Ever 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.”
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!!)
Needless 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.