“The Accelerated Development Programme taught me to trust my intuition when it comes to decision-making.”

Hiroko Tada

Deputy General Manager, Research and Business Development at ITOCHU Europe Plc

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Having worked in Japan for 20 years, Hiroko Tada was looking to take on a global role and broaden her horizons. Here, she reflects on how the Accelerated Development Programme (ADP) helped her step up to an international posting in London.

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The challenge for my business and I

"As a General Manager of Export control and Sanctions at ITOCHU Corporation – a Japanese trading conglomerate – predicting the impact of geopolitics was always difficult. Before the US and Iran situation escalated in 2019, I advised our business division to prepare to pull their operations in Tehran because I anticipated sanctions. They were reluctant to do so, which left me wanting to find a new way to guide and influence my colleagues. I wanted to learn how other executives around the world viewed their own challenges and understand whether my perception of geopolitics was accurate."

My background

Before LBS, I lived and worked in Tokyo, but was born and raised in Kumamoto in southern Japan. It’s a tiny place, and growing up there I never met anyone from a different country. I spoke Japanese until the age of 13, when I began learning English at junior high school.

Much of the Japanese business culture that worked so well in the post-war period is less relevant today. Traditions like lifetime employment, collectivism, a lack of diversity and decision-making by committee no longer benefit organisations in the same way. In Japan, we’re often wary of trying new things because of a fear of failure. It’s hard to change people’s perceptions so the cultural norm is to avoid standing out.

The draw of the Accelerated Development Programme

I was drawn to LBS because of the School’s global reputation. I’d always wanted to work in a different country, so having the chance to study abroad was a great way to test the waters. It gave me the chance to experience something new and move out of my comfort zone.

The ADP learning model gave me the flexibility I needed to do the programme – if a module exceeded two weeks, I would have been spending too long away from my daughter in Tokyo. After a short burst of intensive learning, I then reflected on and applied my new knowledge in the workplace – giving me the chance to demonstrate the impact of the programme almost instantly.

The calibre of the cohort was one of the reasons I chose the ADP. I wanted to learn how other leaders were tackling problems within their own organisations – and I knew that being exposed to a diverse range of perspectives was one of the best ways to do this.

My learning journey

"After 20 years in Tokyo, I’d become accustomed to working solely with Japanese colleagues, so I initially found mixing with such a diverse cohort challenging."

"The experiential sessions framed our learning in a real life business context."

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"After 20 years in Tokyo, I’d become accustomed to working solely with Japanese colleagues, so I initially found mixing with such a diverse cohort challenging. I knew that by shutting myself off, I wouldn’t get the most out of the experience. The ADP does an amazing job of bringing people together and encouraging group working to forge connections and drive collaboration. My classmates came from Asia, South America, the US and Middle East, with backgrounds that varied from banking to entrepreneurship. Despite our differences, I immediately discovered that we had the same core values – the motivation to do good and drive change. 

In our Leading Change elective, Professor Eliot Sherman explained how things are interpreted differently in the US and Japan, which really resonated with me. I learnt that local behaviours and cultural differences are key to succeeding in a global market. Identifying why a customer-oriented supermarket like Tesco has been successful everywhere in the world except Japan helped me rethink my organisation’s strategy in domestic markets.

The experiential sessions framed our learning in a real life business context. In the Creating and Delivering Customer Value assignment, I ‘became’ an HR manager, tasked with thinking and acting strategically to serve growth. In this case, the goals and methods set out were ambiguous, but eventually I realised that the task was a true reflection of what often happens in business. Uncertain conditions, budget restraints, persistent competition – all of this helped me better prepare for the challenges I face as a leader.

The programme finds exciting, engaging ways to boost your confidence – from rock-climbing and running in Regent’s Park to a mystery cooking group where we’d create a recipe without instructions. This was all underpinned by a warm, encouraging atmosphere. Your fellow students are always there to champion you and help you succeed, which only motivates you further.

The Evaluating and Managing Financial Performance class helped me to overcome any nerves I felt using technical language. Being surrounded by people with financial backgrounds helped me and other non-specialists understand and apply accounting language, which I previously had little knowledge of. 

Its London location is one of LBS’s biggest assets. There’s endless inspiration and opportunities on your doorstep. I visited Buckingham Palace and Westminster, and watched a musical in the West End. The combination of history, culture and innovation makes London incomparable with other great cities.

I knew I was about to start an amazing journey when our Programme Director Guy Saunders said on our first day: “You’re great, that’s why you’re here.” His words filled me with confidence from day one. I often reflect on them in my current role whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed – it instantly makes me feel better and more empowered."

The impact of my experience

"I learnt how I could begin to change the traditional business culture that existed within my organisation."

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"The ADP has changed my perspective on the notion of failure."

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The ADP taught me to trust my intuition when it comes to decision-making. Before the programme, I thought a leader should always be someone to follow. I now know that leadership is about using your capabilities to your advantage, while letting others step up in their own areas of expertise.

After completing the programme, my organisation assigned me to our London office. Working abroad was always one of my greatest ambitions, but I didn’t feel I had the skills and confidence to do so. The programme changed that, helping me finally feel ready to accept and take on this exciting opportunity.

The ADP pushed me outside my comfort zone and encouraged me to think differently. I became better at absorbing new information and ended up bonding with an international group of classmates. It created a new and improved version of myself – and if I can change, anyone can.

I learnt how I could begin to change the traditional business culture that existed within my organisation.  While it’s difficult to change processes that have existed for a long time, I now have the confidence to influence and drive change. For example, I introduced one of my team to Professor Randall Peterson’s ‘How to deal with me’ lesson, which was extremely useful. Japanese workers can often be shy and reticent to express their opinions – his lesson helped me discover some hidden personalities within my Tokyo team and build stronger connections with those around me.

The diversity of the programme taught me the value of cultural difference – I learnt to respect difference rather than fear it. I’ve since enjoyed spending time with my daughter, pointing out different countries on a map to introduce her to where my classmates are from. It’s wonderful to think that my experience at LBS has meant my daughter is able to learn more about the world, too.

The ADP has changed my perspective on the notion of failure. I’ve learnt that adversity is normal, and this is something that has completely changed my professional life and the way I lead my team at ITOCHU Corporation.

"Before the programme, I thought a leader should always be someone to follow. I now know that leadership is about using your capabilities to your advantage, while letting others step up in their own areas of expertise."

Accelerated Development Programme

Reach your potential. Gain the knowledge, practise skills and confidence to step up to a general management role.