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Executive Education

Women Leaders Programme

Taking control of your own agenda

Chigusa Hara

Managing Director, Internal Audit - Finance Industry

In audit, we talk a lot about controls. At the end of the day, to be limitless is to not be bound by others or by the limit you create for yourself - only you can take control of your own agenda.

Hailing from Japan, Chigusa Hara initially had her heart set on working for a non-profit organisation, such as the United Nations in the developing countries. However, she met setbacks in the language requirements and heavy competition from peers with greater educational qualifications than she had aspired to achieve. 

“I kind of ended up in auditing by sheer accident, and on the way, I found out that I actually enjoyed what I am doing,” she laughed. Today, she has an impressive long service of over 27 years at her current company and has grown from an internal auditor with minimal background in accounting, to a global director role overseeing a team of 130. 

For her upward trajectory through the organisation, Chigusa found herself moving back and forth from Asia to the United States for several opportunities before settling down in New York today. She shares that it was a mixture of luck as well as having good managers and sponsors who helped provide opportunities around the world. She muses that perhaps it also helped that she loves to travel and is willing and able to pack up her bags and move with ease, having checked off 100 countries on her bucket list. 

“Japan, of course, is close to my heart with all my friends and family. However, working in New York is very dynamic, and working in the financial industry for an American company - from a professional perspective, is very challenging and rewarding. As Frank Sinatra sang, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere! By being able to move back and forth, I think I'm getting the best of both worlds.”

The support of mentors and sponsors in her long career

“I fortunately had not felt personally disadvantaged by being a female – I had always felt that it is based on your performance. But for the moves I had made in my career; I am thankful for the sponsors and mentors who had mentioned my name and helped me along.” 

Working in an industry that is typically considered male-dominated, especially in the front office, Chigusa openly shared that the reality was not the same for her. In her extensive career, she has seen many females in senior leadership roles; her own manager inclusive. Chigusa has also experienced her fair share of managers who came and left the organisation, some going the extra mile to maintain the connection and mentor or sponsor her. It does not mean that her career growth was completely smooth sailing! 

“Perhaps as a result of my parent’s upbringing, I always wanted to feel productive. - I was always rushing around, running to meetings, showing I was busily working, Everyone joked that they know when I’m coming as they can hear my rushed footsteps. I had always thought that it was a virtue.” Chigusa shared, recollecting when she was a middle manager and had struggled to move further up the chain of command. 

“My manager asked if I realised that I was being perceived as a hard worker but not a worker who had the gravitas needed to reach the next level as it seemed that I lacked time management and delegation skills. It was eye-opening. It was a defining moment for her, and she started reflecting on her day-to-day to strategically consider her contribution and what to focus on instead.

Women Leaders Programme at INSEAD 

With COVID locking down the world, Chigusa was looking for something stimulating during that period, and she decided to complete the Women Leaders Programme. 

“It was an intense week!” she shared. Being based in New York, while the programme started at 8 a.m. in France, albeit virtually, she was dragging herself out of bed at 2 a.m. to focus on the concepts and applications with full force. And even after the programme concluded for the day, Chigusa found herself often heading to her work emails to catch up for the day. 

“It’s the small practices that you take away – things like networking, purposefully setting goals, creating meaningful relationships,” she reflected. The most valuable part of the programme was perhaps the network that she had built with the women, especially the three women from her coaching group. They had arranged for a recent reunion at the INSEAD Fontainebleau campus, marking the first time she met most of them in person. Through this network, she has learnt a valuable takeaway: “Women can help other women. I always remind myself to be much more intentional in my support to other female peers at work.”


Understanding her authentic self 

With factors such as her gender and her ethnicity combined with the traits needed to work and lead effectively in such a dynamic environment, Chigusa took some time to figure out her leadership signature. Feeling her most authentic self when she leads with empathy, she finds time to engage with her teams with the focus on active listening and consensus building as key building blocks. 

From having an introductory touchpoint with new joiners, to participating in team meetings, town halls, and even travelling to key locations to meet her global teams at least once a year, Chigusa hopes to align her teams with the same values she holds important, as well as incorporate the organisation’s mission to build high performing teams.

 “I’ve never really had very clear ambitions – like this is where I want to be, or I must be here by a certain age. Perhaps I should have been more ambitious, but it’s really not being myself.” After working for so long in her role, Chigusa shared that she had started thinking about where she wanted to go next after retirement, having went to INSEAD to gain inspiration and new perspectives. An array of options lay before her- be it choosing to leverage her global experience and be a coach or mentor to others or to even bring greater female representation and inspire change as a board director, especially in her home country where female directors are still a rarity. 

Having been the recipient of a scholarship from Rotary International, Chigusa finds it fulfilling to contribute to projects at her Rotary club – not only tying together with her original interest of working for the United Nations but also of being a part of a giving community. She currently also sits on the board as a Treasurer for the NGO, Human Impacts Institute, an organisation that focuses on inspiring climate action through arts and sciences.

 “The younger generation is much more open in so many ways.” Chigusa strives to be passionately involved in diversity projects in and out of her organisation, from Pride and Allies to the Asian Employee Network, and women networks. “With their interest in social topics, such as equality, the next generation is bringing even more equal opportunities to everyone. The future looks promising to me.”

Sky is the limit. 

“I learnt later in life that if someone asks me, ‘would you like to do this?,’ it means that they already have the faith and trust that I am able to do it. Why would they ask if they don’t think I can do it! Believe in the trust that they have already established in you and don’t question it,” she shares as a word of advice to the younger generation.