Marketing Professor by Day; Opera Singer by Night

All GLOBIS Faculty have work experience; we don't hire pure academics. We get to know more about them in this new column. First off, marketing specialist and Opera singer Ryoko Takei. 

Ryoko Takei started her career at advertising agency Dentsu as a marketing specialist. She later earned an MBA at Columbia University and returned to Japan to join McKinsey & Company. All this time, she balances teaching with being an active musician.  

You did marketing for a major automaker at Dentsu, worked at Ogilvy & Mather, and helped with FIFA Marketing preparing for the 2002 FIFA Korea/Japan World Cup. Why did you decide you also needed an MBA? 

At Ogilvy & Mather, I learned that a career is something you need to build by yourself. To become a top-notch marketing professional, extensive business management knowledge is required, in addition to experience and professional skills. So I thought that acquiring an MBA would be a shortcut in attaining that knowledge. But since I was already in my mid-30s, it would have been meaningless unless I gained a degree at a well-known university. And I had no intention of studying unless I could practice music at the same time. That's why I decided to enroll at Columbia and acquire my MBA while taking voice lessons, and then join McKinsey. I studied frantically once I decided to apply, because English was not my strong point. In fact, my TOEIC score when I joined Dentsu was 600.

In New York, you studied music while also studying for your MBA. Why did you do this? 

I’ve always loved singing, and I joined the music club in high school. It was quite serious, and we performed an opera with an orchestra for our annual school festival. My music teacher and friends really pushed me to attend a conservatory, but my family said no, asking: “Can you really make a living doing music?” I wasn't so sure myself and decided to give up going to conservatory to major in voice. But at Columbia, I could get credit for vocal performance, and I took a class at Juilliard for a year as well. Voice lessons in the U.S. are very practical—you receive instruction on vocalization, music, and expression from different specialists in order to master one song. I was able to really improve as a singer through these lessons, and my teachers were kind enough to offer me a position as a vocalist. 

After graduation, you joined McKinsey & Company. You later joined Disney Japan and were in charge of their brand strategy. Did you think about your own "brand strategy" at this point? 

In Japan, I don't think there are many people who are pursuing a career both in business and in music. I auditioned to become a member of the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation and was accepted. I joined GLOBIS and, in addition to teaching, worked as the head of international marketing to make GLOBIS the No. 1 business school in Asia. Now I am focusing on research, especially in global developments in digital marketing and its role in Japan. One major reason I joined GLOBIS is that I can engage in my musical activities as long as it doesn't interfere with my work. In business, it’s important to balance your passion and strengths with doing a good job. I thought that it would be great if I could position myself in between marketing and culture—the things that I love and am good at. In order for Japan to improve its global standing, the country needs to build on its “cultural power,” to enhance its reputation. This is one of the reasons why I am involved in the “Foster Japanese Songs” project, an NPO launched in 2010 to popularize Japanese songs across the world.

Do you believe Japanese songs can be accepted globally, just like Japanese art? 

Japanese songs have beautiful lyrics and melodies and are now being performed around the world. We held an event at the UN headquarters in New York in 2014 and 2015, and I was pleasantly surprised by the audience reaction. We need to foster Japanese singers who can succeed on a global level, which is why we established the Tokyo International Vocal Arts Academy, by teaming up with instructors from the Metropolitan Opera House. We have also started workshops for sending young singers abroad. I hope to contribute to the development of Japan through business and culture, by making GLOBIS the leading business school in Asia, and by elevating heart-warming Japanese songs into global classics. I will also continue with my musical activities of performing in operas and concerts.

The original article in Japanese was published by ROLA-magazine, SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd.