The turning point
Alumnus Taku Yokoyama (EMBA 2019) on how his learning journey at IMD made him a better man – and manager.
More than just a traditional academic offering, IMD’s EMBA program is known for its international approach. It is exactly this global sensibility that allowed for Taku Yokoyama to complete his degree with success, even amid personal and professional upheaval.
In a span of just 18 months, Yokoyama was promoted twice at Nissin Foods Holdings Co., LTD, changing his primary residence from Japan to Kenya and then again to US. Despite this globetrotting, he was able to follow the online courses as scheduled and attend various modules in person when necessary. For Yokoyama, the program’s flexibility was paramount to his success.
“I believe that my degree at IMD gave me the confidence to pursue a career in global business,” he says. “But I also learned that one success does not always lead to another.”
Yokoyama is not alone in crediting IMD’s EMBA program with his advances; many alumni feel that their time at the private academic institution was especially meaningful. However, for Yokoyama it was not only a highlight, but the turning point in his career.
“The learning journey at IMD was incredible,” insists Yokoyama. “From the world’s best faculty to the development of practical skills and knowledge, it gave me the professional advantage that I needed.”
Noodles and a new vision
For the past eight years, Yokoyama has held management positions at Nissin’s overseas subsidiaries. As the world’s pre-eminent noodle and ramen company, it was founded after WWII, when Japan faced a food shortage. Its instant noodles sparked a three-minute food revolution, changing the lives and habits of billions of people worldwide.
The company’s spirit of innovation appealed to Yokoyama and before long he knew this was more than just a rung in his climb up the corporate ladder. After his initial position in Tokyo, he was transferred to set up a Nissin subsidiary in Nairobi as its new President. After having grown the company to 250 local Kenyan employees, Yokoyama wanted to bring a new vision of leadership to his role at Nissin.
“I gained the experience of being President at a Nissin subsidiary in Kenya, from starting up the company to closing the business,” he says. “But I wanted to expand on this knowledge and grow as a manager.”
Leading the IMD charge
When Yokoyama made the decision to pursue further education at IMD, he was the first at Nissin to attend a top business school abroad while employed.
“The company's HR department and top executives were very surprised to hear that I’d be attending IMD,” he laughs. “Learning at a top school overseas while serving as president of a subsidiary was unheard of.”
Given that skepticism, it was up to Yokoyama to show top management how the program worked, as well as how it benefited the company. He regularly updated Nissin’s headquarters on what exactly he was learning at IMD and how it was affecting his professional role. Rather than hamper his efforts, the two roles were mutually beneficial.
Yokoyama did so well, in fact, that Nissin’s overseas business director gave him an opportunity for a new challenge – the role of President of the company’s US subsidiary. The business director had heard of Yokoyama’s EMBA pursuits and considered what he was learning a highly compatible addition to his skillset. His past achievements in Kenya proved that his IMD education had equipped Yokoyama with what it takes to succeed in any market – and at any age.
“At Nissin, obtaining the role of president of a subsidiary is difficult at my age, but there I was, president a second time!” says Yokoyama.
Onwards and upwards
As a much larger and more complex organization, running Nissin’s US subsidiary was a big step up for Yokoyama.
“The opportunities and promotions that I received were directly related to what I learned at IMD,” he says, “and I was fortunate to be able to meet the company’s expectations by actually putting what I learned into practice.”
For example, in the EMBA Mastery stage, Yokoyama was able to implement the strategy and marketing theories he had learned. He made improvement plans for the business as part of his coursework and was able to receive valuable feedback from faculty and fellow participants.
He credits, in particular, Stefan Michel’s strategy courses in improving his “hard” skills and strategic abilities. During his IMD journey, Yokoyama was able to create an executable strategy for Nissin that considered not only theory, but the risks in the actual ROL of his work.
“The best thing was that I was made President of the US subsidiary in April of my final EMBA year,” says Yokoyama, “so I had time to analyze the company and plan a future strategy during the final segment of the IMD course.”
In addition to strategic and execution planning, Yokoyama says other areas that applied to Nissin’s specific role as a food manufacturer were digital transformation, cultural analysis and leadership.
Seeing Africa with new eyes
To complete the program’s three mandatory Discovery Expeditions, Yokoyama travelled to Vietnam, Kenya and Silicon Valley, California. The journey in Kenya, where he had led a Nissin subsidiary just a year earlier, was a powerful experience.
“I thought I knew Kenya well, as I had done business there for five years,” explains Yokoyama. “Yet my perspective had changed since I had entered IMD, and I saw the country and its business culture through new eyes.”
His consulting project in Kenya showed him a real business and learning system that far exceeded his previously held opinions about in-country practices.
“I was impressed not only with the country, but with myself,” he says, “I was able to understand the consumer goods business in depth in a short period of time, making specific proposals to clients in ways I could not have earlier.”
A leader in every sense
And what for Yokoyama’s original desire to improve his global leadership skills? Those, too, were par for the course. He credits Ben Bryant's leadership sessions as a big help in better understanding theories by applying them through team exercises and learning introspection by writing essays about his own experiences.
“Three essays and many leadership groups and coaching sessions later, I was able to take a clear look at my previous management role in Kenya as well as the wider reflection of my personal management style,” says Yokoyama.
These leadership skills improved not only Yokoyama’s professional life, but his home life as well. After the birth of his first child mid-way through his studies, Yokoyama had to juggle the responsibilities of work and home. While he credits his understanding wife for most of the childrearing, he acknowledges the effect that self-reflection had on his entire psyche.
“I learned at IMD that what makes a true leader is remembering the importance of facing oneself, including one's weaknesses, and making decisions with humility,” posits Yokoyama.
As a rising star at Nissin and a content husband and father, Yokoyama has truly taken these life lessons to heart, making him a better man – and manager.