The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Born and raised in Japan, but with long stints living in the United States and other countries, Nozomi Morgan fits the bill for the perfect ambassador between East and West. After working with large corporations in Minneapolis, MN, Atlanta, GA, and Tokyo, it’s no surprise that she would eventually find herself helping to bridge the cultural gap between the countries.

Today she is a trusted advisor to CEOs and other executives at Michiki Morgan Worldwide LLC, a company she founded. At the consultancy, Morgan leads a team of cultural “co-creation” experts who help companies hit the ground running in new markets by training them through leadership coaching, mentoring, and strategic programs.

Her work goes beyond mere localization, however. Michiki Morgan Worldwide’s strategies are a foundation to help individuals and companies fulfill their potential in business, the local community, and life.

“The framework that we use is called the co-created culture in leadership. This means bringing in the DNA of headquarters, connecting it to the local culture, and finding that sweet spot. And that has to be co-created; it can’t be forced on one side or decided by the other,” Morgan told The ACCJ Journal.

Morgan is more than just a promoter of mutual understanding between corporate cultures globally. As a woman who has risen to executive roles in Japan and the United States, she is a much-sought-after champion of women in business on both sides of the Pacific.

Morgan’s journey to becoming an international cross-cultural advisor has not been straightforward. Her current profession could not have been predicted by following the winding path she took through many industries across the world.

That said, it was early in childhood that she first learned the power of communication to cross barriers—even linguistic ones within her home. A native of Kawanishi in Hyogo Prefecture, Morgan was only six months old when her family relocated to Seattle, WA, for her father’s work. They lived there until she was eight.

“When I was in the United States, I went to public school during the week and at the weekends I went to a Japanese school,” she remembers.

While English was the dominant language for her at the time, she recalls her mother speaking to her in Japanese. Sometimes, however, that meant understanding was lacking.

“One day, after I had broken some rule, my mother called me to her and said: ‘Ayamarinasai’ (please apologize). I said ‘hai’ (yes), but I did not understand what my mother was asking of me.”

After some back and forth, Morgan’s mother came to realize that her daughter did not know the meaning of ayamarinasai. “She felt so sorry for me; she was crying and so was I.”

For Morgan, that childhood experience was the beginning of her sensitivity toward cross-cultural experiences—in this case between her bicultural upbringing and her mother’s mainly Japanese heritage. It also raised her awareness of the role communication can play in people’s lives.

“I think this was really the beginning of all the work, and the reason why—even after college—I chose to study communications,” she explained. “I realized that the foundation of relationships and trust in society is communication; that is what creates connections.”

For Morgan, misunderstandings are not just confined to the home environment. If anything, companies—especially those seeking new markets overseas—can be more prone to cultural disconnects than families.

“Even if both sides are trying their best, you don’t know what you don’t know. My mother recognized that I didn’t understand what she was saying, so it didn’t become a problem.

“But in the workplace, you can see how that misunder­standing can happen easily. One side thinks they are asking the other side to do something, and yet the other side—while willing to listen, learn, and act—will not fully understand due to cultural or linguistic challenges.”

Helping corporate leaders, their staff, and their business partners navigate potentially stormy cultural seas is the bread and butter of Michiki Morgan Worldwide. Through its “co-created cultures” programs, the company helps leaders—mostly Japanese C-level executives—adapt their corporate culture in partnership with local teams in new markets.

“There are seven pillars to the co-created cultures program we provide to clients, but the first three are perhaps the core ones,” Morgan explained. “The first—context—is where we, as a consultancy, seek to understand the client’s needs.

“The second—clarity—is where we help a client to clarify their mission and core values. And the third—commitment—is where we help companies to ensure buy-in from all stakeholders: leadership, staff, even subsidiaries.

“The good news is that, because they are co-created, our programs lead to high engagement from employees, customers, and vendors; everyone along the value chain can have their voices heard. And, of course, this helps with productivity.”

Morgan might be described as a “third-culture kid,” a term that refers to people raised in a country other than that of their parents’ birth, or individuals who moved between several cultures before their identity was formed. As such, she appears to be ideally placed for her current cross-cultural role.

Morgan attended International Christian High School and its affiliated university, where she majored in communications. Both are institutions in Tokyo with a reputation for producing global graduates.

She also spent a year in Hong Kong, during her study abroad program in college, and time in Germany, where she worked to improve her German language skills. All those cross-cultural experiences, however, left her unprepared for life in corporate Japan.

Following university, Morgan found her first job in a Japanese marketing company.

“I was in that industry for eight years, and I learned a lot—especially about traditional Japanese business culture,” she recalls. That said, some of those early experiences left the third-culture kid feeling unappreciated.

“The first thing I did in the morning was to pour tea for my seniors,” she recalls. “As a female, you felt that you had to play the role that was expected of you—the kawaii onnanoko joshishain or cute young office girl.”

What impressed her most about those early years was the amount of effort she and her peers put in to contort themselves into something they had never imagined being.

It was a struggle for her, Morgan confesses, to be appreciated for the work she did. And while there were in-house job training mechanisms at the company, the corporate structure was such that it would take many years before her turn would come and she would be awarded responsibilities.

“I realized that life was too short to be in a place like that,” Morgan recalls thinking to herself.

When the internet boom came in the late 1990s, and a new job opportunity presented itself, Morgan was tasked with launching the Japan office of a US-based online marketing agency.

“That was really cool, because I had two reporting lines—the office in Hong Kong and another one in the United States.

“I was around 25 years old at the time and had the opportunity to start a national office, bring in clients, and introduce cutting-edge US technology into Japan. I also learned very quickly how to build up the leadership skills that would have taken me forever to be exposed to in the previous company.”

After five years, Morgan pursued a Master of Business Administration course at the Yale School of Management in New Haven, CT. But that experience was not, initially, quite what she expected.

Despite her bicultural upbringing, she felt a bit lost—perhaps because she was an adult surrounded by people much younger.

“I asked myself: ‘Why am I here? This was the second or third time in my life when I had a huge cultural shock. While I spoke English well, I hadn’t lived in the States since I was a child.”

Persistence pays, however. “I connected that experience to the bigger vision of my life. I told myself: ‘Well, I’ve chosen to be here; I came here because I did want to make an impact, even though I was not sure at that time what it was.”

Morgan went on to work for a variety of international companies, including Johnson & Johnson Co., Ltd. as an intern and Northwest Airlines Corp.

Today, she lives in the Greater Atlanta Area and travels between Japan and the United States. Looking back on her life, she is convinced that her ups and downs have led to the work she now does with cross-cultural corporations.

“I’ve seen how many companies have struggled to adjust to new environments—struggles that have not changed much since my father’s time in the United States.

“And I’ve had mine, too. That’s why I think all the experiences I’ve had in my life—the good and the bad, the fun times and the difficult moments—all led up to this moment where I am supporting companies and individuals with their cross-cultural goals.”

John Amari is a writer and editor from the UK who specializes in articles on startups, entrepreneurs, science, tech, and business.
One side thinks they are asking the other side to do something, and yet the other side . . . will not fully understand due to cultural or linguistic challenges.