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Of money and motherhood

Author, analyst and mother of three Kazuyo Katsuma champions others who want to have children and a career

by Eriko Arita

Kazuyo Katsuma is a charismatic economic analyst, best-selling writer and working mother, who has regular columns in newspapers and appears frequently in magazines and on TV shows. Katsuma is considered one of Japan’s foremost writers on the subjects of self- development skills for people in business, work-life balance and personal finance.

By drawing both on her experience as an accountant, business consultant and securities analyst in foreign financial firms and on the trials and tribulations of being a mother of three, 40-year-old Katsuma has sold a combined total of more than 2 million copies of the 14 books she has written. Some of her titles have also been translated and sold in South Korea, China and Taiwan.

One of her books, “Kouritsu ga 10 bai appu suru Shin Chiteki Seisanjutsu” (“A Way to Live That Improves Efficiency Tenfold”) has been sold 250,000 copies since it was published in December 2007.

Her fans, who have been dubbed Katsumaa, read all her books and follow what she teaches in her writings, hoping to emulate her success.

One Katsumaa, Miho Noda, said that after reading Katsuma’s advice, she started to study for the TOEIC English certification exam to improve her career as a high-school English teacher.

“It is great that Katsuma-san tells us how to spend 24 hours efficiently in interesting and easy-to-understand ways,” said Noda, a 34-year old who has a 1-year-old child.

How did Katsuma herself start down the path to becoming a supermom?

In her sophomore year at Keio University in Tokyo, she passed the second-stage CPA exam and got a job at a leading accounting firm. After giving birth to a daughter at 21, she got a job as CPA at the Japan branch of Arthur and Andersen & Co. After having a second daughter in 1994, Katsuma entered Chase Bank, where she worked as a trader and researcher.

Like many in the financial and consulting fields, she continued to change companies. While working at consulting group McKinsey & Company, she had her third daughter, before moving to JP Morgan in 2003 to work as an analyst. Her career as a securities analyst there and her founding of the Web site Field of Mugi, a forum for working mothers, brought her to the attention of The Wall Street Journal, who named her one of the “Top 50 Women to Watch” in 2005. She was included in the newspaper’s category of “Advocates,” women working to improve the career opportunities and everyday lives of other women. Since Katsuma launched Field of Mugi in 1997, more than 6,300 members have joined.

On a chilly day in mid-February, after giving a talk in a Tokyo radio studio, Katsuma appeared on a mountain bike equipped with a GPS navigation system to speak to The Japan Times.

Do you always use your bicycle to travel?

As often as possible. I ride a bicycle because I have tight schedules. If I use public transport, accidents and the like can lead to delays, which would mean being late for appointments.

It is also good for exercise, and I find it good for my mind. When I take public transport, I tend not to think about anything. But when I ride my bike, I am aware of my movement, and I can see the changes of the seasons.

You try to be as efficient as possible with your time. Besides laptop computers, you use a lot of other electronic devices in your life. I wonder if this wears you out.

I am often misunderstood. When I do a certain job, I want to finish it as quickly as possible. When people try to work efficiently, often they increase the amount of tasks they schedule into their days and end up more tired. I schedule in time to enjoy things such as squash and swimming on weekdays, and I only ever do extra work if I have extra time between two tasks.

There are a lot of books on business on the market, but yours have been hugely successful. What is it about them that you think has made them best-sellers?

A lot of technical books on business use difficult language. Then there are a number “how to” books on business, but these use language that is too simple, and there are few books in between.

People in business often do not know how to teach; they often just follow their own, unique path. But in my experience as a consultant and analyst, I have had to explain to other people what I am doing. My job has been to encourage customers to take my advice. For example, I might say, “I recommend that you buy this stock. It’s a good investment because of such and such,” or “This is a great business opportunity because of so and so.” Through doing this, I realized that young people were experiencing difficulty at work, so I wrote books in a way that speaks to these people: “You have this kind of problem. This method offers a solution. Why don’t you try it?”

In one of your books, you say “information is the currency of the present.” Today, people are exposed to a flood of information, but only a few become rich. If you want to make money, what makes the difference?

The quality of the information does. People have a lot of information, but the quality of it is not necessarily very high. So people need to get into a habit of selecting high-quality information that can help them to attain their goals.

Early humans hunted animals. The ones who were good got more meat. People then moved from hunting to agriculture, manufacturing and then information processing. Now it is required for people to choose information from the abundant volumes out there.

You used frameworks such as what you called the “three Cs” — customer, company, competitor — when you were a business consultant to help you select information.

Frameworks are just examples of viewpoints that people need to have. One of the most important viewpoints is whether a business decision will lead to a profit. The three Cs is a viewpoint with many angles.

Business is like a musical composition. Composers know the phrases of many tunes and many melody lines, from which they pick and choose to make beautiful music. Business is the same. A business cannot be started from zero. To achieve a business goal, people need to learn how to collect and combine many things. Composers first learn chord progressions. In the same way, people new to business need to learn how to make a profit and carefully calculate the cost of the goods they are selling.

Your books have been hugely successful. What themes will you cover in your next book?

In March, I will publish a book in which I argue for an end to the lifetime- employment system, titled “Kaisha ni Jinsei wo Azukeruna” (“Don’t put your life into your company”). I will argue that Japanese people should reconsider lifetime employment and change their way of thinking about risk. Japanese people don’t have a grasp of the true meaning of the English word “risk.” They misunderstand “risk” as always meaning “dangerous.” Risks are chances that occur in volatile circumstances. People have the freedom to take risks, and they should not avoid them. However, as many people believe they should avoid taking risks in this way, they end up in much more dangerous situations, such as lifetime employment.

Why do you think the lifetime employment system is so risky?

When people who expect lifetime employment are forced out of their jobs, they don’t have mobility. In lifetime employment, employees enter their companies at age of 22 and retire at 60. Nowadays it is crazy to believe that companies can maintain financial stability for that amount of time.

Why did you choose to work in foreign companies rather than Japanese ones?

My first full-time job was with a foreign company. I had gone for an interview with a Japanese company, but they only offered me part-time work.

You had already given birth to your first child when you were looking for your first job.

Yes. So I said clearly to the companies that I could not devote all of my life to them. As I worked in foreign companies, I mastered English when I was young and received a lot of training. Most of things I have spoken and written are what the companies I have worked for have taught me.

Foreign companies have good training programs because they are aware they may have to dismiss their employees at any time. If employees are entirely reliant on their company, dismissing them is more difficult. In addition, foreign companies want their workers to be able to adapt quickly.

The lifetime employment system is similar to communism. The system has caused Japan to use its resources inefficiently. Though most people don’t share my belief, the policy problems the government faces are down to this system.

The tipping point on any number of issues is lifetime employment. Because of the lifetime employment system, it has taken a long time to solve problems on gender equality. Once women quit their jobs, they hardly ever get regular jobs again.

How has the lifetime employment system prevented women from getting jobs?

Many women quit their jobs to give birth to children. But when mothers later try to get regular jobs, they cannot be employed because most Japanese companies don’t have mid-career recruiting systems.

In one of your books, you said that getting married and giving birth is something like wearing “dairigu yosei gipusu (training bands that restrict the movement of the body).” What do you mean?

In the animation series “Kyojin no Hoshi” (“The Star of the Giants”), the hero, named Hyuma Hoshi, pitcher of the baseball team “the Giants,” wears special bands, that restrict his body’s movement. But because of the bands, Hyuma’s muscles are strengthened. When he finally takes off the bands, he can pitch the ball with incredible speed.

Like Hoshi, many women in their 20s experience difficulties and restrictions because of their married life and raising children. But when their children get older, women in 30s or 40s are released from these restrictions. They also acquire the skills to do things efficiently.

Just as Hoshi gained strength through the training bands, the mental muscles that women acquire enable them to do their jobs very efficiently when they are in their 40s.

You launched Field of Mugi for working mothers in 1997. What has the Web site helped you to achieve?

The members of the Web site have used it as a support network to gain the strength they need to continue their careers at the same time as they are raising children. Many of the members have even managed to change their jobs and give birth to more children.

If they hadn’t joined the Field of Mugi, they might have had only one child. But as a result of the Web site, many of the members have had two or three children, so it has helped them realize that it’s possible to develop your career while raising a larger family.

In your book “Okiteirukoto wa Subete Tadashii” (“Everything Happens for a Reason”) you said that when you were younger, you were weak. Is that true?

As the youngest of four children in my family, I was always helped by my elder sisters, parents and grandmother. Before I entered elementary school, I couldn’t even dress myself, or eat lunch at school, and I struggled to change my clothes for physical-education classes.

How did you get stronger?

At school I gradually learned that what I thought was common sense was not society’s idea of common sense. Because I struggled to get changed for PE, I was left behind by my classmates. So I gradually gained basic life and social skills.

So how did you get interested in computers?

I just liked them. I don’t know why. When I was in a university, I made programs for Windows and collected the latest information on Windows from the United States.

What motivated you to take the CPA exam when you were university student?

It was before the Law for Equal Employment Opportunity of Men and Women was enforced, and one of my sisters was struggling to find work. After she graduated from a university, she got a job doing clerical work. When she married, she quit the job and struggled to find work later. Even though she graduated from a four-year university and could speak English, she could only find a part time job paying ¥800 an hour.

You’ve said that the most trouble you have had in you life was when you were 32. What happened?

I was middle manager caught between superiors and subordinates. My superiors had given me assignments with deadlines, but I could not get my subordinates to finish the assignments by the deadlines. It was not because my subordinates were lazy but because I was not experienced.

As I was in my first or second year as a middle manager, I did not know how to educate my subordinates and have them do their jobs. My instructions were also not appropriate.

I thought the best way to resolve this problem was to do the work my subordinates had not managed to finish, so I had to work until midnight most days.

Who took care of your children?

My mother did. Around that time, I had been living with my mother for several years, and she did all the household chores.

How did you react to the situation?

I gained a lot of weight, smoked and drank a lot of alcohol.

How did you sort out the situation?

I had to solve the problems one by one. For example, I looked for many methods before I managed to stop smoking, and it took a lot of thinking before I figured out how to turn down assignments from my superiors.

Such as the methods that you discussed in your new book “Kotowaru Chikara” (“Say No”)?

I said things such as, “I cannot do this because I don’t have enough time,” or “I’m not going to do that because it is not effective.”

How did your superiors react to your changed attitude?

I fell out with one of my managers, but another understood me and said, “The way you worked before was wrong.” Because I declined some of the work assigned to my section, my subordinates finally managed to hit their deadlines.

Unless you explain your problems in detail, nobody will help you. People don’t have a supernatural power that allows them to perceive your problems, so you need to explain them to others and ask for help.

In your book “Okane wo Ginkou ni Azukeruna” (“Don’t Leave your Money in your Bank Account”), you recommended that readers make investments to increase their assets. But since the start of the financial crisis last year, stock prices have fallen dramatically. Do you still recommend investing?

In the book I said that because of the risk involved, people should not invest in stocks alone. I suggested readers divide their assets into four categories; foreign-currency bonds, foreign- currency stocks, yen bonds and yen stocks. Using this method, your investment will usually only fluctuate by around 10 percent either up or down. In many cases, it fluctuates upward. Investors can obtain a return of around 4 percent to 6 percent using this method. But once every 30 years or so, the values of securities fall by around 20 percent. This fall occurred last year by chance. However, informed investors can handle the fall.

I suggest that people make investments in the four categories by purchasing investment trusts based on indexes instead of buying individual stocks and bonds. I also suggest paying into investment trusts monthly, not once a year. People make mistakes because they wait until they have a total of ¥3 million, and then they buy a bunch of stocks. It is important to exercise more control over your money.

You are a member of the government team tackling the issue of Japan’s declining birthrate. What do you suggest the government and companies do to solve the problem?

There is no one answer to the problem; it has come about due to a number of factors over the past 30 to 50 years, and it’s a problem caused by many of our systems.

What I know is that our society does not provide enough money and time for raising children. The only solution is for companies to secure time for their workers to raise children and for the government to use tax money to help families.

What uses of tax money have you suggested to the government?

For example, the government should increase the childbirth allowance and the nursery allowance. While the government is planning to shoulder most of the financial costs of childbirth, by that time parents have already paid a lot of medical expenses linked to giving birth.

People are clever so they hesitate to have children because they cost a lot.

So you believe the government must provide more financial support for young families?

If more children were born, consumption would be stimulated and the economy would recover. Children become the taxpayers of the future. The government should consider the use of tax money for children not as a cost, but as an investment that can be recovered in 15 to 20 years.

You never hesitated to raise a large family.

No. I thought of having a fourth child, too. But before that, my marriage was over.

There are still many women who hesitate to have children as they want to keep their careers. But your experience as a working mother became a plus for your career.

Because I had limited time for my job, I worked hard to meet deadlines and avoid overtime. I have tried to do as much as possible in the most efficient way.