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Sunday, March 1, 2009

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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


Staff writer

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.

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Problem solver: Kazuyo Katsuma is not only a popular financial analyst and best- selling writer of books on personal finance, she's also a mother of three who has found a recipe for balancing work and personal life. The 40-year-old author, who whizzes around Tokyo on a bicycle, has sold more than 2 million copies of her 14 books. SATOKO KAWSAKI PHOTO/ERIKO ARITA (above)
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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.

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