Whether you believe leaders are born or made (or something in between), you probably agree that every leader has to start somewhere. Digitalization is providing new opportunities for entrepreneurs right and left—as far back as 2017, fintech alone accounted for 7.1% of all startups.
But what if you don’t have the will or opportunity to start your own company? What if you want to influence change as a leader from within an existing organization?
Setting out as an entrepreneur can be scary, but in some ways making an impact from within an established company can pose a greater challenge. Established companies are bigger and often set in their ways. They have more players, businesses, and departments, all of which mean more members in leadership you might need to convince.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no point to fighting for change as a leader from within. A big, established company means bigger rewards and further reach. More top players means more access to influential networks. To overcome the odds and reap those benefits of leading from within, you’ll need to identify your priorities and assets.
Hiroyuki Odaka is a representative director at Greiner Bio-One, a life science and medical supplies company. Determined to impact society as a leader in top management, he joined the company at a time when sales, branding, and employee motivation were at their lowest point.
What did you face when you joined Greiner Bio-One as representative director?
There were lots of problems. Profits and revenue were at an all-time low. Our brand recognition was low. We were in a liquidation period for my first six months. I didn’t know about all this before I started, of course, so I had to think fast. My biggest challenges were rebranding the company and establishing a new business division—PreAnalycs. PreAnalycs was what we needed to penetrate the hospital diagnostic market with our disposable medical products.
Considering our market segmentation, I encouraged our sales guys to try some new approaches, both for B2B and B2C. To do that, they needed to demonstrate their sales foundation and application knowledge, but also communicate with our marketing guys. Basically, our people needed to educate each other to move the company forward.
Since then, I have been leading the team with consistent revenue growth from 2014 to 2021. I’m very proud of that. Now my primary role is promoting that growth in line with our corporate strategy.
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As a new leader in dire circumstances, how did you achieve such a turnaround?
It was a couple of things. First, getting our different teams—sales and marketing, in particular—to talk to each other, as I mentioned. But another big project was negotiating a new agreement with our business partners regarding accounts payable and accounts receivable. This took several years, but senior management understood that value and helped us succeed. Their buy-in was very important. As a result, our cash management dramatically improved.
We are now a very healthy company with a strong presence in the marketplace.
But the work isn’t done. I am always thinking about my responsibility to contribute to our society as a business leader. Our core business is a disposable plastic product. It’s high quality and serves some very important needs in medical and scientific research, but I’m still concerned about sustainability. Moving forward, we’ll need to offer advanced, sustainable products and solutions.
Leading toward those sustainable solutions, what’s the biggest challenge you face?
Changing the mindset of our employees. My predecessor had a strong, top-down approach, which meant our employees did not act voluntarily. They had to defer to the leader for everything.
As a leader, it’s part of my job to help our people act more voluntarily. I regularly share both global and local goals with my team members. I also introduced a management-by-objective (MBO) system so they can set their own goals and align with company expectations.
There is still a gap between where our employees are and where I’d like them to be, both as a company team and in terms of individual progress. However, I can see the gaps closing. People are learning to take action on their own initiative. That revitalizes competitive consciousness, even in a big, established company like ours.
How did your MBA impact your career choices and leadership style?
I actually received my MBA in 2012, before taking on my current role. GLOBIS offered English MBA courses, and I wanted to brush up my English through deep discussions with classmates.
At least, that’s how it started.
While I was studying and communicating with my friends and lecturers, I realized how eager I was to contribute to society using my business background. I decided that my best chance was in leadership, either by becoming a company president at an established organization or by creating my own company. Those seemed like the most constructive ways to make an impact.
It was a high bar to set for myself, but I went for an established organization. And I was lucky. For my current role as managing director at a foreign-affiliated company, I was up against seven or eight other impressive candidates. I wouldn’t have even tried such a challenge if I hadn’t studied at GLOBIS. Case studies gave me a virtual CEO experience to prepare myself for upper management and leadership. That helped me set a direction and accelerate my decision.
Do you regret not becoming an entrepreneur?
Although I’m not a founder of Greiner Bio-One, I feel the company does give me entrepreneurship opportunities. I’m able to use my position to create and offer our value proposition to the marketplace while harmonizing with HQ’s strategy.
Like many entrepreneurs, speed is my priority. Our competitors may be pursuing the same business strategy or developing similar products to ours. If they take action quicker than us, we could lose a big opportunity. Many big companies move slowly, so this may sound unusual, but I firmly believe that working speedily keeps us ahead of the competition and creates big opportunities. This is my business philosophy. It wouldn’t be any different if I’d decided to become an entrepreneur.