Yoshie Shimaoka (TRIUM.04)

Tokyo. We met Yoshie in AIFAS offices in Tokyo’s hypercenter. Apart from advising and executing billion dollar deals in the healthcare sector with the M&A boutique she founded, Yoshie likes cooking for her family every day and enjoying Japan’s incredible nature with her daughter.

Read full transcript…

HU: Hi Yoshie ! As usual, let’s start with the chinese portrait. So if you were … a color ?

YS: Rainbow color. But a little bit blue dominated. Don’t ask me why.

HU: Ok, the mistery will remain complete… If you were an animal?

YS: A horse.

HU: A meal?

YS: It’s a good question… sandwich.

HU: A song?

YS: I don’t have a particular song, but it would be something really enjoyable, that people could sing easily.

HU: A movie?

YS: Something with a happy ending.

HU: If you were a sin?

YS: That’s a tough one… Maybe I can pass?

HU: Ok. If you were an object?

YS: The Thinker of Rodin.

HU: A sport or a game?

YS: Soccer.

HU: A book?

YS: A picture book, for kids.

HU:  A hero or a superhero?

YS: Superman.

HU: Now we have a little challenge: could you sum up your professional background in just 30 seconds?

YS: I started my career at McKinsey as a business consultant. And then I became M&A advisor, joining what was called then S.G. Warburg and turned out to become U.B.S. Then I experienced a couple other firms like Credit Suisse and Merryl Lynch before I established Aifas. Aifas is an independent M&A boutique focusing in cross boarder transactions in the healthcare sector.

“At that time I was very busy, I used to wake up early, went to the office at 7 or 8am and spent the whole day at work, sometimes work for 24h: I had no time with my child, it was a disaster.”

HU: Why did you create AIFAS?

Aifas LogoYS: That is the combination of my choice and coincidence. I had a one year old daughter at the time and I wanted to spend more time with her, I wanted to manage my time in a more efficient way. At that time I was very busy, I used to wake up early, went to the office at 7 or 8am and spent the whole day at work, sometimes work for 24h: I had no time with my child, it was a disaster. I wanted to be a good mother, a good wife and also a good business person as well. Coincidently I received a call from an ex-client seeking a advisor. They had the option to retain some big firms but they didn’t really like any of them. They really appreciated what I had been doing for them in the past and they wanted my advice. I explained to them about my plan to be independent. They told me they would wait for me to have the right set-up. One month later I established my venture and I gave advice to them. It turned out to be a really successful transaction and I realized that I could do much more than what I thought. I could be a very unique asset for people seeking a particular kind of problem solving oriented advice. I continued my efforts and we are now at the seventh year after the foundation of the company!

HU: What is Aifas strategy?

YS: We are focusing on the healthcare sector and providing advice on cross-boarder transactions. We are problem solving oriented and we are always very close to the decision maker but we do the execution. That makes us quite different of most M&A boutiques that would rely on global partnerships with big banks to execute the deal. So we are on a niche market but we would like to be the leading player on this field not only in Tokyo but also in Asia.

Aifas lobby Aifas logo picture

HU: Is there a deal you are particularly proud of?

YS: There are a few, so let me think… The one with Teva maybe. Teva is a global generic company and they didn’t have a presence in Japan. What we did is we developed their long term strategy, what kind of transactions would make them grow to the next phase. So we developed the strategy together and we executed the transactions at the right timing. Now Teva is a leader in this market, it is one of the several examples I can tell you.

Yoshie's tumbstones

HU: Have you been faced with a difficult choice in your professional life? What have you learnt from it?

YS: I had many difficult experiences. One of them is after the earthquake in 2011. Most of the project we had in the pipeline were cancelled and only one project remained: Teva’s acquisition of the third largest Japanese generic drug company that was located in Nagoya. At the time there were rumors regarding the radiations (e.d nuclear radiations coming on Tokyo) I took all my employees and their families to Nagoya for the evacuation, in order to focus on this particular project in the meantime. So we bet on one big project but we didn’t know if it was going to be successful and I may have had to stop the company if it hadn’t been. It turned out to be a really good transaction at the end, our clients really appreciated it.

“Japanese really care about the others but sometimes they feel to close one from another”

HU: How many people were there in the company at that time?

YS: At that time we had ten people. We stayed in Nagoya for two months at a time where everybody was evacuating from Tokyo, so all the hotels were fully booked. We rented a forty years old apartment, I was staying with my secretary in one room!

HU: What do you like about people from Japan, and from Tokyo?

YS: Being Japanese is difficult to tell… So talking about the people from Tokyo, what I like is their having an international exposure. Japanese really care about the others but sometimes they feel to close one from another. And in Tokyo people have a kind of balance in that characteristic. You respect others and you don’t get too close, but still taking care.

HU: Where do you hangout during your free-time?

YS: I have a 9 years old daughter so I would go to places that would give her some educational experience. Museums, theatres, scientific places. But sometimes we would also go to some playgrounds and do something crazy.

HU: What is your personal favourite place you like to go with your daughter?

YS: I like going to some nature environment, I like when we do camping together, mountain climbing.

HU: In Japan, where would this be for instance?

YS: We have a second house at one hour from Tokyo, surrounded by the nature. I really like to be there.

HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?

YS: I am happy when I send my daughter off and she is happy, then I am happy too. With work it is when I feel that I contribute a lot to my clients. I tend to have a lot of pressure in the morning, I have to rush to work…

HU: So what would be your tipical working day?

YS: I wake up around 4am, do some readings and plan for the day. At seven o’clock I wake my daughter and my husband up. And of course I cook every morning, and then I come to the office around nine o’clock and then I work until 8 or 9pm at office except the days I have a business trip. I travel a lot, but what is good about Tokyo is that you have many companies concentrated in a small area. Japan is very Tokyo centric, it map japanmight be a bad thing on the political perspective but it is very convenient in a business perspective. And if I need to go to Osaka it is three hours by train so I can do it in a day trip.

HU: Talking about Osaka, what would be the main differences between Osaka and Tokyo?

YS: Osaka developed as a commercial city whereas Tokyo is the political capital city of Japan. So Osaka is more business oriented. People tend to take decisions very quickly. For instance there are many pharmaceutical companies in Osaka. I like to work with the people in Osaka because they are more straitforward and very quick decision maker. Tokyo is more hierarchical. They are polite but sometimes not really straightforward.

Osaka Castle

HU: If you only had 24 hours left to live in Tokyo, what would you do?

YS: I would visit some memorable places for me. Like the schools, where I lived and that would require maybe 7 or 8 hours. Then I would like to do a helicopter tour and see Tokyo from the sky. Living in Tokyo I have never been to the sky tree, the very tall building up 600 meters, I would like to climb up to the top. And I would like to have a big party with all the friends I feel very close to. And Tokyo is a great town for nice meals and I would like to enjoy the amazing Japanese cuisine in Tokyo.

HU: What are today’s Japan challenges that matter the most to you?

YS: Japan should be more brave to challenge the existing model, take a different approach to reach its goals. This is true cross sectors but I can take the example of Sharp and Toshiba who draw everybody’s attention. From my personal opinion I think Sharp can be sold to the Taiwanese player if they appreciate our technology at the appropriate value. Somehow the Japanese government would like to keep the technologies inside Japan. But realistically if we keep Sharp in Japan and we have to restructure it, engineers will leave and there will be technology leakage. So if they are worried about technology leakage to other part of the world, namely Corea and China, they should better sell it at a high price and then invest this money in innovation. What the Japanese government and people have to think about is how to develop new ideas to feed the economic cycle.

Actually, Japan has been very successful in building things that offered many innovations and could surprise its customers. People now feel comfortable with the successes of the past but they are not proactive enough to continue innovating at the same pace as before. It is a little bit of a technical issue but let’s talk about ventures. They should have more tax benefit and easy access to funds but they are many legal hurdles in Japan.

HU: Does the Japan government have stakes in Sharp and Toshiba?

YS: According to rumors some public fund would like to take a lead to acquire the companies and restructure them. But it is still a 50% possibility. Right now the Taiwanese player is in exclusive discussions with Sharp but Sharp might as well deny this exclusivity. I don’t know what will the outcome be.

HU:Let’s talk about HEC now. As a TRIUM alumni you have only spent a week or so on the Jouy en Josas campus. Could you quickly explain to us what is the TRIUM program?

YS: The TRIUM is a very unique joint program with New York University, the London School of Economics and HEC Paris. The unique side of the program is that you don’t stay on a campus throughout the program but you travel at least through four different places. In my case I spent time in New York, Sao Paulo, Paris, London, Hong-Kong was planned but I couldn’t go because of the SRAS. In between the classes you work with classmate together, it is a really special experience.

HU: Why did you chose to undertake a TRIUM program?

YS: At that time I was in garden leave. I was scheduled to join the Credit Suisse and I was travelling. While I was in the Netherlands I had a interview at a TRIUM marketing event. The reason I decided to join was not to have more international exposure because I had that through my work. But actually I wanted to meet people outside of my industry. I wanted to broaden my perspectives. The TRIUM is a very nice mixture of people, there are students from really every continent and the way that people see things vary a lot. Especially they are not seeing things in a capital market oriented way as the people I am used to work with. It was very interesting and inspiring.

“Japanese people generally are not very good at expressing themselves. So they tend to work and do their own best on a trust basis”

HU: What do you mean by “capital market oriented”?

YS: I’ve been in the banking industry for a long time. People put a priority on efficiency, they want to be very logical, they focus a lot on the return and everybody in this environment share these values. For instance, during a game theory class a student from Africa expressed that it was none sense to find an equilibrium that could maximize the common earnings because he would always want to try and maximize his own earnings. Everyone has his own standard of what is right or wrong. And if you go to other parts of the world yours usually don’t apply.

HU: So from your point of view, as a banker, what are the differences between the companies in Japan versus western Europe or the United-States?

YS: The big companies in these three areas all have global operations and have been established for a long time. So they share business values and best practices. However, I will tell you about an example of how a western company can set up in Japan but have trouble managing the Japanese company after its acquisition: McDonalds. It originally tied up with Dan Fujita, he is an entrepreneur and he wanted to develop a new culture of fastfood. He requested autonomy as he was already well respected in Japan. So he gave McDonalds a Japanese tweak that made the company very successful in Japan. After a many years McDonalds started to micro-manage the Japanese company. And today McDonalds is contemplating selling part of its business in Japan to turn the situation around!

“The due diligence aims at understanding the business and financials of the target company. But the local company didn’t have any experience of such a M&A operation. So their first reaction was: “why do we have to show all this? You don’t trust me?””

HU: What is the “Japanese factor” if we may say, that McDonalds was not able to reproduce?

YS: Sometimes the global firms would like to apply their successful approach to other situations. And they often lack the capacity to adapt to the local business environment. Global firms tend to think in quite a logical way, you will do take these measures to obtain this outcome but in the real operations that involves a lot of people and different rationalities. Western companies are sometimes not able to understand what is really going on on the ground. Hence their inability to execute their business in the proper way.

Also, Japanese people generally are not very good at expressing themselves. So they tend to work and do their own best on a trust basis. They tend to think: “if I work really hard, somebody will appreciate that and I will get the reward” without much communicating on it. Whereas in other part of the world you need to express yourself, explain why you do things, what commitment you make and what is your level of achievement. You can see that in the due diligence process we supervised for Teva. We had a difficult time… The due diligence aims at understanding the business and financials of the target company. But the local company didn’t have any experience of such a M&A operation. So their first reaction was: “why do we have to show all this? You don’t trust me?”. Asking those data from them meant that you didn’t trust them, and if you didn’t trust them how could you merge with them? So you need to develop trust and then you need to develop the dynamics of working together, get the outcome and share the outcome together.

HU:  What is your best memory on the HEC campus?

YS: Interestingly, when I think about HEC I always remember the scene at the canteen. Not only my classmates from the TRIUM but also people staying there for the summer holidays. I often spoke to those people and it has always been enjoyable moments. I felt a genuine sense of diversity from the people that were staying on the campus. I also enjoyed the staff and professors. They added great color to the TRIUM group. They had a very natural way of being open to dialogue with various cultures and backgrounds, without looking like pretending. Sometimes people are educated to be more open to other cultures, to try to understand. But, maybe because of the diversity in the French society, French teachers looked like they accepted or listened more naturally. Lot of differences are given, they don’t need to be standardized.

HU: Would you advise the TRIUM program? Why?

YS: The TRIUM is a really good place to 1. Make good friends with people from various places and various backgrounds. 2. Learn a lot of perspectives that will help you to grow and give you different insights.

HU: Did you have contact in business with people from the Trium?

YS: Yes, couple of my classmate visited Tokyo and we have alumni dinners from time to time. It is a kind of networking but the people naturally want to meet and get together.

HU: For which reason would you like to be contacted by an HEC alumnus.

YS: Well any reason! If anybody wants to have a feedback on my experience or anything I could be helpful. I really like to spend time with the young people. When you are young it is always nice to speak to people that have a certain experience on a market or whatever. That gives you ideas on what you would like to be or what you don’t want to be. I had a lot of support or help from the older generation so I would be glad to do the reverse.

HU: HEC’s moto is “the more you know, the more you dare”, what would be your own moto?

YS: Challenge and action.

… or pick a category…
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