If you’ve ever felt the need to choose between your passion and your career, Ryoko Takei may be a model in balancing the best of both worlds. She started her career as a marketing specialist at advertising agency Dentsu, then later earned an MBA at Columbia University and returned to Japan to join McKinsey & Company.

Her free time is consumed by her other passion: opera.

Q: After marketing for Dentsu, working at Ogilvy & Mather, and helping prepare marketing for the 2002 FIFA Korea/Japan World Cup, why did you decide you also needed an MBA?

At Ogilvy & Mather, I learned that a career is something you need to build by yourself. To become a top-notch marketing professional, you need extensive business management knowledge, but also experience and professional skills. So I thought that acquiring an MBA would be a shortcut for the knowledge part.

But since I was already in my mid-thirties, study would have been meaningless unless it came with a degree from a well-known university. That’s why I decided to enroll at Columbia and acquire my MBA while taking voice lessons. Then I started studying frantically. English was not my strong point. In fact, my TOEIC score when I joined Dentsu was 600.

Q: In New York, you studied music while also studying for your MBA. Why did you do this?

I had no intention of studying unless I could practice music at the same time. I’ve always loved singing. I was in the music club in high school. It was quite serious, and we performed an opera with an orchestra for our school festival. My music teacher and friends really pushed me to attend a conservatory, but my family said no, asking: “Can you really make a living doing music?” I wasn’t so sure myself and decided to give up on majoring in voice. But at Columbia, I could get credit for vocal performance, and I took a class at Juilliard for a year as well. Voice lessons in the U.S. are very practical—you receive instruction on vocalization, music, and expression from different specialists in order to master one song. I was able to really improve as a singer through these lessons, and my teachers were kind enough to offer me a position as a vocalist.

Copyright GLOBIS

Q: At Disney Japan, you were in charge of brand strategy. How have you gone about developing your own personal brand strategy?

It’s important to balance your passion and strengths with doing a good job. One major reason I joined GLOBIS was that I can keep up with my musical activities, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my work. I thought that it would be great if I could position myself between marketing and culture—the things that I love and am good at.

I auditioned and was accepted as a member of the Tokyo Nikikai Opera Foundation. I joined GLOBIS and, in addition to teaching, worked as the head of international marketing. Now I am focusing on research, especially in global developments in digital marketing in Japan.

This article was originally published in Japanese by ROLA Magazine, SHINCHOSHA Publishing Co., Ltd.

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