Walk the Talk

by Yasuhiro Karakawa, MBA'12 (7/18/11)

Yasuhiro Karakawa, MBA'12

Working as a summer intern of Strategy and Insight for Sustainability at Landor, a global brand/design consulting firm.

This summer, I’m working as an intern of Strategy and Insight for Sustainability at Landor, a global brand/design consulting firm. Here at its San Francisco headquarters, I’m working with the chief strategy officer, the head of corporate social responsibility, and the strategy director to develop its new brand consulting services intended to create new value for clients through the incorporation of sustainability and social responsibility principles.

Last fall I could not imagine finding such a unique position.  My hard work had paid off.  As an international student I expected it to be challenging to find an internship in the United States.  That, coupled with my desire to find an internship related to sustainability forced me to be proactive and do an independent job search focused on my interest area.  I had to differentiate myself from other highly qualified MBA candidates and create my desired job opportunity.

This began in November when I had the opportunity to meet with chief marketing officer of Landor, a mentor for Johnson’s marketing program. I shared my plan to go to Mumbai during winter vacation and work for Tata Chemicals to help launch their low-cost water purifier in low-income communities.  I expressed my interest and passion to do sustainability-related work.  Then, he kindly introduced me to the country manager of Landor India. While in Mumbai, I visited their offices and through that visit received an introduction to the chief strategy officer and strategy director in San Francisco.

In February, I flew myself to San Francisco to make a pitch to key personnel explaining how I could contribute to the team if they hired my for a summer internship.  They did not have an internship already in place, but by combining my past professional experiences in brand consulting firm and advertising along with my newly acquired knowledge in sustainability they could see my vision.  They liked my talk and gave me an offer. Looking back, I can’t believe how long and uncertain the path I walked was, but the dots somehow got connected as Steve Jobs told us in his famous speech.

That was just the beginning and now time is passing quickly since I started my internship in early June. The first two weeks were spent talking with more than 30 executives and senior consultants in their global network collecting internal voices about how they perceive themselves, where they want to go in the future, and how they think they can incorporate sustainability and social responsibility. Yes, it was physically challenging to wake up at 2:30am to make skype calls to offices in Mumbai, Hamburg, or London, but it was well worth the effort.

What’s more challenging is that there is no structured methodology or process to develop and implement new thinking and practices into the organization. On the one hand, I can create out of the box ideas and suggestions – a very luxurious position to be in with lots of freedom to design project scopes, deliverables, and processes. But on the other hand, my ideas must be realistic. I’m required to evaluate the situation, observe team dynamics, and implement small experiments to move things forward, not just talk about it. 

Through this experience I realize how valuable it was to take the SGE immersion in my first year at Johnson school.  The immersion helped me understand the diversity of perspectives and approaches that fall under the umbrella of term sustainability helping me facilitate conversations at Landor. During the five month immersion we worked in teams for clients tackling real problems they faced related to business and sustainability. Unlike other projects in the MBA program there was no structured, systematized, streamlined process and approach. There was a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity forcing us to struggle and think about the most relevant and meaningful approach to work with our clients and identify and articulate an appropriate solution. This experience working in uncertainty to create the best answer for our client was the most valuable asset to me from SGE immersion and is helping me walk forward in my internship with confidence.

With only four weeks to go I still have a lot to accomplish, but I believe the SGE immersion experience will help me make a meaningful contribution to Landor’s efforts to integrate sustainability into its client services.