06 July 2018
Jacqueline Berlin

You can live the life you choose

In 2017, Mari Hiraizumi became the only female and one of the youngest members of BIJEC, the Boehringer Ingelheim Japan Executive Committee. She grew up as a quiet girl in the countryside of Okayama prefecture, Japan, and until she graduated from high school, Okayama was her world. However, she found out how big the world is when she started her university life in Kyoto and began to live her own life. This is her story of challenges and ambition by our guest author Kanako Nakashima.

Mari Hiraizumi’s career started in 1999 as a lawyer in a law firm in Osaka, Japan. Originally, she intended to become a human rights lawyer, but her curiosity did not stop there. In 2002, she went to a law school in New York City and worked in a law firm in the U.S. for a year. After she returned to Japan, she moved to Tokyo in 2004 to join the International Legal Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and visited various countries to negotiate as a representative of the Japanese government. She then returned to Osaka to continue working in the law firm when she received an offer to join the start-up law department at a foreign affiliated pharmaceutical company.


“My instincts lead me to become an in-house lawyer”


When Hiraizumi got that offer in 2007, there were fewer than 200 in-house lawyers among the 23,000 lawyers licensed in Japan, and working for a company was not a very popular career option for Japanese lawyers. “All lawyers around me, as well as my parents, warned me that working in a company would ruin my career even though they did not know anything about in-house lawyers. But I just knew that I would enjoy working as an in-house lawyer in a foreign affiliated company. And I was right, because I did enjoy working in a company – not to mention that the number of in-house lawyers has increased to over 2,000 by now, as this career option has become much more popular and recognized.”


She then became a line manager and began to think about becoming a department head. In 2013, she joined Boehringer-Ingelheim Japan as the head of the Legal Department and has made great contributions to strengthening the Legal department.


“I was aiming to be a BIJEC member one day”


In 2017, Hiraizumi became a member of BIJEC. And surprisingly enough, even a woman like her felt great pressure at the beginning. “We respect seniority in Japan. I was one of the youngest members in BIJEC, and moreover, I was the only woman there. No matter how much the other members welcomed me, I felt like I was too much in the spotlight and got overwhelmed. My first challenge was to overcome the pressure I had created for myself.”


She says that what encouraged her to overcome that pressure was her career vision and ambition. “I was actually aiming to be a member of BIJEC one day, because I believed that it would benefit them. The company would need legal and compliance perspectives for many decisions they make. By becoming a part of BIJEC, I would be able to give more timely advice on these topics – which would enable more agile decision-making at BIJEC.”


Find your own way to overcome your weakness


Hiraizumi says that she was a very quiet girl, but every time she finds something she wants to achieve. She has always been ambitious enough to find out what she can do to overcome the obstacles and then she puts her effort to work on it. “I am not always confident and often dither over options. If I am hesitating over options, I talk to people about it because I know that if their opinion or advice is not what I have in my mind, I recognize myself rejecting it, and as a result, that tells me the answer that I was not aware of.”


Designing her own private life


Not only from her career but also from her private life, we can learn how to come out of the box and design the life we choose to live. “I used to work in the U.S. and now I’m working in Tokyo. Both times I had to live away from my husband who works as a human rights lawyer in Osaka. This was not an easy decision for me, especially when my parents were strongly against it.


However, my husband actually encouraged me to take this opportunity. So now we do not live together, but we visit each other frequently, and enjoy spending long holidays together. I sometimes make use of Boehringer Ingelheim Japan’s telework system to work from my home in Osaka. We both have completely different careers which gives us a lot to learn and so much inspiration from each other.”


Not only men but also women need to change


In Japan, there was time when women were expected to become housewives after marriage and it’s true that many Japanese people are still unconsciously suspicious about giving career opportunities to women. However, Hiraizumi points out that not only men but also women needs to change and encourage themselves to come out of the box.


“When offered a Line Manager position, many female employees hesitate to take it. I want to tell them ‘just give it a try! A company does not offer such a position to someone with no potential so don’t miss it.’ I know that many of them are worried that being a manager will only bring them hard times. But trust me; the more you get ahead, the more people will listen to you.”


A Message to young female talents


“I grew up listening to my parents telling me, ‘you are a female, you should respect males and become a housewife’. I believe many Japanese people at my age or older grew up in the same environment and many of them still believe that - and Boehringer Ingelheim Japan’s employees may be no exception. That is probably one of the reasons why, for a long time, men have been given more opportunities than women. Now it is our turn to be confident and ambitious to take that chance.”


She also mentions that it is important to find your own leadership style. “People often say they cannot find a role model. But people are different in their background, experience, environment and in many other ways. There is no one exactly like you and everyone has strengths and weaknesses. So go and find multiple role-models, male or female, within or outside of the Company, and look up to what you respect about them. Ask them for advice. They will be happy to help you. And you will find a way to be a leader of your very own.”

"When you are offered a Line Manager position, just give it a try! A company does not offer such a position to someone with no potential!, says Mari Hiraizumi "
Jacqueline Berlin
Mari Hiraizumi_Boehringer Ingelheim
In 2017, Mari Hiraizumi became the only female and one of the youngest members of BIJEC, the Boehringer Ingelheim Japan Executive Committee.

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