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Steven Gan

Stellar Risk Management Services, Inc.

Date of birth: Jan. 27, 1957

Hometown: Chicago

Number of years in Japan (cumulative): 15 (as of April 2019)

Steven Gan
Q1: What was your first encounter with Japan?

The first time I was in Japan was way back in 1980 after graduating from college for a three-month internship at Yokogawa Denki located in the city of Musashino, Tokyo. It was an absolutely wonderful experience that triggered my lifelong interest in Japan and all things Japanese. Although it was only three months long, I was amazed at how quickly I learned Japanese and became attracted to Japanese culture.

Q2: Please state your motto in life and why you have chosen it.

As the Dalai Lama has said (paraphrasing), “If you are compassionate in life to all those around you, you will attain immense happiness.” I like that motto because it embodies my goal in life to help and be supportive to as many people in my family, my friends, and those in my community as possible.

Q3 : Over your career, what achievement are you the proudest of?

During my 15 years in Japan, I established and operated the country’s first foreign-owned debt collection agency. The company grew to have over 30 employees and we had over 800 active clients. Through numerous articles, publications, presentations and television appearances, we deepened the understanding of credit risk management throughout Japan. I’ve written a couple of books on my experiences, “Making and Breaking It in Japan,” being one.

Q4 : What are your goals during your time in Japan, your current position or in life?

My personal goal while I was in Japan from 1989 to 2005 was to break into Japanese society. I was very fortunate to have made many good friends who always made me feel as though I was part of the gang. My professional goal was to develop the country’s accounts receivable management industry.

Q5 : What wisdom, advice or tips can you give to people living and working in Japan?

First and foremost, try to learn as much Japanese as you can. Without being able to communicate directly with the Japanese on a personal and professional level, you'll always be on the outside.
Second, join groups, clubs, associations, or participate in activities where you can form friendships. I was often the only foreigner in many kinds of Japanese business groups and clubs. For example, I sang as a baritone in a Japanese chorus for several years and participated in a Japanese improvisation comedy club for a couple of years. I can’t tell you how much fun I had and of the wonderful friends I made, and continue to stay in touch with.
Third, be respectful of differences, but don’t do anything that you are truly uncomfortable doing. I never wanted to drink alcohol until I was stinking drunk. I usually gave the excuse that for health reasons, I could not drink a lot, and that was always accepted.

Last updated: Apr 1, 2019