Dedicate Your Life to Believing in Yourself Without Being Constrained by What is “Normal” #LeadersVoices Vol. 5: Maiko (@michael)

At Mercari, we promote various initiatives with the aim of providing equal opportunities and appropriate support so that anyone can demonstrate our company values, regardless of their background.

Gender equality is one of the SDGs, and the realization of a diverse organization based on our Diversity & Inclusion Statement is deeply interwoven with the mindset behind Mercari Group’s mission, “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.”

In this fifth article of the series “Creating New Value: Amplifying The Voices of a New Wave of Leaders,” we welcome Maiko Hiyama (@michael), the Director of Credit Business for Merpay, Inc., whose work involves building trust, a concept at the very heart of the company. In addition to sharing the reasons and decision-making behind a career that epitomizes the value of Go Bold, in this interview, Maiko talks about how she has approached D&I as a career person and how she has dedicated the finite timeline of her career to “contributing to the happiness of others.”

Featured in this article

  • Maiko Hiyama

    Maiko is the Credit Business Division Director for Merpay, Inc. Starting in 2001, she joined SFI Leasing Company, Limited, where she worked at a customer service/credit inspection center and was in charge of operations and training. In 2010, she began working for Livesense Inc. as the manager of an HR website’s customer support/success/collections operation team. Maiko joined Merpay in April 2019. Following her time as the director of various operation areas such as anti-fraud measures, merchant investigations, and debt collection, she took on her current post, which mainly involves the direction of the credit area.

What I have learned from customers in the course of putting them first

──So right out of university, you joined a company that provides financial services. For starters, what made you want to get into finance as a new graduate?

Well, at the time, I was living in Sapporo. I loved the city so much that I hadn’t even considered living anywhere else. However, I wanted to work at a company that would allow me to play a role in society from a global viewpoint while being based in Sapporo. That’s why I decided to apply for work at a financial company that was preparing to set up a new customer support center in the city in order to expand its business.
Picture from when Maiko worked in Sapporo

──Could you tell us about the work you were doing at that time and share any memorable stories from that time?

After I joined the company, I was involved in setting up a business center that provided customer support and credit card screening services. Specifically, I stacked up a wide range of experience from working as an operator to working in management, including things like customer support and complaint handling, new cardholder screening, and employee training.

One memorable thing that still sticks with me today happened right around the time when I first joined the company. I made a mistake at work and ended up inconveniencing the merchant I was in charge of. My boss apologized to the merchant on my behalf, but the president of the merchant company wouldn’t accept the apology. He told my boss, “I want to hear from the person who made the mistake.” At first I thought, why is he so set on getting me to apologize? But later, when I apologized to him over the phone, he explained to me that he wanted to talk to me directly and have me understand why it was not enough for my boss to apologize. He knew that I was new at the company and insisted that I apologize to him directly for my own education.

Normally, a professional person should probably avoid a situation like this. But at the time, I feel like my work afforded me a lot of chances to learn lessons not just from the people I worked with, but also from our customers.

I worked at my first company for about nine years and gained all manner of experience. I was about to hit my thirties when I asked myself whether the job was something I wanted to spend any more of my time on. I concluded that I wanted to expand the areas I worked in and to try working in a fast-paced environment.

──I see. So I get that your thirties were a turning point for you, but what was your next job choice like?

I actually moved to Tokyo to cook crepes at a café. (laughs)

──Crepes! Like the food?

Yeah. (laughs) To gain experience in front-end customer service, I took a part-time job at a café and worked there for about a year. Through the simple cycle of greeting customers, asking them what they want, making their order, providing it to them, and then collecting their money, I gained firsthand information about each customer, and this turned out to be a valuable experience. And thanks to this, I came to realize that up until that point in my career, I just hadn’t had many opportunities to think about the customer’s point of view.

After that, I changed jobs and went to work for an HR company. It was a start-up business that had just opened, and the office environment and policies were still not firmly established. However, the service was on the cusp of experiencing significant growth, which motivated me and gave me purpose.

Maiko Hiyama (@michael)

—Can you tell us about what brought you to Merpay or sealed your decision to join the company?

Receiving a referral was what brought me to Merpay, but I shared a strong affinity with the company’s mission: “Building trust for a seamless society.” It’s great to release new products and services to take on various social problems and make the world a happier place for people to live.

Plus, joining the company when I hit the big four-oh was a time for me to think about how I wanted to live over the next ten years, and I decided that I wanted to work at a company that designed its goals with good intentions. Having learned the importance of empathizing with the customer’s point of view, I found it appealing that working at Mercari Group or Merpay allowed me to provide our services from the position of a user of those same services.

Time is finite. For me, the shortest path to “contributing to the happiness of others” is to work at a start-up business.

──—Tracing the trajectory of your career, it strikes me that you’ve had a variety of experiences; you started at a major corporation, worked at a café, joined an HR start-up, and finally came to Merpay. However, I have to ask you one thing: What was the thought process behind the career you’ve forged for yourself so far that epitomizes our value of Go Bold? Why did you do what you did and make the decisions that you did?

So like you said, the first company I worked at was a major corporation. It was a stable place to work, and therefore it felt slow to change. When I was in my early twenties, the more I did, the more I became able to do, and this gave me great joy; however, once I got to a certain level of competency at doing something, the joy I used to feel would gradually fade.

I suppose if I had stayed at that job, I might have been able to move on to challenges in new areas, but from what I saw in my surroundings, it didn’t look like there would be much to look forward to; and even if there were, my sense was that it would have taken me a long time to get there.

Plus, roughly a year or two after I joined that company, I had the chance to work with colleagues of Japan’s so-called first baby-boomer generation, and I think that this left a big mark on me. I was drawn to the way that they worked and came up with strategies and tactics with a sense of urgency or risk.

—When you say, the way of working of the baby-boomer generation, what do you mean by that? Could you elaborate?

They are the generation that grew businesses by themselves from nothing but their own abilities, which I think is similar to how modern start-up businesses work. In the environment of a start-up business, there’s this ever-present sense that you have to keep trying to come up with the next great idea. I personally feel that business operators doing trial and error every day under such conditions have a lot in common with the fundamental way of thinking of the post-war baby-boomer generation that rebuilt Japan.

Regardless of a person’s title or age, the executives who lived through those times were quick to accept good ideas. There was an appetite for applying suggestions quickly and without worrying about who had or hadn’t signed off on them. I just loved their style of working. I thought it was really cool.

──Interesting. From the perspective of having spent time in start-up environments at your third and fourth companies, how do you feel about the animated pace and the thrill of working at a company in its early phase of operation?

There are two things about working at a company in its early inception that give me a thrill. The first is working full tilt on creating the minimum required elements needed to form a company and repeating rounds of detailed trial and error. It’s grueling, but for self-driven people, this is the most fun you can have at work, and it’s a time in the life of a company when feelings of fulfillment come easily.

The second thing that thrills me is that it’s easy for teams to see the fruits of their labor. The early beginnings of a company are a time to work with reckless abandon, so there’s no time to cry over individual failings. A culture of forging ahead as the team members demonstrate their strengths and cover for each other’s shortcomings develops naturally. People who work together through this period become friends for life and still value each other.

Maiko enjoying time with coworkers from her previous company

──You mentioned that after you joined Merpay, you turned 41, but that you still wanted to take on new challenges. Where do you think your fresh way of seeing things comes from?

A must for me is that I work on services and products that don’t exist yet, and that I spend the rest of my life contributing to the happiness of others. I think that attaining these two things will give me a sense of fulfillment. And I think that the shortest path for me to realize this is to work at a start-up business.

For people who work at a start-up business, the skills demanded of them change as the size and market of their business evolves, so in order to upgrade their skills they must constantly face both the skills that they do not have and their own selves, and they have to challenge themselves to bridge the gap between these things.

Depending on the timing of these changes, people might experience a degree of distress and difficulty, but I think that no matter what age you are, whether or not a person still wants to challenge themselves or not has a lot to do with whether or not they can examine themselves objectively from time to time.

Another thing that is important for me is to value time. Just like a younger me could not imagine what I would be like in my forties, I won’t know what It’ll feel like to be in my fifties until I pass that threshold. Plus, precisely because I can’t even guess how long I’ll be able to work in good health, I want to pour my life into doing something that can satisfy my ambitions.

A member of the company’s “z-cat” club, Maiko is a cat lover who shares her home with a pair of Felis catus

Think outside the frame of conventional thinking. Thinking about the development of D&I from an objective point of view

──A lot of the time, when D&I is talked about from the perspective of working women, the conversations tend to be about how to balance work and childcare. From your perspective of prioritizing work over the course of your life, what have you based your decision-making on?

I chose to prioritize my work when I turned thirty because that’s when I noticed that prioritizing work had become the norm for me. In my twenties, I thought that the norm was for women to get married and have children, and I had a vague image of myself having a family someday.

However, one day something just made me ask myself, “Why should I need to stick to that norm?” I can live with a partner without getting married, and I can have a worthwhile life without ever having children.

Once I had freed myself of any stereotypical expectations, I became able to think about what I wanted to do, what I could emphasize, and how I wanted to grow. It was a major turning point for me to realize that happiness meant living a life where my work served to help others.

──So it all started from questioning what is normal. How do you see D&I and how have you taken action on D&I?

For better or worse, I’ve walked a career path in a male-dominated society, and so I naturally assimilated into that world without noticing that I also harbored systemic discrimination. For that reason, I honestly think that it’s hard for me to talk about D&I solely from my personal viewpoint. I’m a woman, but I think that a part of me has been affected by the way of thinking of the gender majority.

In order to gain an objective perspective on this subject, I read about and studied D&I topics on my own. Going forward, I think it’s necessary to decide what we’re going to choose to do as a company while looking at the current situation objectively, so I want to continue to distance myself from subjectivity.

──As a company director, it seems like you participate in discussions related to the D&I of the organization, but how do you feel looking at the current situation of D&I at Mercari? Are there any issues to address?

Mercari Group is one of the most active facilitators and promoters of D&I in Japan’s private sector. We engage in a lot of initiatives such as visualizing the percentage of women in management roles and pursuing equity to reduce bias in promotions and hiring.

On the other hand, I think there’s still lots of room for improvement. Even if we are able to build a diverse organization, I think that one issue we’ll face is whether we have the power to maintain it. I feel that creating a situation that is sustainable will be precisely what leads to strengthening inclusion at Mercari. In addition, Mercari marketplace users are also diverse, so we should promote the diversity of our product and of course value D&I; however, I don’t think this goes far enough. In order to protect workers’ rights, I think there is merit in promoting D&I as an organization, and I think we should continue to do so.

Precisely because Mercari’s members have different ways of thinking and come from different backgrounds, we can take this to mean that we are an organization whose members each have their own individual strengths, so our potential is limitless. Of all the companies I’ve worked at to date, Mercari has been the most diverse, so I feel that regardless of the issues we face going forward, we will be able to see them in a positive light.

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