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An interview with MIT Sloan ACE holder Mia Hemmi

MIT Sloan ACE holder Mia Hemmi

Mia Hemmi is an Account Director at Hakuhodo Inc, an integrated advertising and communication agency headquartered in Japan. She earned an Advanced Certificate for Executives in Management, Innovation & Technology (ACE) from MIT Sloan in 2016.

Where are you from, and what brought you to the US?
I am from Tokyo, Japan. My husband had relocated himself to participate in a program at Harvard starting in July (2016). At the time, I had been on a childcare leave, so I decided to join him in Cambridge to commit to an academic adventure.

Can you tell us a little bit about your professional experience and your role at Hakuhodo?
Hakuhodo is one of the largest advertising/marketing communications agencies in Japan. Our mission is to "Invent the Future" in partnership with our thousands of clients from governmental organizations to companies of countless industries, including media, to create new values and movements through branding work based on our "Sei-katsu-sha" (a Japanese expression of a holistic person--an individual with a lifestyle, aspirations and dreams, in contrast to "consumer") insight. Long story short, we do practically anything that relates to "communication," to leverage the value of ideas, products, and services at all business levels.

2017 will be my twentieth year at the Hakuhodo DY Group, and I have been in the Account Services Department (aka Client Services/Sales) through my entire career. We work as "producers" in the front-line as strategic consultants to clients, managing and facilitating all projects as leaders by aligning key staffs internally (market research, events/promotions, PR, creative, media, selected depending on project) and teaming with third-party potential supporters to provide the best solutions to clients. My clients are of industries including foods/beverages, retailers, airlines, online services, government, sport event organizers, etc., which all operate as global brands or international entities, so the work constantly requires the understanding of the global markets of the respective industries. Aside from the general domestic services, my forte has been in the Business Development area analyzing cross-cultural opportunities, supporting Japanese clients to build businesses in foreign markets, and foreign companies that build businesses in Japan. The experience has led me to examine the managerial and operational side of the businesses, and I have been fortunate to be able to participate in projects of multiples of industries at the hands-on level. I must say I was a total workaholic working 24/7, with business travels abroad two-thirds of the year, until my son was born.

What prompted you to pursue executive education at MIT, and why did you choose the ACE? Were there specific challenges you were trying to address, or a specific set of skills you were seeking?
Earlier last year (2016), I was eager to make my childcare leave "downtime" meaningful by providing myself with the most rewarding opportunity--a chance to experience and learn in one of the best business schools, within the limited timeframe. I wanted to immerse myself into a new challenge, and be able to walk back into my office with upgraded skills.

I had visited numerous sites for programs, and was fully inspired by the information on the MIT Sloan site. The course content was what intrigued me most--I had always considered marketing a fusion of psychology, art, and science, which involves strategic and innovative thinking with a sense of leadership to convince the market. To add, marketing is becoming highly driven by data and technology, with the key becoming about adapting to the fast-moving changes in technology and trends. When I read that MIT offers courses that focused on the three tracks (Leadership & Management, Strategy & Innovation, and Technology, Operations & Value Chain Management), I knew instantly that MIT was the perfect fit for me. I was thrilled to find that the courses are selective, with flexible dates--the conditions seemed to be ideal, for a mother with an infant, with a potential need to travel from overseas. I was fortunate that my husband turned out to spend time in Cambridge at the same time, and to have supportive mothers taking turns visiting us from Japan as babysitters for our son over the few months during my courses.

The ACE was very attractive to me, since I wanted to be able to network with the MIT ecosystem as a MIT Sloan alumna. I figured this lifetime privilege will keep me updated with the latest MIT news, and enable me to participate in other MIT events and conferences. This is important, since I believe MIT is and will remain a leading institution to lead and structure the global market advancements.

I am sure this network will help me with my projects at work as well.

What courses did you find the most helpful?
Every single course was an eye-opener in its own way. None of the courses were alike, and the excitement does start getting addictive after experiencing a few. I would like to give a special credit with gratitude to my first course, the Global Executive Academy (GEA), a ten-day course, which I refer to as MIT's tasting menu--a boot-camp packed with the essence of the flavors of MIT, organized with different topics and iconic professors to fulfill the Management & Leadership track. The "wow" feeling from this course, with it being so well organized with unity, despite the multinational profile of participants, intrigued me to my journey to explore other courses, which turned out phenomenal as well. Driving Strategic Innovation (DSI) was another course that was rather intensive with hearty content to leave a strong impression for covering the terminology of innovation and the process of it from all angles, from case studies, theories, to hands-on prototyping using a 3D printer, and having to develop a business model and video of a product idea.

One of my personal surprises was that I found myself impressed with the courses in the Technology, Operations & Value Chain Management track, such as Managing Product Platforms, and Essential IT for Non-IT Executives. I was fascinated by the professors' clean, systemized approach to convey their points.

Are there takeaways from the programs that you can put into immediate use?
Yes. I'd like to believe that the holistic experience itself has helped me to become a better leader already. Also, the takeaways can be applied to any industry, to optimize internal and external challenges. The analogies introduced helped me to relate to my business in numerous dimensions, especially as I considered myself in my clients’ positions in the various industries.

Were you able to make connections with other participants? Did you feel as though you were in the company of like-minded executives?
Yes. I have a made very good connections with so many colleagues from all over the world. We still chat frequently online after months, both personally and as a group, and I am notified every time a colleague visits Tokyo. It feels like we've spent years together. The majority of them are self-starters and open-minded global travelers, who have overcome tough professional challenges in their own ways, and thus share similar values. I have also had a chance to meet many other talented individuals from the MIT Sloan Alumni group, which helps to understand the community in depth.

What surprised you most about your experience at MIT?
I was surprised by the expertise of the professors, and the motivation of the skillful participants. The professors were professional enthusiasts who didn't just lecture, but transmitted their ideas across to participants with full engagement. They were ready to take on the hard questions from the participants, and good at placing participants outside of their comfort zones. Leadership was distributed across the room, and the participants were competent enough to take on the leadership instantly, and very expressive to share their thoughts and experiences. It reminded me of how important it is to be proud and show confidence in oneself. I actually wished some of the courses had lasted longer than scheduled.

Will you be back on campus for more courses?
Definitely, Yes. Thinking back, the key takeaways for me in 2016 involve Digitization, Speed, Platform, Disruptive Innovation, Technology, Value Creation, Culture, and Graceful Behavior. The key words will most likely change over time, as it has from five years ago, and I feel it will be worthy to update my knowledge every few years in these evolving areas.

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