‘I didn’t move overseas as a child so I didn’t grow up bilingual,” says Natsuyo Nobumoto Lipschutz. “I did study English very hard but I didn’t get to try out my language skills until freshman year in college. I always had an intense longing to get out of my home country and see the world, though. I attribute that to my father.”
During her formative years, Lipschutz, CEO of the Manhattan-based strategy consulting firm Aspire Intelligence and a public speaking coach, heard stories about other countries from her father, Yasusada Nobumoto, an auto parts manufacturer who often went on overseas business trips. “I thought my dad was so cool,” she says, laughing. “I wanted to be just like him.”
Now in her 25th year of living in the U.S. Lipschutz frequently gives talks in English that are charged with a charismatic assurance that astounds native speakers, and has her Japanese (corporate) clients open-jawed with admiration.
“I was blessed with a lot of encounters with people who gave me sound advice and inspired me to take the right path,” she says, explaining that there was no magic formula that got her to where she is today. The rest of her journey, she says, was fueled by plain hard work and the genes she inherited from her father, an entrepreneur who was inducted into the Japan Automotive Hall of Fame after his passing in 2003.
It was her father’s death that Lipschutz says “pushed me to launch my own consulting company. I was so devastated that I had to do something.”
Even as a teen, though, Lipschutz wasn’t afraid to work hard in order to make things happen. Throughout middle and high school, she made a special effort to excel in English and by the time she passed the entrance examinations to Waseda University, she felt ready to test her abilities.
“I went to Australia (in 1992) on a month-long homestay program and had a really good time. When I came back, though, my parents were livid to discover that I had a boyfriend and I was subsequently grounded,” she recalls. “But after Australia, I knew I just had to go abroad again. So I hatched a plan to get into an American university. I figured that if I studied really hard and got a full-ride scholarship, my parents couldn’t say no.”
She was right, and in 1993 Lipschutz arrived at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, full of hope and with her parents’ blessing.
“But contrary to my expectations, it was a very hard landing,” she recalls. “The whole experience was different from Australia, which was more like a fun trip. Life in Washington University — that was the real deal.”
She discovered that everyone talked too fast for her to fully understand, classes proved to be difficult and, she says, “conversations went right over my head.”
“Back in Japan, I had been an ace student with excellent grades. In Missouri, I was sunk,” she says. “And maybe for the first time in my life, I became tongue-tied. I couldn’t talk to anyone and for the first three months, I just moped around in my dorm room, weeping.”
She describes her transformation into a confident public speaker who coaches businesspeople on speaking up and being heard as “never easy,” and adds, “I guess I’m one of those people who hates to lose.”
When she first went to Missouri, Lipschutz says that she felt uncomfortable with her accent and the way she spoke English. Over time however, she came to think of it as an asset.
“Being a non-native speaker means I choose every word in my spoken sentences so that they mean something. I always try to be the most effective speaker in the room, because otherwise I may not be heard,” she explains. “I discovered that in the U.S. and especially in New York, no one is bothered by my accent, but they do expect me to express myself with clarity and confidence.”
Now, Lipschutz is the only Japanese certified World Class Speaking Coach and a multiple speech-contest winner in New York. Her thoughts are featured in “The Success Blueprint” a compilation of essays brought together by business guru Brian Tracy and, in 2014, she launched Breakthrough Speaking — a program geared to help people optimize public speaking abilities in global business situations.
After coming back to Japan from Missouri and a year later, she graduated from Waseda and was immediately eager to cross the ocean again.
“This time I wanted to get an MBA. Being my father’s daughter, I always had an interest in business and I thought, ‘I should just go to business school,'” she says. “I was well aware that having an MBA would open all kinds of doors for me in the U.S.”
What she discovered, however, was that most MBA applicants already had work experience before even filling out an application form.
“An admissions officer told me to get five years experience,” she recalls. “But I didn’t want to spend that time in Tokyo, so I went to New York to work for C. Itochu International Inc.”
After four years, Lipschutz’s boss allowed her to apply for an MBA.
“I did and … I flunked,” she says. “My Graduate Management Admission Test scores weren’t quite up to mark.”
In desperation, she started listening to American subliminal self-help tapes, “the ones that give pep talks and tells you that you can do this!” she says, laughing. “But it worked!”
Lipschutz was eventually put on a waiting list but she says “I told myself that just sitting around for an acceptance letter wasn’t going to get me anywhere.”
So, instead she plucked up the courage to make her first elevator pitch to a university admissions officer, an experience that she says taught her the “value of getting myself across to an audience in a direct and honest way, and in a very short time.” Whether the pitch worked remains somewhat of a mystery, but with her scores and interviews, Lipschutz was accepted to the Stern School of Business at New York University.
Despite speaking confidently herself, Lipschutz says that being successful in the U.S. isn’t about having perfect language skills. “It’s how you choose to present yourself, and what you say about it,” she stresses.
Well-versed in effective communication methods of both the U.S. and Japan, she goes back and forth, coaching executives on presenting, and becoming, their best professional selves in both countries.
“Japan has a very high-context culture — people expect others to understand what they mean without having to lay it out in black and white,” she says. “But in the U.S., it’s the exact opposite — you’re expected to say what you mean and explain your point in a few, effective sentences.”
One of her jobs, she says, is to bridge that gap between cultures, and encourage the Japanese corporate community to be effective speakers.
“People often ask me for advice on speaking English and behaving with confidence,” she says. “My gut feeling is, put yourself out there. Get out of Japan and go abroad. Even a week in another country will make a huge difference.”
Name: Natsuyo Nobumoto Lipschutz
Profession: CEO of the Manhattan-based strategy consulting firm Aspire Intelligence, and public speaking coach
Key moments in life and career
1992 — Spends one month in Australia on a homestay program
1993-1994 — Attends Washington University of St. Louis in Missouri on a full scholarship
1995 — Graduates from Waseda University and goes to New York
2000 — Attends New York University’s Stern School of Business
2004 — Founds Aspire Intelligence
2014 — Launches Breakthrough Speaking
2015 — Gives a TEDx talk at Waseda University
2019 — Publishes the book “Shave Your Words off to 20 Characters”
Words to Live By: “‘Sei wa kon,’ shorthand for ‘Treat people with sincerity. Endeavor to instill harmony. Give your soul to what you believe in.'”