Sato: I was not afraid to take risks

Kumi Sato is the President and CEO of Cosmo, one of Japan's largest independent public affairs and strategic communications firms. She took over the reins of the struggling family firm when only 27 and transformed it into one of the country's most respected PR firms.

Kumi Sato, President and CEO of Cosmo
Kumi Sato, President and CEO of Cosmo

Sato has been a forceful champion of Japanese women in the corporate world and recently initiated a rebrand of Cosmo. PRWeek caught up with her recently.

Why was a re-brand of Cosmo necessary?

Cosmo has established our core specialties in healthcare and food science, and now we are entering a new era by building off of our expertise to branch out further into other areas.

How did you reform your family business (Cosmo) and turn it into a full-fledged PR agency?

I hired talented people, focused on localising global ideas fast, and I wasn't afraid to take risks.

Foreign firms (mostly non-western MNCs) find it extraordinarily difficult breaking into the Japanese market. Japanese politicians/ policy-makers are typically not amenable to getting "persuaded" by foreign lobbyists but are more than willing to listen to domestic corporate leaders. Why do you think that is?

Traditionally in Japanese culture, business relationships are introduced by third parties, and most foreign firms don't have the existing long-term connections that lead to this. Cosmo's biggest strength is our connections with politicians, bureaucrats, key opinion leaders, media, etc. that have been built over decades.

What are the most arduous communication hurdles for foreign firms in Japan?

Creating a brand is expensive and takes time. Internal communication with Japanese HQs can be difficult. The speed in which change occurs in Japan is not up to global standards.

What is the single most significant capacity gap in PR in Japan? How can it be overcome?

The productivity of white collar workers. This can be overcome by setting good examples and teaching time management.

Can Japan sustain its position as one of the world's foremost technological/economically advanced nations without letting half its population (women) participate to their fullest potential in economic life?

Japan may have emerged as a strong technological/economically advanced nation but it can't sustain this position without utilizing the female population! It is well documented that the population is rapidly decreasing due to an aging society and shrinking birthrates. By utilizing women, the workforce could expand by 8.2 million people and increase its GDP by 15 percent.

You were the only female head of a Japanese agency to make it on PRWeek's Asia Power List 2014. How do you feel?

It’s an honor to be the only Japanese women recognized on the PR Week Asia Power list 2014. I hope this further  inspires the female population of Japan to join the work-force and persevere in making it to the top.

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