Name: Stefan Jakobsen
Title: Chairman, Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan
DoB: Oct. 29, 1975
Hometown: Ikast, Denmark
Years in Japan: 15
Stefan Linde Jakobsen’s path to becoming president of Coloplast Japan and chairperson of the Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan is a journey spanning multiple countries, languages and interests.
In Denmark he studied English and German, both compulsory languages when he was growing up, as well as French. Japanese, the language of the country he now calls home, is his fifth.
Jakobsen’s interest in Japan originated in Australia, where he studied as an exchange student during high school. There he befriended a Japanese exchange student, whom he later visited in the Kansai area. This trip marked his first time in Asia, with his experiences exploring Kansai, climbing Mount Fuji and visiting Tokyo leaving indelible impressions.
“It was exotic and exciting,” he said, recalling his inaugural trip to the country. “Many things were familiar on the surface, but underneath I sensed cultural and historical depth. I felt I had to go back and learn more.”
Jakobsen’s stay in Australia was a mirror into his own culture. When he returned to Denmark, he found that speaking English every day in Australia had given him a greater command of his native tongue. He discovered a joy for writing, which, in addition to new perspectives afforded to him by his travels, impelled him to consider a career as a writer.
The people Jakobsen met in Australia were completely different from his acquaintances in Denmark. As he hung out with surfers, listened to different kinds of music and snuck into concerts, he felt his worldview changing. “I realized there’s a lot more to life than studying numbers and business,” Jakobsen said. “There are other kinds of people out there who are different and have interesting outlooks on life.”
In the end Jakobsen decided not to become a writer, the main reason being the isolation that comes with the profession. He decided instead to do a double undergraduate degree studying economics and philosophy in parallel, leading him to spend a year in Germany studying Kant, Heidegger, Hegel and other classic philosophers. He then pursued a master’s degree in business, which entailed a year and a half of study in Japan.
As Jakobsen finished his studies and mulled over career prospects, a classmate introduced him to a fellow Dane, the Asia-Pacific regional manager of Coloplast. Jakobsen was hired as a full-time employee following a brief stint as an intern. “I was a bit pushy and constantly asked for more work,” he said. “But I was pushy in a good way, which is probably why he quickly offered me a job.”
Coloplast is a Danish company that develops medical devices related to ostomies and other health care services. Jakobsen considers his employment at the company “half coincidence, half destiny,” the “coincidence” deriving from the fact that he was not necessarily looking for a job in health care, and the “destiny” being that his father is an ostomate. This personal connection to the industry gives Jakobsen invaluable insight as president of Coloplast Japan. “Through him, I’ve known since a child what it means to live with a stoma,” he said. “I’ve seen his routine and how it limits his life, which makes it easy for me to envision what the end users of our products are going through.”
Jakobsen draws from his experience to spread awareness regarding ostomy health care services in Japan and how they compare with the rest of the world. Japan’s reimbursement rate for ostomy services is considerably lower than most comparable countries, and by participating in patient group activities, Jakobsen hopes to show end users and providers that there is room for improvement.
Jakobsen regards his current role as country manager a “dream job,” citing the hands-on nature of his work. Unlike a regional manager who works through country managers, Jakobsen gets to interact with all facets of everyday operations, working directly with local teams and visiting customers as well.
When he is not managing Coloplast Japan’s daily operations, Jakobsen is meeting with ministers and attending events as chairperson of the Danish Chamber of Commerce Japan, a position he assumed in 2014. As chairperson, Jakobsen sets the direction for the chamber and provides guidance to strengthen the network of members. Board members are currently assessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how the chamber can help industries hit especially hard by the economic fallout.
Jakobsen’s goal as chairperson is to ensure they remain relevant. “When the chamber was founded around 40 years ago, it mainly consisted of Danish expats who periodically met to exchange thoughts and reminisce about Denmark. That’s no longer relevant,” he said, noting that among the over 100 Danish companies in Japan, only a small fraction is headed by people of Danish descent.
It is for this reason Jakobsen emphasizes the increased need for the chamber to communicate in Japanese in order to expand its reach throughout local organizations. As part of these outreach efforts, the chamber is planning to organize opportunities for Japanese employees to learn about Denmark and cultivate a cultural understanding of their organizations.
Jakobsen himself is well acquainted with the process of learning how to adapt to other cultures. As a European in Japan, he has developed an appreciation of the “unspoken” aspect of communication. “You need to be very empathetic in Japan; it’s really important that you pick up on the mood of a room,” he said. “Being sensitive to the context and to what is not being said in certain situations is just as important as what is being said.”
An avid runner with a global background
Born in Herning, Denmark, Stefan Linde Jakobsen grew up in the countryside just outside the city of Ikast. Before enrolling in university, he traveled around Europe and Asia, and on his itinerary was Japan — the country where he would eventually settle.
After completing his undergraduate studies at Aarhus University, Jakobsen spent a year and a half at Sophia University as a Monbusho scholar. It was during this time that he met his wife, with whom he has three daughters.
Jakobsen joined Coloplast Japan as an intern in 2005, but quickly climbed the ranks, becoming president in 2012.
He is an avid runner, having completed 28 full marathons as of this year, as well as a passionate skier. He plays the didgeridoo, a wind instrument developed by aboriginal Australians, which he took up after being inspired by aboriginal street performers during his time in Australia as a high school exchange student.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.