The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Standing out in today’s competitive business world requires consider­able thought. Having the right image is essential, and brand-building is increasingly on the minds of job­seekers. Luckily, social media has brought new ways to get in front of human resources professionals.

On March 19 at Tokyo American Club, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s Women in Business Committee hosted three speakers from the Alexa Experience and Devices department at Amazon Japan G.K. Country Manager Karen Rubin, Managing Editor Kimiko Aso, and Industry Recruiter Risa Ogawa shared their experiences and advice on how to build a personal brand.

Rubin began the interactive session by defining personal brand.
“Really, the simple definition, for me, is what people know you for.” In terms of her own experience, she said that she never set out to find it. “I was never extraordinary at anything,” she laughed.

However, with nothing specific that could be identified as her brand, she realized that the things she felt strongly about at work were what would define it.

Globally, Amazon has a set of 14 princi­ples that frame what they look for in leaders, and Rubin noted that these have been a guiding source for her own brand, citing trust and ownership as key.

“Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say, ‘That’s not my job.’ Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat each other respectfully. They are vocally self-critical—even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing—and benchmark themselves and their team against the best.”

These leadership principles, although global, must be adapted to Japan.

“Because there is such a strong sense of ownership, people don’t want to take on more because they think that they are not able to deliver, that there is some confidence that’s needed, or that they have other commitments,” she said.

“It really should be about how you design ownership and, really, you are your worst critic.”

One way that Rubin sees to relieve pressure is for people to “lean in” and use management and peers for support.

Ogawa recalled dealing with both a new role and a child—and the difficulties and challenges she faced—and how her brand evolved into one of a working mother with a good work–life balance.

“Being a mother taught me that it is okay to rely on others and seek support when I need it. Everything will turn out fine, if I can earn trust from others by staying passionate and having ownership in everything I do.”

Being a mother is also part of Aso’s personal brand. This was something she had to juggle while tackling the difficulties of getting a job at Amazon. Her English abilities were becoming a barrier, and she described having to take six interviews before moving to her current department at Amazon—including three in English. She requested that the interviewers not use that to influence their decision, as her Japanese abilities were well above average.

“Be brave and never hesitate to challenge is my personal brand,” she concluded.

Asking for feedback is a crucial aspect of brand building. “Knowing your strengths and opportunities is a really good first step,” Rubin said.

Finding a role model to help develop a personal brand is another strategy she mentioned. Analyze their personal brand, how they developed it, and what strengths they leverage.

A core theme at Amazon—modeled by Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos—is the idea that failure is essential, and that without it there is no experimentation. Thus, not sticking to your original branding is not a bad thing. Instead, evolve it.

“Reflect on the situation, what went wrong, and what you could have done differently.”

Ultimately, Rubin notes, “The goal I see of a personal brand is not to be someone that others want you to be or expect you to be, but to be yourself.”

Maxine Cheyney is a staff writer at Custom Media for The ACCJ Journal.
Amazon has a set of 14 princi­ples that frame what they look for in leaders