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12 Tips on Successful Globalization

kiyokotoyamaKiyoko Toyama spoke at Arizona International Growth Group last week, and she had a lot to say about successful globalization of a business.

Hers is a multi-faceted global success story with several key moments – especially the U.S. program that had her stay with a family in Maine as an exchange student at age 17. At the end of that visit she and over 400 foreign national students were invited to the White House to meet with President Kennedy. From that moment she seemed to be predetermined to move from Japan to the U.S., and live a successful business life.

Here are 12 thoughts pertaining to successful global business that I heard during her presentation.

1. Get an education, at any age. Kiyoko moved to the U.S. but hadn’t finished a college education until she was inspired to get into business, and, with a family, went to school and received her degree going to school on the weekends. She did whatever it took – and it opened the door to a new opportunity with a new start-up NKK Switches. So don’t listen to Elon Musk – get a degree.

2. Recognize multiculturalism can be an advantage. She wanted to work for a company that recognized her bi-cultural skills as an advantage, not a disadvantage. She concluded that she could do that best with a Japanese company, but she didn’t want to be limited in her career (as a woman) by working at a true Japanese company – where she might be relegated to being an ‘office lady’. She wanted to work at a U.S.-based Japanese firm. Good strategy!

3. Take risks for what you want. Living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the time, Kiyoko was presented a position with a start-up (NKK Switches) in Scottsdale, Arizona. Arizona? It was a long way away with plenty of uncertainties – but she convinced her husband to quit his job and uproot her children for the hope of a business career and better life. She rolled the dice, and it eventually worked out!

4. Be a bridge. All of us who have lived in another country or worked for a foreign national firm can relate to the role that Kiyoko migrated into – the bridge between the U.S. and Japan. The NKK Switches President in the U.S. then was an American, and so Kiyoko found herself as translator and cross-cultural bridge. This made her promotions to VP Operations and later President more natural.

5. Communicate, communicate, communicate. This was one of Kiyoko’s main points – that communication across cultures requires special attention to make it right. We need to take the time and effort to do the nemawashi, or pre-meeting groundwork, to listen, explain and align people’s thinking around the best course of action. It takes time, and so dial that extra time in when dealing across cultures.

6. Create a great environment. One of Kiyoko’s driving principals has been to create an environment where people want to come to work. As a leader she always has been thinking about the employees’ drive in and home – and will they be motivated to come to work, and excited to come back the next day? That type of environment keeps employees interested, excited and engaged.

7. Inspire new product development. It’s important to create new products and services, and Kiyoko has always tried to inspire innovation and new thinking that keeps up with the market and keeps the company ahead of competitors. An example for NKK Switches has been the ‘Smart Switch’ – which added additional value for customers in existing and new markets. Never stop thinking!

8. Understand the impact of currency. Over Kiyoko’s term at NKK Switches the currency exchange between Japan and U.S. went from 270 yen to the dollar to 82 yen to the dollar, and is now around 92. That has made Japan-made products about 3X more expensive in dollar terms. Can you imagine that type of change, and the impact it requires on products being imported? It required different strategies – and sensitivity about isolating U.S. customers to the changes so that they wouldn’t switch to other suppliers.

9. Give customers and partners a good reason to work with you. Kiyoko has always kept in mind the importance of creating value for customers and partners. That has included remembering why they buy from NKK Switches, and staying in tune with their needs. It has also included dynamic thinking to make changes along the way, create new products and be flexible to change – and be ready for new opportunities. When new opportunities present themselves, pounce on them aggressively!

10. Have a strong hiring process. As a small international company, NKK Switches has had advantages and disadvantages for hiring people who over the long haul would be successful. Kiyoko has tended to look beyond the resume and think about the potential for each person – and whether they could be long-timers with the firm. And so she developed a unique process that placed priority on potential and longevity. One question she asks is a clever one: “So tell me what you saw on your way to work today.” – Wow – so much in that one!

11. To be global, develop 24/7 systems. To be truly global, the systems here, there and everywhere should be similar enough to seamlessly coexist, and function 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. That’s the different between being ‘cross border’ – one country – and international – multiple countries – and global – many countries and 24/7 systems. Grow globally!

12. Innovate, innovate, innovate. Finally always innovate! Kiyoko ended her presentation talking about how the U.S. education system must do a better job of educating and teaching innovation. She herself would like to help – and several organizations have reached out to her as a mentor and more. Through her work at NKK Switches and now more and more in the community, Kiyoko will undoubtedly continue to contribute to successful globalization.

As you can see, Kiyoko packed a lot of wisdom into a short presentation!

Please let me know what you think!

Doug Bruhnke, Growth Nation and AZIGG

About Doug Bruhnke

Growth Nation is a global full-service marketing and business growth firm that creates more leads, stronger brands and higher revenue for clients in technology, manufacturing, healthcare and professional services. Our growth process has created over $1 billion of new revenue.


  1. There’s one facet that she missed….figuring out in every country how many customers you might have and how you’re going to access them (export, country office, buying a competitor, for example) The US is an obvious choice for international expansion, but what about, say, South Africa?
    We’d welcome her blog contribution at We’ve blogged before about international expansion, and will do so again.

  2. Thank you, John. Yes that decision has already been made when Kiyoko joined NKK Switches. Which country to set up in, how to set up, where to sell, etc etc are all important topics.

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