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I want to contribute to "monozukuri" that can compete on a global scale by gaining a wide range of experience as a buyer both in Japan and abroad, while applying my willingness to take on challenges and to do the necessary footwork.—Yuko Nakagawa, Joined Hitachi in 2009 after studying in California, USA, and now works at Software & Indirect Materials Procurement Group 2, Procurement Department (of Telecommunications & Network Systems Division), Procurement Division, Information & Telecommunication Systems Company.

What are you currently working on?

I am responsible for outsourcing telecommunications carrier software, which mainly involves tasks such as the delegation of system development projects to Group companies and other partners, as well as the procurement of IT engineers. In this work, I need to always be aware of quality, cost, and deadline factors, while negotiating with each partner in order to achieve my mission to procure at the highest possible quality and the lowest possible cost, all while staying within the project's budget. In practical terms, this means that I am mainly responsible for tasks such as evaluating potential partner companies, executing contracts, carefully reviewing the details of estimates from each partner company, negotiating prices, issuing orders, and receiving deliverables. In order to reduce project costs, I've been increasingly doing business with software companies in countries with a high level of technological capabilities available at a low price, such as China and Vietnam, and this means that I've been using English in e-mail interactions more frequently as well. I am in charge of a wide range of projects, ranging from a few people to several hundred people in scope. In addition to my usual work, I am also kept busy each day with tasks such as the consideration of procurement policies for reducing costs, and my job lets me enjoy the thrill of being involved in human resources, "monozukuri", and the flow of money.

How was life as an exchange student?

Although I had very hard time studying abroad, when I look back at those days now, they really were both fulfilling and enjoyable. While I already had a vague sense of yearning for the chance to study abroad back when I was in middle school, after the 9/11 terrorist attack that occurred while I was a high school student, I was instilled with a strong desire to study international relations in the USA. After graduating from high school, I spent a year at a language school in Japan getting used to taking classes in English in order to prepare for studying abroad, and went to the USA after that. Even so, when I started taking classes at the university, at first I couldn't even understand half of the lessons, and it took all of my concentration simply to understand what people were saying during the discussion part of class. I became painfully aware of how weak my English abilities were. Outside of classes, I would read notes copied from the blackboard and textbooks to supplement my understanding, and my days were all spent on assignments and studying for tests. I could only take a rest on Friday nights and Saturday mornings. I psyched myself up by telling myself that with all of the hard work and studying I was doing, I didn't want to get worse grades than the local students. All this hard work finally paid off, and after the second year, professors started praising my submitted assignments more and more frequently, while I maintained good grades. I then decided to expand the range of subjects I was studying, and added an international business minor to my international relations major. Although this increased my course load, I took advantage of a system that allowed students to take a concentrated semester of units during the long summer and winter vacations, and graduated after three and a half years.

What did you focus on while searching for a job?

During my sophomore year at the American university, I used its foreign exchange program to study abroad in the African nation of Ghana for half a year. Ghana was suffering from severe power shortages at the time, and there were frequent long power outages, some even as long as a whole week, causing the Ghanaians around me to express frustration with their country and a sense of despair. This inspired me to want to work at a Japanese manufacturer or trading company, thinking "Development without electric power is out of the question. Also, I want people to have pride and hope for their nation's future, because they are the driving force behind development. I want to introduce Japan's power generation technology to this nation, and contribute to its development."
While searching for a job, I made sure to describe just how I felt about the things that happened while I studied abroad, and about the valuable lessons I learned from my experiences in Ghana. During my interview with Hitachi as well, I spoke a lot about what I saw and felt while living in Ghana, and told them all about my dream of someday working at a job where I could use Japanese technology to support the development of emerging economies in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. I still remember how the human resources representative showed interest in my dream, how lively the discussion became, and how strongly I felt the desire to work at this company. When I look back on those interviews, I think the interviewers must have positively evaluated the guts and courage I exhibited when it comes to jumping into unfamiliar environments, and I feel that I was able to achieve this through my experiences studying abroad.

Is there any strength you acquired while studying abroad that you can apply to your work now?

In addition to the ability to take on challenges and endure I built up during my time studying abroad, I was also able to achieve a stance of enthusiastically accepting fields that are unknown to me and ways of thinking that differ from my own, to quickly break the ice with people I am meeting for the first time, and to exchange opinions without pretense. I attained these communication skills naturally while studying in the USA and Africa, simply by coming into daily contact with people who were born and raised in different environments, with different races, ages, religions, ideas, and backgrounds from my own. These experiences studying abroad have made me who I am, and they give me an edge in my job to this day.
At present, I have a lot of opportunities to coordinate with managers in various design departments as part of my procurement work, and proactive communication is a must in order to share information and awareness regarding business policies and technological issues. Also, during price negotiations as well, I find that the communication skills I cultivated during my time studying abroad have helped me convey requests without hesitation while enlisting cooperation from our partners.

How did you go about searching for a job?

I returned home to Japan temporarily during the winter vacation of my junior year, and got an early start on my job searching activities, such as attending corporate information sessions. I was able to start a little early because I was planning on graduating after three and a half years. Still, I had to rely on the Internet to a large extent for my job searching information, and I had a tough time with the interviews due to my lack of background information regarding the companies. In fact, when I was asked why I wanted to work for several of the companies, I had a hard time answering, which was frustrating.
In the summer of my senior year at the university, I attended career forums in both Tokyo and Los Angeles, and was interviewed by around thirty companies, mainly Japanese trading companies and manufacturers. I had my first interview with Hitachi at the Los Angeles career forum, and received a job offer after the second and final interview at the Boston career forum in October. Since I graduated at the end of December, I joined the company along with the other new employees in April, but some of the other employees who joined during the same year as me graduated from universities overseas in May or June, and entered the company in July. A lot of the companies participating in career forums have opted to choose year-round recruitment, and I think this will work to the advantage of exchange students studying at universities outside Japan.

Message to Exchange Students at Universities outside Japan

Be bold in taking on the challenges of whatever it is that interests you now. Use these experiences to your advantage, and you will find a place to realize your dreams at Hitachi.

Daily Schedule

6:00 Wake up
8:00 Go to work
Check mail during the quiet period before work starts, and verify the day's schedule.
8:50 Start work
Verify schedule and to-do items for entire section during morning assembly.

Attend project progress meetings
Although I am responsible for a wide range of projects, both large and small, for large-scale projects with a long development schedule, it is particularly important that the procurement department also remains constantly aware of the status of the work in progress.
11:00 I verify estimate details from partners and negotiate prices. I usually negotiate the prices of items at one time when the person in charge of those estimates is the same.

Taking a break from work, I spend lunchtime enjoying conversations about current issues and other topics with my colleagues.
13:00 Place orders with partner
For projects where the negotiation with partners is finished, I get my boss's approval and then place the orders. Procurement tasks also include deadline management, acceptance of deliverables, and follow-up.
When I run into problems regarding a system or workflow, I refer to the procedure manual or ask a senior employee while moving forward with my work.

Discussions with design departments
Conferences with design departments regarding project organization, cost-reduction measures, contracts with partners, and other issues. Close coordination with relevant departments inside the company is particularly important for large-scale projects.
18:30 Leave work
19:30 Dinner with friends
22:00 Return home
On days when I have no plans and it's after five, I study for a certification exam that will help with my job. I'm currently studying intellectual properties, which are a necessary part of my procurement work.
24:00 Go to bed