I was born in Japan. There was a period of my early life where I could have succeeded my grandmother and become a traditional Japanese Nihon Buyo dancer. However, life took a different turn because I moved to the US when I was four and continued to move back and forth between Japan and the US while growing up. I grew up exploring various disciplines, and my interests were scattered. But I’ve always loved traveling and learning about different cultures and walks of life. In terms of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I went from dancer to astronaut to neurosurgeon to humanitarian relief; now, I’m currently pursuing business and technology. I still pause to reevaluate every few months. It’s an ever-evolving process.
One reason was I thought that SmartNews would be a great opportunity to work in a fast-growing tech company that had the business exposure and ability to influence growth cross-functionally. I was also interested in the technology platform; SmartNews is an AI/ML-driven company and draws great talent to build that solid technological platform. The third reason was the company’s intersection with Japan. As I grew up going back and forth between the US and Japan, I feel like I am a hybrid of many different microcultures, so the fact that SmartNews is a Japan-headquartered company going after a universal mission and building a universal platform resonated with me.
Lastly, I met a ton of really smart people and got a sense of the company culture through my interviews. I had the opportunity to speak with several people across the organization, including the CFO and CSO. I felt that SmartNews was a place where individual ideas are welcomed and that there are a lot of opportunities to branch out to new areas and grow in the way you want. Everyone was very smart, articulate, and passionate about where they wanted the company to head. Moreover, I felt that the people are very passionate and care about the quality of what they build. The fact that I left each conversation feeling energized, excited and like I could learn from my colleagues every day swayed my decision.
My division is Corporate Planning. Corporate Planning is a common function in Japan, but less so in the US. The division sits at the company’s center, forming the intersection of all function groups, including the management team, product, engineering, marketing, BD, and corporate. Our purpose is to help define the strategy and vision of the company over the next quarter, year, or five years. We then help build the business plans needed to reach the goals we set out and then follow them through to execution. We monitor company performance to see how we are tracking against the objectives we set. Our work is very collaborative. By learning what the different divisions are doing, we can provide them with an external perspective and coordinate to ensure we’re aligned. If any issues arise, such as missing resources, we sort that out; if the strategy itself needs refining, we fix it. We also get involved with any company-wide issues or initiatives requiring cross-divisional collaboration. I would describe what we do as a combination of corporate strategy, corporate development, business operations, and chief of staff functions.
The most rewarding part is influencing change across our global team. An interesting part of SmartNews is our very different cultures and geographies. There are differences in the growth stages and markets for each office. It’s exciting to bring all of our strengths together in product, engineering, design, and marketing to push the company forward.
The company’s mission is “delivering the world’s quality information to the people who need it,” and I feel like I have a close connection to this statement. When I was in high school, I had a transformative experience where one New York Times article that I just happened to come across one day ultimately propelled me to create and run my own NPO over several years. It was exciting for me that this one piece of information became the motivation to create something new and keep going even when times were challenging. I truly believe I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for that article, and it speaks to how information can shape people’s actions, perspectives, and identities. For me, SmartNews is a vehicle that enables this process of personal discovery by shedding light on valuable information and delivering it to the right person at the right place and at the right time.
We’re an open-ended platform, chasing after a critical, universally important mission. SmartNews may seem like just a news aggregation platform from a very granular perspective, but the work we do is really about the broader universe of information that you may come across or need on a daily basis. We’re building an information infrastructure that allows us to find, organize, and deliver all kinds of information in an effective and compelling way. We have the opportunity to bring all kinds of information onto the platform, and everyone in the world is our potential audience. That’s the most exciting part about working at SmartNews.
At SmartNews, there’s a sense that we can influence the growth and evolution of the company. People here are very inclusive, and curiosity, proactiveness, and willingness to shape the company are welcomed at all levels. For example, I’m currently part of an advisory board for diversity, equity, and inclusion that makes recommendations to our executives. It’s really exciting because this is not a people ops-centric effort or just an implementation of generic recommendations. The board was built from the ground up, originating from employees who stood up to say that we need to be better in this area. We’re learning and discussing what DE&I should look like at SmartNews.
Being able to start with an idea, talking to people, and building a foundation from the bottom up is part of the excitement of working at SmartNews and a company at this stage. The nature of the job is so multi-functional; you have to be willing to jump into that and help support the entire company’s growth.
I like studying intelligence and decision-making, so I selected two books that have helped form my views around how I want to practice this in my own life and career.
In Think Again, author Adam Grant posits that, although intelligence has historically been viewed as the ability to “think” and “learn,” in today’s world of uncertainty, turbulence, and information overload, the ability to “rethink” and “unlearn” may be equally if not more important. The book encourages us to have a scientist’s mindset: infinitely curious, perennially skeptical, aware of the limits of our understanding, and willing to actively update our views based on new data.
This, in particular, resonates with me because I’ve made choices that threw me into unfamiliar environments that required a lot of context switching, such as changing organizations, functions, geographies, or industries. A phrase from the book that I liked was to “anchor yourself in flexibility rather than consistency.” It really speaks to the importance of being open and comfortable with seeking out different opinions and experiences.
I think about this in the context of my current work—information, technology, and people are constantly changing. We’re all prone to self-rationalization, which can lead us to have bias and double down on our past decisions. However, we need to be intentional about why those original choices and strategies still hold relevance, especially across time and different environments.
My second book is actually an autobiography from one of my great mentors, Minoru Makihara, which defines the truth of what Grant argues. The book is called The Story of My Life: Friendships Around the World. Maybe it’s not so well known, especially internationally, but I have read it a few times over the course of over a decade.
Mr. Makihara was born in the UK and raised in both the US and Japan. He went on to become a hugely successful international business person. You wouldn’t expect it from someone born in 1930 when the world was vastly different from what it is now, but he really embodied the spirit of eternal curiosity and continuous learning. He was always fascinated by new and different concepts and kept asking questions to fill in the gap for what he did not know. One of our first conversations was about how chatbots work, and one of our last conversations before he passed away last year was about what advice I had for Japan in light of recent changes in the US and around the world. I think he was a very effective diplomat, although he never pursued that as his career. His ability to move people and countries because of who he was as a person was very impressive.
This book is compelling not only because of all the interesting life stories he tells, but also because of the way he tells them: his personality and voice are alive on the pages in all of their unpresumptuous humility, humor, candor, and grace. He is one of the greatest businesspeople of our time, but he attributes his success to the many people who have touched his life. I still have a few years of my career ahead of me, but it makes me think about what will matter at the end of the day. I hope I will also be able to look back and reflect on my life through stories about the people who made it worthwhile.
Think Again / The Story of My Life
Think Again: the Power of Knowing What You Don't Know
Author: Adam Grant
Year published: 2021
The Story of My Life: Friendships around the world
Author: Minoru Makihara
Publisher: Nikkei Publishing Company
Year published: 2010
Overcoming differences in language, culture, and time with empathy for the mission
Creating autonomous engineering teams to achieve ambitious targets
Data-driven decision making at the center of SmartNews
From English teacher to engineering manager