Female Shacho (CEO) in Focus: Emura Rika (江村林香)

Ms. EmuraEver since reading a recent article on stippy.com about the under-representation of female CEOs in Japan, I’ve been racking my brains to find one. My first thoughts were of Tomoyo Nonaka of Sanyo Electric or Fumiko Hayashi of Daiei, but as Chairwomen, they both strike me more as figure heads than actual active, managing CEOs. During my search, I stumbled across the intriguing story of Emura Rika (江村林香), the 38 year old President of Air Transse, a small regional airline in Hokkaido. It did not take me long to discover that it is not the fact that Emura is a female that makes her a fascinating entrepreneur.

Emura’s talent as a manager flowered at a very young age. As the eldest daughter among 5 children, she was often left in charge of her siblings when her parents were out of the house. She learnt quickly that rather than shunning talent, the more she educated her younger brothers and sisters, she more she could outsource chores and responsibilities to them. After seeing her Mother run off with a younger man when her Father’s company went bankrupt in the early 80s, Emura decided that in order to be happy, she wanted to become rich.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that she was a hedge-fund manager when you hear that while at Junior College (yes, 短大), she managed to earn over 7 million yen a year as a private tutor by negotiating lucrative contracts with her pupil’s parents that ensured her a hefty “success fee” paid only if the pupil gained entry into their desired high-school. (Needless to say, Emura took a pay cut when she started working in the “real world.”)

It only took Emura six years to become a director (at the age of 26) of the company that she joined straight out of College. Over the next few years she helped the company expand into everything from child-care run by musicians, to online auctions of second-hand taxis and by the age of 32 she had fired the rest of the board and become CEO. The one common theme among her cunning business ideas is clear: “Target a niche market, and be happy doing so.”
inside one of Air Transse's planes Since 2004, Emura has been taking her pursuit of niche-markets to a new echelon. She was approached by the then owner of failed regional Hokkaido airline “Air Shenpex”. After three years of operations he had run the business into the ground and all routes had been scrapped. Running an airline is not an easy business, but Emura put up 60 million yen of her own money and with the help of a 300 million yen bank loan got the business up and running again in less than six months. Renamed, Air Transse, she started small, flying an 18 seater jet with a single niche route (Hakodate-Obihiro) but now flies to Chitose and Memanbetsu as well. Keeping true to her promise of forever targeting the obscure, she even offers the politically correct equivalent of the “mile high club” that literally lets you get married in the clouds. (Emura must have “a thing” about weddings; She held hers at “Tokyo Dome”. Apparently to convince the conservative Yomiuri lot at the Dome, she had to force all of her guests to play a game of baseball during the ceremony!!)

One of Emura's fleetNeedless to say, if you are ever traveling to Hokkaido, you should check out the fares as they are the cheapest in the “dõ”. If you can’t make it up North any time soon, then the next best thing is to take a regular peak at her blog, hoping that a bit of that entrepreneurial magic will rub off.

13 thoughts on “Female Shacho (CEO) in Focus: Emura Rika (江村林香)”

  1. One of the big attractions of Japan is the girls, and that they are so attractive and submissive (and I hear they love sex too!). Is that really the case?

    I thought the best place for Japanese girls is in the kitchen (or bedroom it sounds), and I like the way the Japanese girls let their husband be the man of the house, and don’t interfere. If there is too many lady CEOs, then Japanese women would loose their charm. no? I don’t live in Japan, but that is what I think.

  2. Jezz, are you from the 50′s or maybe North of the DMZ?! I think you’ll find that when it comes to Japanese women, all is not what it seems, more often than not they are the boss around the house. They often control the purse strings and its not uncommon to hear of sorrowful husbands who are only given a pitance each day for lunch/pocket money!

  3. Absolutely true about the missus controling the purse strings. My mate at work used to get okozukai of 10000 a month and his kids got 20000. He had to save up for a year to buy a new computer….

  4. How did you find out about this woman?
    Just search for jyosei shacho?

    Being a foreign girl in Japan is not so fun, especially when there are people like “luv-da-jgals” in this world!

  5. I found an interesting piece which relates to your article, which is nice to see by the way. The following text is from here, and was written in 2004:

    http://fujikosuda.com/worklife/workplace-in-japan/professional-japanese-women

    Title: “Professional Japanese Women”
    This is the full text of the article:

    It is still a rarity when a woman strolls into a giant Japanese company as a consultant. But because it is still a rarity, women can take advantage of such situation. I did just that recently when I conducted a series of workplace design/ change management workshop. When I put together a team of 4 people of most appropriate combined skill sets, we turned out to be all women.

    Two interior designer/architects, one business coach and me. It was funny how the client company executives reacted when one by one, they arrived at the conference room. We had the conference room all re-arranged to suit the needs of workshops, so that threw them off for a start. They have been with the company for 20 to 30 years, but they have never seen any conference room furniture moved around like that. And then when they saw women greeting them, they acted really surprised. They all first stopped at the entrance. Couple of them walked back out of the room. (To gain their composure?) And when they were seated, they were visibly rigid, uncomfortable.

    I bet the way we approached them helped. We didn’t flex our muscle and say, we’re the boss! We simply asked them questions, and within few minutes they begun to relax, and we had great sessions. They didn’t want to stop when the time was up, and we ended up talking throughout the lunch hour until they absolutely had to go to their next separate meetings.

    Things are changing among professional Japanese women, at least around me. Many professional Japanese women in their mid 30’s and older tend to be thorny, abrasive, trying to prove themselves. But younger ones, especially women in 20’s are relaxed, more interested in helping people around them than making statements. I love working with these women, and I think this past workshops with very traditional Japanese company proved people in general love working with these women. And because we are still rarity, the impact we make is greater.

  6. めぐみ-san that blog was an interesting find there. It seems as though Suda-san is half American and Japanese – I wonder if the female consultants she was talking about were Japanese or not.

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  8. Lots of female CEO heads rolling today. First Tomoyo Nonaka at Sanyo and now Hayashi Fumiko at Daiei.

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