myself a position at Sony, my wishes were granted when I was assigned to the palmtop division, with palmtops being the predecessors of smartphones. From there I went on to work overseas in America before returning to Japan right when Sony launched its VAIO business. I have been involved with the VAIO for a decade since then, serving as management and project leader in charge of the model.
I was in charge of VAIO and excitedly watched the production process of the VAIO 505 (released in 1997) all the way up to completion. I was the leader from the first up until the third model, so I felt an enormous amount of pressure. This was the time when we were seeing a lot of big changes in the way PCs were being used, so I made sure to ask the opinion of my seniors as well as listen to those younger than me. In the VAIO team we always kept our ears tuned into the opinions of the younger generation and freely discussed various ideas while always seeking out new value.
Though I'm mainly involved in management now, the first thing I do is to ask the opinions of everyone, from the planners to the engineers and designers. From there I try to put myself in each of their positions and think of what is most important. We incorporate these important things into the product, and then keep looking for a point that everyone can agree on. If we can reach a give and take situation that everyone consents to, then they will all work for the team without a doubt. Gathering everyone's opinions can be difficult, but having your team members say that they want to do that again at the end of a project is the greatest reward of being a manager.
There were already many female engineers around me from the time I first joined Sony and was placed in charge of circuit design. I also took on work from overseas manufacturers when I was in America, so there was a lot of diversity in terms of both nationality and gender in the workplace. Therefore, once I was placed in charge of management, I was never strongly aware of diversity even when I was working alongside foreign employees.
However, I was forced to recognize the differences in markets. The Japanese tend to go for thin or lightweight models, whereas in other countries people unexpectedly tend to not care about compact products. I really had the differences in sensibilities and values of each country and region, like this color or shape won't sell, brought home to me. We must respond to local preferences while still covering many countries or regions. So I believe when we first begin the product-planning phase, it is vital to be aware of diversity.
Perhaps it relates to my experiences abroad, but I believe it's important to be aware sometimes that I am the minority and thus I need to express my views from a different perspective. Doing this can sometimes enable me to change the direction of a project. If I do not express different views consciously, the discussion won't progress any further. On the contrary, self-denial is an important trait for leaders. Nobody likes egotistical stories where somebody believes they are right and doesn't want to hear anyone else's opinions.
I believe that diversity equals “discovery,” because it allows you to learn new values you might not have known before. If you extend this out a bit, diversity is not a big hurdle to be overcome, but rather something enjoyable. That's why I set my own views aside and ask everyone equally what they think. This leads to new discoveries and makes the project move forward dynamically, so it makes work a lot more interesting.