INSEAD Participant Interview

Interview With Ray Hatoyama: Past Participant of the International Directors Programme

Ray Hatoyama

Managing Director at Sanrio Co. Ltd
CEO of Sanrio Media & Pictures Entertainment

Ray Hatoyama is a former participant of the International Directors Programme. He explains how the International Directors Programme is helping him gain frameworks, and a broader outlook, on corporate governance.

Can you please introduce yourself?

I have a couple of titles. Firstly, I am a Managing Director at Sanrio Co. Ltd in Japan and I sit on the board of directors. At the same time, the company has many subsidiaries in which I had C-Suite and Chairman roles in the past. My focus is now my role as CEO of Sanrio Media & Pictures Entertainment.

I am also an independent board member of another company called DeNA, one of the largest mobile and internet companies listed in Japan. So, I have a lot of different and varied hats.

What are your challenges as a board member and chairman?

At headquarters, my work revolves around global strategy and helping grow the company. It is more about Japanese operations and is more corporate in its focus. When I work with the subsidiaries, I deal more with localisation, the building of teams as well as operational and regional issues. For example, if I am sitting on the board of Sanrio Inc. in the USA, my role is about how to manage the American market. If am sitting on the board of Sanrio GMBH in Germany, I look at building teams locally and the business as a whole for our European operations. 

How is the International Directors Programme helping you to manage these and other challenges? 

Corporate governance in Japan is a fairly new concept. Indeed, we only recently started looking at how to make corporate governance work for companies and for investors. Until recently there were very few independent board members in Japan. There was often only one independent listed, when boards are sometimes 20 strong. It is now becoming a requirement to have two independent board of directors for listed companies like Sanrio, or explain why they do not have independent board of directors. 

Another challenge that the International Directors Programme is helping us to address is how boards interact with management. In Japan, the distinction is not very clear.

Given your long professional experience, why did you choose to do the programme?

Japan is in the process of modernising its corporate governance, but it is a challenge to change current practices. We need to globalise and adopt best practices and this is a fundamental issue.

So I wanted to find out what other countries are doing in terms of governance. I wanted to learn about board organisation, how to be part of the board and the issues that boards face. I believe the International Directors Programme will help me understand how to deal with the board challenges we face in Japan.

The other reason for attending is because it’s rare that people go back to school to learn something new. I have been fortunate to climb my organisation quite fast and I felt my MBA didn’t prepare me for the board. I’d learned about leadership, finance, marketing and how to build a team. Governance, however, was far from my mind. You really need to attend an Executive Education programme to understand board issues fully.

What’s so different about this programme, compared to other business school opportunities? 

The International Directors Programme is unique, as it is all about the people who sit on boards right now. You share views, issues you have encountered as well as good and bad experiences. It gives you a totally new kind of experience.

How did the programme cover regional challenges?

Throughout the programme you hear about approaches to governance participants from across the world take. All their participants’ experiences are different.

It was very interesting to discover that boards in Singapore, Indonesia and Japan operate differently, for example. There are also differences between the USA and Europe. 

There aren’t just regional differences, but also country differences: contextual differences, regulatory differences and cultural differences. It’s not something you usually recognise, as you are focused on being a director in your own country. The International Directors Programme helps address this. It shows you the differences and examines them.

What is the benefit of understanding geographical differences? 

The programme helps you remove yourself from your local bias and it helps you become more sensitive to the differences that exist between countries and regions. The programme helps you realise that boards operate in many different ways and once you acknowledge this, it’s very eye-opening. It helps you understand the different contexts and the different nuances. 

What were your key objectives and what are your key takeaways so far?

I went into the programme with three main objectives:             

  • to examine how you are acting on the board and understand how to run a board effectively
  • to understand governance best practice
  • to understand how to work globally

These also happen to be the main takeaways so far. Another key takeaway was how to communicate with management. I learned about the separation between boards and the senior levels of the organisation – and the responsibilities of each.

Can you describe the pedagogical approach?

The International Directors Programme allows you to learn in a very systematic and experiential way and gives you a lot of frameworks: fair process leadership and the road to excellence, for example. It then helps you to put in place these frameworks and reminds you of what you have been doing to date and what you need to do in the future. It also gives you techniques and tools that can help you run the board. The programme gave me role models to follow too. Hearing from speakers was very valuable. Rather than just reading a case study, you listen to people who have actual experience of going through board issues and changes. It helped clarify how governance in Japan should change.

What are the advantages of attending the programme on both the Europe and Asia campuses?

Studying in Fontainebleau and in Singapore means you get exposed to two different kinds of audiences. Having this diversity was important to me. I’ve done a lot of studying in the USA it’s usually Americans who attend American programmes. I wanted to get a different kind of exposure in terms of the learning and the people attracted to the programme.
At the same time, attending the programme on both campuses allows you to hear from a wide variety of professors and speakers who adapt their content to the local context.
That international exposure really gives you a good idea of how to think globally.
Finally, it’s fun to go to both campuses!

What are the advantages of a modular programme?

The big advantage is the reflection time it offers and the thinking process it encourages. I have experience of going to programmes that you leave and forget what you have learned immediately. There is also peer pressure to put into practice what you’ve learned as well as homework to do. Once you are back on campus, you get feedback on all of this.

This really helps you to reflect about yourself and reinforces the learning. I’m really looking forward to discovering what my peers think of me through the 360-degree feedback in Module 3. It will be a good opportunity for even more self-reflection.

Can you sum up the impact of the programme for you?

Corporate governance is a nascent practice in Japan. I believe its development will benefit many Japanese people as they, and boards, tend to have a closed mindset. Coming to the International Directors Programme helps give you a broader outlook. It teaches you about the different corporate governance practices that exist around the world and it gives you the contexts in which boards operate in other countries. You can then take these learnings and apply in them in your company and on your board. That means the International Directors Programme is good for Japanese society!


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