Fortune may well favor the bold, as the age-old proverb would have us believe; but courage is not all lady luck takes a shine to.
At least not according to Louis Pasteur. In the 19th century, as he oversaw a scientific revolution, the renowned French chemist and microbiologist observed how “fortune favors the prepared mind”.
And while chemistry and banking may have little in common, it is a remark that Kazushige Nakajima has carried with him during his near 30-year career at MUFG, Japan’s largest bank.
Now Executive Officer and Country Head of Indonesia for MUFG Bank, Jakarta Branch, a role he has held since June 2022, Nakajima recalls how he first heard the phrase from one of his former professors. It has stuck with him ever since.
“There are ups and downs in any business, and what we can control is sometimes limited,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “And yes, you can sometimes perform well because of luck. But you can also perform poorly. Yet, if we are always prepared, if we see things from different angles, then we are more likely to find fortune.”
The notion of a ‘prepared mind’ and exploring alternative angles extends to Nakajima’s leadership style, which is one of flexibility and nuance. He is not one for a rigid management technique, instead preferring to let circumstances dictate his approach – different scenarios require different mindsets, he says.
As an illustration, in areas of the business that lay outside of his area of expertise – he concedes that technology is one – Nakajima seeks counsel from those around him. Such an approach fosters what he calls “psychological safety” within the workplace, where employees are encouraged to speak up.
“I believe leadership style should be situational,” Nakajima explains. “No business leader is superman. We have blind sides, we have strengths and weaknesses, so we should be humble and listen to others. So creating that safe environment is extremely important, for the team and business leaders.”
Nakajima is now in his second stint in Indonesia for MUFG, the first back in the late 1990s during the Asian Financial Crisis. It was his first overseas posting, and one he recalls with fondness despite the perilous state of the market at the time.
“I have very vivid memories and feel a great attachment to Indonesia, so it felt like coming home when I took this role after what has been a very long journey,” he says.
Under Nakajima’s stewardship, MUFG has cemented its place as one of the largest foreign-owned banks in Indonesia. Working in tandem with local player Bank Danamon, which MUFG acquired in 2019, the bank has established ever-deeper relationships with corporate and consumer clients.
That has been achieved, Nakajima outlines, by combining MUFG’s global network and its focus on wholesale banking with Bank Danamon’s extensive knowledge of small and medium enterprises in Indonesia.
Forging strong relationships with external partners, including IT specialists NTT, has also been instrumental in mapping out its strategic vision.
“Our main strategy in Indonesia is to synergize and maximize the potential of the wide range of platforms and try to connect them with our global network,” Nakajima explains. “I often say that, for foreign investor and corporate clients, we want to be the best gateway to the Indonesian market and, for Indonesian clients, we want to be the best gateway for them to do business internationally.”
With competition in the Indonesian banking market becoming ever more intense, achieving growth and hitting strategic goals is no easy feat. Such is the reality for any developing market, Nakajima says.
But rather than focusing on financial incentives to retain business and woo new clients, MUFG focuses on ‘non-pricing factors’. Key among them is the client experience, which is partially achieved by creating that open and honest culture that underpins Nakajima’s management style.
Sharing ideas and fostering collaboration within the workplace is instrumental in delivering for the client, he says.
“I always encourage people to speak up and to collaborate with one another,” Nakajima says. “When that happens, people feel autonomy and go the extra mile to create a better client experience. That is one of the most important elements in getting ahead of the competition.”
Such an environment also avoids the risk of creating silos, Nakajima adds, which he regards as “the biggest barrier to operational excellence”.
Bravery in business is undoubtedly important, and can often bring its rewards. But there is no substitute for being prepared, as both Louis Pasteur and Kazushige Nakajima will testify.