Understand your own position, and even new employees will have a chance to shine!
Representative Director, President & CEO, Mercedes-Benz Japan
Mercedes-Benz is a luxury car that everyone aspires to own once in their lives. Kintaro Ueno is the first-ever Japanese CEO of its Japanese subsidiary. The year that Ueno joined the company was the first time the company recruited new college graduates, but according to him, the company was not recruiting at the time. How, then, did he manage to join the company, and continue producing results at the company? What was his secret?
Get hands-on experience first, and then apply the experience next time
Surprisingly, Ueno tells us that he struggled to find employment, and was attending interview after interview. One day, after an interview, he noticed that Mercedes-Benz’s Japanese subsidiary, which had just expanded its business to Japan, was in the building next-door.
“I’d loved cars since I was a little kid, and I was obsessed with go-karts when I was a student. Something just felt right about it, so I dived straight in, based only on intuition. Then, even though I had heard that they weren’t hiring new graduates, for some reason someone from human resources came to talk to me. The next day, I was already being interviewed by company executives. There wasn’t an official acceptance event or anything either, so I was worried right until April whether they would actually let me join (laughing).”
Ueno succeeded in joining the company as a result of his own “walk-in sales,” and was first assigned to the sales department.
“Even though I was in sales, I was involved in everything from putting in orders, importing, inspecting products to shipping, partly because we were short on employees at the time. As it was the company’s early days, there weren’t any manuals to follow, and this was a time when sales slips were written by hand, and calculations were done on calculators. We kept on making any change we could to improve efficiency as much as possible.”
It was his diligent routine of thinking by himself, putting it into practice, recording everything in a notebook, and looking over the notes, that allowed him to improve his performance.
“There are a lot of people who say that new employees aren’t of any use, but I think otherwise. Everyone can find a role suited to his or her abilities, and opportunities to shine. So I think the important thing is to get your hands dirty first instead of mouthing complaints and dissatisfactions, and to apply what you learn from that experience the next time.”
People who have a firm footing are strong in important situations
Nowadays, Ueno flies all over the world as CEO, and continues to engage in new challenges, such as using animation for TV commercials. He tells us that even in the top position in the company, he is still learning every day.
“So I regret that I didn’t study properly when I was a student,” he laughs. “Students set to join the company often ask me what they should do before they go out into the real world. And I always want to say, ‘Study!’ This might be what people refer to as ‘broadening one’s mind.’ Going out into the world means turning from being a student who pays money to attend university, into a professional who is paid by a company. That’s a complete change. So don’t waste your university years, and see them as a period to bridge that gap.”
Ueno tells us another thing to keep in mind as a student.
“Neither a company nor society is about individual competition. So I would like people to acquire a proper awareness of their own position within the community. People who can gauge that will be trusted, and are good in crucial situations, because they have a firm foundation.”
Similarly, he told us that having an unchanging core is one of the things that are appealing about Waseda University.
“Compared to those days, Waseda has become very urban and international, but I think that its at-home atmosphere still remains the same. I can still have a wild time with friends from my student days. I hope that those of you leaving Waseda will value those kinds of friends for life.”