This Woman’s Work: Yukiko Yamaguchi, Panasonic

Image of Yukiko Yamaguchi

Working women receive a slew of advice — lean in, lean out, be aggressive, but not too aggressive. We’re constantly inspired by the women who are paving the way and taking charge in the ever-evolving world of technology. Welcome to This Woman’s Work, a series highlighting how various women are advancing the tech industry, both professionally and personally.

This month, we’re chatting with Yukiko Yamaguchi, CMO at Panasonic, Connected Solutions

To start, tell us a bit about Panasonic. What first attracted you to the company?

I’d worked for global companies for a long time, but I wanted to join and work for a domestic company here in Japan, one with global business. I also wanted to be in charge of business-to-business (B2B) marketing. And, though Panasonic is widely seen as a consumer electronics company, a major part of their work and business is B2B. 

The role of marketing — and the role of a CMO — at a domestic, Japanese company is often very different than at a global company. My boss and leader at Panasonic, however, has a global mindset. He understands the importance of marketing, and he’s been working to transform the B2B business of Panasonic. He knew he needed marketing for that transformation — that’s why I decided to join. 

To that end, what’s it like to lead a marketing division in a country and business environment where marketing is often perceived so differently? What do you enjoy most about this?

It’s certainly challenging, but I enjoy it. I enjoy my role a lot. I have the opportunity to transform our company and drive change for the better, and I’m passionate about that.

I believe the strongest companies are aligned to focus on the customer, and marketing can help lead that alignment across an organization. As we’ve worked to collaborate and align more closely with other functions, I’ve seen that change of mindset, of behavior, of culture. I’ve watched that transformation take place. It’s the most fantastic part of being CMO. 

How do you help motivate your own team, and how do you collaborate and align with others?

It’s very important as a CMO to communicate my ideas, my mission, the team’s mission, and our strategy. I’m very focused on having meetings, on communicating with my team. But I also strive to create an atmosphere wherein my team can easily come and contact me as well — an environment where people want to be communicating openly. 

We also have learning sessions called ‘The Road to Marketers,’ which anyone and everyone who’s interested in marketing can join (sometimes we bring in outside speakers as well). It’s important for everyone to understand what’s happening in the market, outside of our company. We like to stay up-to-date on what’s going on. 

I believe that every employee should have the mindset of a marketer, especially at Panasonic. In the past, you could create high-quality products and sell them, no trouble. But today, we need to listen to the needs of the customer and create solutions to their problems. Their needs are changing, and our approach needs to change with it. We need to build that new mindset together, particularly when it comes to our B2B business. 

You’ve mentioned the importance of B2B marketing a few times. What is it about B2B specifically that’s particularly interesting, inspiring, or motivating for you?

B2B marketing is complicated. There are a lot of people involved in the decision-making process, so communication and marketing become very different, very complicated, which is interesting to work through. The methods of marketing are changing as well — particularly as data-based marketing becomes more of a key focus. It’s a very interesting era we’re in.

It sounds like any time there’s a challenge involved, you’re interested in unpacking it and crafting solutions. What have been some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced over the course of your career? And how have you navigated and overcome them?

Personally, in my twenties, I was considered a high-performer. But when I shifted to managing in my late twenties, and I had a team for the first time, I was a very, very bad manager. I expected all of my team members to do as much as I had done, and when they didn’t meet expectations, I took on their work — which is the worst management style. The feedback I was receiving from my team was also quite bad. So I changed my attitude. I started thinking, thinking, thinking, and then I started listening, listening, listening. I started hosting more one-on-ones with my team members. And I found that everyone wanted to be recognised more, to be respected.

My way of thinking didn’t necessarily change, but my behavior changed. I started focusing on listening first — that became my management style. 

In addition to listening to others, what advice might you give to other young women (and men) who are hoping to work their way up in their organisations?

Stay interested, and stay curious, about what’s going on. Search and research and deep dive into the facts, and remember that it’s very important to have your own opinions on what’s going on. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask. That kind of proactive attitude is very important, especially for marketers. You need to have answers about what’s happening in the market. 

You also need to have passion and a belief in what you’re doing, even if, and when, your ideas are challenged. Use your passion and expertise to see projects through. Don’t give up. 

And finally, outside of work, what do you enjoy doing? What are some of your own passions beyond the world of marketing?

My favourite hobby is dancing — I love Zumba. But I also do volunteer work to help support children and families who may not be able to go to school. In Japan, there are about 440,000 children who cannot go to school, and that number is increasing. We need to have a community to support these children, as well as their parents. I work with a non-profit that helps provide that support.