When Ayako Mochizuki first became CEO, President and Owner of IBS Japan Co. Ltd., she thought she wouldn’t like it—that the burden would outweigh any of the benefits. But she was wrong.
Unlike most who seek power, money and status, Ayako loves being CEO for different reasons.
“I get to meet lots of interesting people across many different industries from other CEOs and thought leaders to other women running their own businesses,” says Ayako. “But it’s my status as a small business owner that enables me to connect with others.”
Ayako’s job is also rewarding when she can make a difference for her customers by helping them undergo the digital transformations necessary in key industries across Japan. She claims the secret to IBS’s success is that it is “niche, global and helpful.”
IBS imports all types of technology, such as industrial networking switches and converters, from Taiwan and the U.S. and resells it in Japan. Its clients are mostly big enterprises. Customers search IBS’s website for technology that best suits their needs, buy the product(s) from IBS, and receive assistance on how to use it most effectively. IBS has field sales, technical support and inside sales staff with multi-language capacity.
She explains that most Japanese companies are conservative and do not take risks by trying out cutting-edge products. IBS enables businesses to experiment with the latest technology without having to know much about it beforehand. If the products don’t work out as expected, IBS is there to work through the solutions—whether that means finding a better-suited product or working through technical issues to maximize functionality.
IBS’s customers are mainly in the industrial automation market, or as Ayako likes to put it, “life-supporting industries,” where safety and security are top priorities. These include transportation, energy, medical and oil factories all looking for ways to streamline their businesses through digital transformation but are unable to do it alone. Ayako feels that IBS is helping to change the world by matching customers with innovative technology that will help them grow and succeed.
The idea for IBS was her father’s, who founded the business in 1987 in Ebina near Yokohama. He asked Ayako to join the company in 1997 because he needed someone who understood Japanese culture and language, yet could work with manufacturers and sellers of products from the U.S., Taiwan and other countries. Ayako was the perfect fit.
She was living in Boulder, Colorado, after having finished graduate school in the U.S. and was working to improve her English. She accepted and started her own company in the U.S. that would enable her to work with him in identifying technology that IBS would then resell in Japan. She continued to work with him as the business grew, eventually taking over the reins as CEO of IBS in 2014.
Ayako notes that she is lucky to have inherited a business from her father, but being a woman business owner in Japan, particularly a tech business, has many challenges.
In 2018 she lost six staff, which was a huge blow to a company with the size of 40+ employees. She wanted to be a better CEO and manager and realized that commuting back and forth between the U.S. and Japan wasn’t working. Her team in Japan needed more support from her so she told her husband and son that she’d be moving to Japan to immerse herself in the business for a while.
During that time, she did a great deal of self-reflection, thinking about her own and her company’s strengths and weaknesses. She met many small and midsize businesses’ (SMBs) CEOs looking for answers. That’s when she met members of the WEConnect International team, joined and got certified immediately.
She began networking with other men and women who were struggling with their own SMBs; they got together to discuss issues ranging from small, daily problems to big issues, including money and people. She met many allies who were also striving to be better business people, and she became more confident in being a better CEO.
Ayako also attended and gained helpful information from the P&G seminars and Meet the Member events organized by WEConnect International. “At a virtual Meet the Member event in 2020 after COVID-19 broke out, I made a presentation to J&J. They liked the idea, and I sold a premium product right away without meeting them in person, which was unheard of when dealing with a big enterprise like J&J,” she says.
When asked what advice she would give to other women in business, she answers, “Be bold. Express who you are, be comfortable with who you are and don’t worry about what others say about you. Put your heart into everything you do. Do what you love.”
Ayako and several colleagues recently rewrote the company mission 共に、夢ある未来を創る which translates to: “Together we create future with dreams.” She hopes this new mission conveys that we work for today, but today’s work is for the future so that our children and the greater community can have and hold their dreams.