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Suite Talk: Konica Minolta Malaysia’s MD on his 'terrifying' sales meeting as a young recruit

Koji Yoshida, Managing Director, Konica Minolta Business Solutions (M), on how his manager’s trust and encouragement 28 years ago has made a deep impact on his career with the company, in this interview with Jerene Ang.

Q How did you get to where you are at Konica Minolta? 

My journey to becoming a Managing Director for Konica Minolta Malaysia was one filled with continuous learning.

I first started my journey 28 years ago as most fresh graduates did - a blank canvas, ready to learn in a major corporation like Minolta. I climbed my way up the ranks by continuously learning and adapting along with the company that’s always evolving.

I started out in Japan and had the opportunity to transfer to Hong Kong where I led the team for a few years and then to the US before being promoted to Managing Director and transferring to Malaysia.

Q What has been your most memorable moment with the organisation?

The most memorable moment would be when I was a young and new sales personnel at Minolta.

I remember having a business trip overseas country with my manager for a meeting with our business partner to negotiate and finalise target sales volumes and pricing for the following year.

The morning of the meeting my manager called in sick and trusted me to attend and conclude the meeting alone.

At that point the sales volume was too large for a young staff and I was extremely nervous but my manager then said: “I’ll give you some tips and bottom line which can help you decide. You do your best, believe in yourself, don’t be afraid of failure.”

I can still recall everything about that particular meeting. How it played out; how terrified I’d felt walking in to the first ever meeting I would lead; and how excited I was when we agreed on the numbers.

When we reported the results to him, my manager said: “Well done, Yoshida-san. You were great.”

This is how my manager’s trust me deeply impacted my career with Konica Minolta and from then, I’ve brought that same trust and encouragement to my team members to support them just as my manager did I.

Q Describe your management style.

I’ve always believed in and integrated Konica Minolta’s values in my work and they have defined how we operate and our decision making process. The values are: open and honest, customer-centric, innovative, passionate, inclusive and collaborative, and accountable.

Those in mind, I’ve always practiced being open minded and enjoy challenging myself quite a bit. I encourage constructive criticism, whether receiving or giving it, and am actively involved in the teams work. By understanding their work, challenges and styles we are able to recognise their efforts and reward them fairly. We’ve noticed that this definitely improves and encourages collaborations between departments and pushes the company forward.

The old school coercive and authoritative styles do not work anymore. Simply saying ‘do what I tell you’ will not yield any positive results. 

Q How did you adapt your style as you took on new roles over the years?

The old school coercive and authoritative styles do not work anymore. Simply saying ‘do what I tell you’ will not yield any positive results. Which is why new management approaches are necessary for Konica Minolta. Employees react better to the democratic and coaching styles which is why I always put effort into teaching my team members as well as getting their opinion on important matters.

Throughout my career with Konica Minolta, the only constant has been change and new management approaches were necessary to best fit the people that were joining us, and the changing culture. We focused a lot on our people, purpose, trust, transparency, collaboration, giving back to the society, and having fun. These approaches led to a substantial increase in engagement, innovation, performance and profit.

Having flexible flat structures also allow managers to work across multiple areas of the business, improving their skills and adding significant value to the company through building a base of managers who are familiar with multiple operations within the company.

Besides that, the fundamental responsibility which I carry for myself is to bring a talent pipeline and second is to create an environment where people can perform efficiently and enjoy what they do.

Q Having worked in Japan, America, Hong Kong, and now Malaysia, do you notice differences in the working environment? And how do you infuse Japanese work culture outside of Japan?

Konica Minolta is a multinational company from Japan so we generally have a more Japanese-skewed work culture but every country has very different working cultures and environments.

An easy example would be American versus Japanese culture: Americans are very individually focused and casual where Japanese workplaces focus on groups, teamwork and are much more formal.

I believe that it’s important to be open to new perspectives and ensure that communications are clear and consistent. The key is finding the careful balance between the two and inspiring teams to strive towards a common goal. I like to view this as an opportunity to instill one of our philosophies “innovation is in our DNA” and evolve my management style to suit wherever I’m placed.

Q What was the biggest challenge you faced when starting a new role in a different country, and how did you overcome it?

A key challenge is always the difference in culture and the local expectations. The first three months are usually an observation period for me to understand and get to know the local companies operations, culture, people and working styles. In this period I work closely with the HR manager and strategic management teams and am committed to understanding each key member, their roles, responsibilities and how they operate their department/division. Having hands on experience will also provide me with better insights for any upcoming decision making process with regards to the business or operations.

Post the three-month observation period, I’ll be able to set company desired goals to improve not only the workplace environment but also performance.

With the new and younger generation entering the workforce we’ve noticed that they hold very different values and priorities in life with a large importance placed on work life balance.

Q During the merger of Konica and Minolta in 2003, how did you manage with all the changes in structure and the re-organisation?

Change is inevitable wherever we are. Konica and Minolta merged in 2003 because both entities saw the importance of innovation. This union showcased the importance of keeping ourselves up- to-date in today’s technologies and changes in trends.

Both sides facilitated in the transition, and every employee saw that the changes in structure and re-organisation were vital to a better work environment. We made it through with effective communication and expectation management. It was crucial that the goals and directions set by the top management were clearly communicated to all the employees and the HR department played and important role in strengthening those channels, understanding the companies needs and providing high value solutions.

Personally, I was assigned to the sales division at a managerial position in Hong Kong during the merger and set out to truly challenge myself. I set my goals high and wanted to excel and aimed high and contribute to the company.

Q How closely did you work with your HR head through the process?

At that point in time I was personally working in the sales division and my focus was to generate higher sales. However now as the Managing Director I work closely with all my department heads especially HR. They are a back-end supporter and more than just a department that manages the employee’s payroll and data.

HR departments need to evolve and focus on people efficiency and providing a transparent working environment. Retaining contributing staff and upgrading their skills are a key focus that we’ve been actively working on.

Q Do you think the HR function has a significant impact on organisational goals? If so, why? If not, how can the function better contribute?

I believe that every department contributes to the success of the organisation especially HR. Talent management is and has always been a key challenge and an important step towards achieving organisational goals, regardless of whether the goals are focused on a business aspect or a human aspect.

With the new and younger generation entering the workforce we’ve noticed that they hold very different values and priorities in life with a large importance placed on work life balance. Like I mentioned before, HR departments need to stop thinking conventionally and begin creating appealing work environments and policies that encourage healthy competition and collaborations.

The next challenge is then retaining and retraining talent to build a team of strong, dedicated and high performing employees should the company want to transform their business successfully.

Transparency across all levels with open and honest communication also plays an instrumental role in creating a safe and attractive work environment.

We at Konica Minolta always strive towards a ‘ONE KM’ culture that supports these values.

Q If not this career, what alternative career path might you have chosen?

To be honest, I would not have chosen anything else. Over the past 28 years of my career with Konica Minolta, I am still passionate and committed to what I am doing. The company’s continuous transformation will definitely provide me with even more opportunities to learn and grow. I foresee that the changes will continue to be more dynamic and I hope to continue to work with the great teams and top leadership to grow and transform the business.

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