I'm Kenta Keleher
University of Washington
I'm Kenta Keleher
University of Washington
About Kenta Keleher
Hi, my name is Kenta Keleher. I have a Japanese mother and an American father. I was born in Japan and spent some years in Japan in the early years, but most of my formal education was done in the United States. I lived in Seattle for about 10 years of my life. Due to my father’s business, I moved around the U.S. and Japan. After I graduated from University of Washington in Seattle, I decided to come to Japan to work for SAP Japan. In a normal setting, I like to travel domestically within Japan and also internationally around the world as well.
Why did you decide to come to Japan?
Due to my father having business both in Japan and the U.S. I would come to Japan every summer to get education in Japan growing up, even though I was based in the U.S. most of my life. Back in college, when I thought about my future, I realized that I would want to be in the environment where I would base in the U.S. but still have business relationships with Japan. In order to do so, I thought it was necessary for me to understand the Japanese market first, so that’s why I chose Japan to start my career after graduating from my university.
Actually, I did go to Japan for a student exchange program at Keio University when I was still a student. My university in Seattle had a student exchange program with Keio University, so I was able to take classes in Japanese with other Japanese students. I also took English classes geared towards understanding cultural differences and business about Japanese market. I wanted to network with young people in Japan, and that’s the reason behind my decision to go to Japan for a student exchange program.
What did you do during college?
Persistence and Team work
For one of the business courses that I took at my university, we had a consulting project as a team for a small medical devices company in the Seattle area. This company manufactured a device to test your ability to swallow things. The task in the class was to analyze and propose how this company could penetrate the Asian market.
After this project was finished, this company gave us feedback that our team’s analysis and business strategy was more valuable than some of the government sources that this company had access to. I was actually very surprised to get such feedback from the professionals. In this experience, I realized that I always wanted to support businesses with international market penetration. This project grew my interest in helping businesses in the global capacity.
This project was such a remarkable experience for me because I learned the importance of persistence and teamwork. In any given circumstances in this modern world, you need to be persistent not only on the paper but also to reach out to people you know to gain as much information as possible. Teamwork is also essential to have a successful outcome which I have learned from working with people with different backgrounds respecting each other’s differences and values.
What I wish I had done during college
There are 2 things; internships and traveling.
I did an internship at a start-up company providing video live streaming service in the Seattle area. But I wish I had done an internship at a bigger corporation specializing in international trading or IT industry since Seattle has a lot of great IT companies. Internship can really help you gain more real life experience compared to just being in school.
Traveling alone to countries where you can not speak the local language is another thing I would do. I think putting yourself in an environment where you can not speak the local language, would challenge yourself to be able to connect and communicate with other people in so many different ways.
What career advice would you recommend for job hunters?
Start with Why
I believe many people may suggest that you need to learn Japanese which is like a foundation, but more important thing is to have a cause, vision or passion. Simply put, you should start with “why”, instead of asking yourself what you want to do. I believe students do not necessarily need to know what role or job you want, but it’s extremely important to start with a “why” statement when you are about to take on the world.
Brush up on Tangible Skills
Being able to show tangible skills is always helpful in job hunting. It can be anything like Excel, Presentation skills, or programming skills. Having these basic skills will definitely add the cream on top when you're finding a new job out of college.
Build a Network, Broaden your Horizon
If you are physically in Japan, you can ask professors, students or alumni to meet new people from different backgrounds. Meeting all kinds of different people and getting their advice will broaden your horizons. There are a lot of tools you can use, but in the end it’s about person to person contact that you create. So start from reaching out to people. Right now, under the coronavirus situation, people talk about social-distancing, one person can affect multiple people. If you think in the opposite and positive way, that is actually what you should do. Reach one person, then you will be connected with two or three more people. If you keep doing that, then you will be able to build a good network. For example, I still keep in touch with the people I have met during my exchange program at Keio even after so many years. Some work in the automobile industry, finance industry and so on. Talking to these people in different fields gives you a broader view about the world and makes you become objective about where you stand in your life at the moment.
What are the beneficial skills needed for working in Japan?
Overarching Skill is Communication Skill
A lot of people say that communication skill is important, yet communication skill, in my opinion, is about articulating your thoughts and being able to hold a conversation with another person. It does not necessarily mean that you have to be grammatically correct or you have to have the perfect Japanese skills. Rather, a good communicator can lead the other party to take actions after hearing your thoughts. If you can trigger the other party to take actions and make decisions, you will be able to accomplish your goals.
Be a Change -Agent
Working in a group and keeping harmony is somewhat important since Japanese people do value conformity and harmony which is not a bad thing, yet you should still try to be the “change -agent” at the same time. If you have an international background, you should take the background as an advantage. Therefore, I recommend students to try not to be too Japanese because the reason why companies look for people with international backgrounds is because CEOs or business owners want to get multinational perspective from young international people.
What does an Account Executive Do?
Being an account executive has a lot to do with sales. Our main responsibility is to maintain and build customer relationships and propose new solutions to solve the pain points that the customers have. I am responsible for the customers who use our SAP solutions as well as companies that do not use our solutions. Some companies I am in charge of try to penetrate in other markets, other companies may need to change or standardize their business processes. B-to-B companies often have a lot of manual work, so SAP delivers various kinds of support from business consulting to transforming analog information into data analysis for the top management team of our customers, enabling them to make better decisions. At SAP Japan, we try to support businesses to build the foundation for customers’ pain points.
Work Environment SAP Japan
Work as a Team Internally and Externally
SAP works as a team. As an account executive, my job is to collaborate with various experts within my company to solve the pains of the customers. A lot of my immediate team members are Japanese, yet international employees from subsidiaries and branches across the world often come to Japan to support certain projects or deals since we are a global company. On a daily basis, I work with internal experts with deep knowledge about business processes or certain industries. We also work closely with our external partner companies that implement our services as well. We work internally and externally to bring the best solutions to our customers. As an account executive, you are not only speaking with customers but also do planning and execution that goes with new customers of SAP Solutions.
Learn New Things - Challenge Customers
One of the major challenges that a fresh graduate faces is about understanding how a company works. “How do they do their finances?” “How do they do sales or manufacturing?” Yet, you have to go out there and speak to professionals at client companies who have 20 years of industry knowledge and experience. So it is not easy for someone who has just graduated to have the conversation with the clients because you don’t necessarily have the insights that clients are looking for.
However you don’t necessarily have to be an expert in all areas because of the support from internal experts, but you have to be equipped with a willingness to always learn new things. There are all kinds of companies from different industries using or in need of SAP solutions, so you may be held accountable for a company or an industry that you have never heard of. If you like to learn new things all time, then this environment can be stimulating to grow as a professional.
Another key aspect is to challenge customers to try new things from the existing way. Sometimes customers may not acknowledge the issues in their business, and you need to challenge customers by being innovative and overcome changes for the customers' benefits. In other words, this environment may be suitable for those who embrace to challenge the status quo.
Training & Unique Opportunity at SAP
At SAP Japan, new employees who enter the company fresh out of college will be provided with basic training programs learning about SAP methods, services and business manners in Japan. Another unique training program eligible for some newcomers is “SAP Academy” in-house business school. In my case, I was selected to join SAP Sales Academy in the San Francisco Bay Area where hundreds of newcomers across the world spend time together for about 3 months. During these 3 months, SAP Sales Academy will equip employees with new theories and ideas to tackle problems for our customers, and participants are expected to transfer the knowledge to their local countries. SAP Academy is sort of like an in-house business school.
Recommended Job-hunting Resource
Boston Career Forum / LinkedIn / Eight