Staff writer Despite large financial contributions made by the government to international causes, Japanese are often criticized for being invisible in the global community. Kiyoshi Murakami, who will become chief of the Career & Staff Support Service at the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees next month, is challenging that stereotype by joining the U.N. organization from the private sector. With extensive personnel management skills developed while working at private firms, Murakami said he would like to propose a personnel administration reform plan to the Geneva-based U.N. body. “I would like to create a system in which individuals can develop their own career goals,” the 40-year-old former senior employee of a U.S. consulting firm said in an interview. The UNHCR, which has approximately 5,000 members of staff, including short-term workers, oversees care for nearly 22 million refugees around the world. Therefore, it should provide employees with clear indications for promotion in order to build greater job motivation, Murakami said. As another reflection of his experience in the private sector, he is also considering a system to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of the UNHCR’s programs just like those of private enterprises. Murakami had not intended to become an expert on personnel management. After studying government and politics at the University of San Francisco, he became involved in the field of personnel management for the first time at a private firm in 1987. While holding his first full-time position at a Tokyo branch of Citicorp, he made a remarkable impression by deliberately breaking the “shushoku kyotei,” a nationwide gentlemen’s agreement among industries to not recruit fresh college graduates before Oct. 1. The agreement was terminated in 1997. By attracting media attention, Murakami said he succeeded with a strategy of spreading the name of the foreign company, which was not well known at the time, among Japanese students. This achievement focused attention on him and helped develop a career in human resources during the following decade with three major U.S. companies in Tokyo. “I have learned (through my corporate experiences) that you can improve your capabilities only by your own efforts,” said Murakami, who most recently was director of human resources for the Asia-Pacific region with Price Waterhouse Consultants Co. His relationship with the U.N. began at a symposium on U.N. reform, where he learned about its personnel system. Following the symposium, Murakami compiled a paper on U.N. reform and submitted it to U.N. headquarters in New York in 1998. He believes the paper eventually led to this latest career opportunity. “I think more people working at private firms should fly out and tackle (greater) challenges,” he said, adding that he hopes his case encourages other Japanese businesspeople. Once he assumes his new position, Murakami’s priorities will be to train its 5,000 workers so they can provide appropriate support to refugees, effectively cooperate with regional governments and institutions, and learn skills to protect themselves in unstable areas. Its personnel are required to perform strenuous duties, often under difficult conditions, in areas of conflict, he said. “I am also considering having members of related nongovernmental organizations train together with UNHCR staff,” he said. Murakami says that a lack of activism among Japanese may be why his compatriots shy away from international career opportunities. He suggests “being optimistic” is the key to adapting to jobs in international organizations, like the UNHCR. “They must be able to go forward regardless of what they encounter,” said Murakami, who also professes to be a fan of professional wrestling.
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