Turning the Challenging into Vision
“I have no doubt that my time at Emory was a turning point for me."
In 1990, Sugiyama was working at a nonprofit organization dedicated to bettering industrial relationships. “Through that work, I was feeling that I needed to study more about the theoretical aspects of human resources and explore organizational problems I was finding in Western approaches to HR,” he said.
“Emory was already one of the top business schools in the U.S. when I was applying to MBA programs, and honestly, one of the main reasons I applied is how much I was attracted to the beauty of the campus and the small class sizes. The other main reason was that Atlanta is one of the biggest cities in the States for Japanese businesses, and I felt I would have a better chance of finding a job back home through connections here.”
“From the time I came to Goizueta to when I embarked on my new career path, everything was a new and special experience for me,” said Sugiyama. “Even though learning English was quite difficult for me and I know that miscommunications and stress caused friction at times, every part of that experience is still so meaningful to me — both the good and the bad.
“I have no doubt that my time at Emory was a turning point for me in terms of forcing me to think about the influences minority, mixed culture, diversity, second language, differences and history have on people in the workplace. If I had never had these experiences, I wouldn’t be able to do my work today as effectively as I am able to with that knowledge.”
“Koichi is a person of great vision.”
It wasn’t only the positive aspects of his education that Sugiyama holds most dear from his time at Emory. He had plenty of challenges and difficulties that also shaped his experience — and helped him develop the determination and resilience necessary for success.
“Living overseas for the first time, with a significant language barrier, a completely different cultural background and a lot of financial stress, led to some very difficult times during my studies,” he said.
“Yet it was those negative aspects that I feel were Goizueta’s real gift to me. They taught me to be patient, to not just endure a situation but to make an effort to work toward creating a better outcome the next time.”
Bolstered by the strength of his education and the valuable personal growth gained at Goizueta, Sugiyama says his “real career path” began. After working in Atlanta, New York and London, he finally returned to Tokyo, working in the offices of an American HR consultancy firm.
In 1992, desiring to connect with other Japanese Goizueta graduates, Sugiyama, with the initial guidance of Rev. Takeshi Saito 74T and, a few years later, the official partnership with other local Emory alumni, including Seita Yamaoka, Yoshihiro Suchi and Satoshi Ketsuka, all 95MBA, the Emory Alumni Association Japan (EAAJ) was formed.
Over the next two decades, Sugiyama served as the organization’s president, facilitating guest speakers — including former President Jimmy Carter and former University President William M. Chace, among many others — and serving as a powerful point of connection for housing visiting Emory students and helping new alumni seeking employment.
“Koichi is a person of great vision,” said Yamaoka. “For me, one of the most powerful examples of what Koichi has achieved through EAAJ was a scene I witnessed at a reunion two years ago where an alumnus, Mr. Karato 86MBA, brought his wife, daughter and the daughter’s baby — his grandchild. The daughter was born when he was a student at Emory. That generational Emory networking and relationship-building was surely one of Koichi’s visions for what this organization would become.”