Interview with Helen Iwata
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Iwata of Sasuga! Communications for this blog. Helen is our first ever monthly member at Ginza Hub, joining almost 2 years ago in August 2014, and she recently published a book in Japanese called 英語の仕事術 (Eigo no Shigotojutsu.) Over a cup of coffee, I asked Helen a few questions about her success as an entrepreneur, while Tia Haygood of TopTia Photography snapped a few shots for us.
RM – So Helen, let me start by asking you how you first got started in Business.
HI – I first came to Japan with the JET program, and worked there for my first 3 years. I then worked for 7 years with Nippon Steel Trading, and then for 10 years at McKinsey. I decided to leave McKinsey in 2013, and the very next day I set up Sasuga! Communications to focus on what I really wanted to do: communication-skills training and translation.
RM – Where are you based and why?
HI – I decided to base myself at Ginza Hub because of the positive atmosphere here. I mean, there’s always high-speed WiFi, good coffee, and snacks from all of our various travels, but I love the sense of community here best.
RM – That’s great to hear! Ok, next tell me, how has the internet empowered your own business?
HI – Wow. That’s a long story! Well, first I thought that online business wasn’t appropriate for my line of business which is helping people to communicate with clarity and confidence in global business, but I’ve realised that actually there’s a lot of potential with it. One thing is that I can introduce basic techniques through online training, which then saves participants time in the classroom. But also, I can now do a lot with video! This means that people don’t have to travel or to be at the same location at the same time. So we can do things that are live, and then record them for viewing later.
RM – Ok, so the Net is supplementing your in-person training because you have a better reach with your recorded material.
HI – Yes, so it can be for the same people who attend my in-person workshops, plus a whole new set of people who can’t make it to my in-person workshops because they’re in a different location.
RM – Nice. Ok can you explain exactly what Sasuga! Communications is?
HI – Well, Sasuga! Communications’ mission is to help 2020 people create communication habits for success and happiness in global business by the year 2020. And the main areas that I work in are listening and questioning, giving presentations, participating in conference calls, facilitating meetings and dealing with conflict. And I do this through both in-person and online group training and one-on-one coaching.
RM – Awesome USP there, Helen. And what are the main “features” of Sasuga! Communications?
HI – One thing that’s a big feature is that I’m the only one who conducts the training, so people who receive my training receive all of my background, career and experience. I’ve lived and worked in Japan for 25 years, and during that time I spent 7 years with Nippon Steel Trading understanding Japanese culture and communication practices, plus 10 years with McKinsey where I was Manager Of Client Communications and trained McKinsey consultants and clients in communication skills. So you get all that expertise and consistency, and of course my personality (laughs), which is very much focused on encouragement and building confidence. Another feature is that I adapt to my clients’ needs and change my approach depending on who I’m working with to bring out the best results for each individual.
RM – Interesting. So how can Sasuga! Communications enhance the world for businesses and individuals?
HI – Ok, imagine, if you will, having a meeting with someone and having them not distracted by technology but really listening to you. Imagine going to a seminar where the presenters are passionate and engaging. Imagine joining a conference call where everyone feels confident to contribute their ideas and gives space for others to speak too. Imagine attending a meeting with a clear goal and roles for all participants, with constructive debate, and clear results and next steps. Imagine being able to understand others’ perspectives and deal quickly and compassionately with conflict in the workplace – and even to embrace constructive differences of opinion. Sasuga! Communications can enhance the world for businesses and individuals by helping people to make these five ideals a reality, and these are the 5 chapters of my book!
RM – What interests you outside of your working day?
HI – I’m really enjoying yoga at the moment, as taught at Ginza Hub by Ashina Saiki of Yoga Buddhi. I find it really centers me, and also compliments my martial arts (ed. Helen is an Itosu-ryu Karate world champion.) I’m also really into my new garden! I recently bought a new apartment in Shinjuku, and love working on my little herb and veggie garden there. We even had some of the herbs I grew with dinner at home last night!
RM – Sounds wonderful!
HI – Yes, it is!
RM – Ok, what’s next for the entrepreneur Helen Iwata?
HI – I’m hugely excited about the recent launch of my mini online course, How to Avoid the 5 Biggest Presentation Mistakes. I think lots of people can benefit from this – not just for giving big presentations, but for speaking up in business meetings or giving sales pitches. And I have ideas for bigger and better online courses. I’m also fired up about the idea of launching a podcast
RM – The last question is, what type of music, films and artwork do you like?
HI – Music, I actually pretty much like anything – if it’s got a beat I’ll tap my foot to it! (laughs). I’m especially an 80s music girl. But I also listen to a lot more modern music because I have a teenage daughter. So yeah, I can listen to anything. In terms of films, I’m totally a romantic comedy kind of girl. “Love Actually” is my all-time favorite. And art… I actually like to draw things myself. I don’t do it much these days, but when I was a kid I used to do a lot of drawing. I don’t have a specific kind of art that I like, but I appreciate what people do. Oh, and one more if I can add in on art. One that I haven’t done yet, but is waiting on my bedside table to do, is sashiko, which is a kind of Japanese embroidery. A friend of mine is setting up her business, promoting sashiko to the world. It’s a very traditional Japanese art and it’s starting to get a little bit more known in the West, and she’s an expert in this area.
RM – Cool. Ok, well, that was the final question in our interview today, so thank you very much for your time, Helen. And all the best with your next big project!
HI – Thanks, Rob.