Christina Ahmadjian, PhD 95

Dean, Hitotsubashi University
Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy
Tokyo

Christina Ahmadjian, dean of one of Japan’s top business schools, has tested the global glass ceiling since her early days as an “office lady” serving tea to Japanese executives.

 

Her tenure as dean of Hitotsubashi University Graduate School of International Corporate Strategy (ICS) began on April 1, but she joined ICS as a professor in 2001. Surprisingly, being Japan’s only foreign woman dean of a business school in a male-dominated corporate environment is not a major issue. Promoting Japan’s still vibrant influence and creativity in global business is the greater challenge. Building stronger networks in Asia is key, says Ahmadjian, and a major goal for ICS.

 

Ahmadjian’s path to educator in Asia goes back to her international upbringing in the U.S. as the daughter of an Armenian-American father and Swedish-American mother. An interest in learning Chinese initially motivated her to major in East Asian Studies as an undergrad at Harvard. But it was her professor, Ezra Vogel, and his just-published book “Japan as Number One,” about the country’s emerging business miracle, that sparked her interest in Japan. After graduating magna cum laude in 1981, she moved to Kyoto, taught English for a year, and then found a job as an “office lady” for Mitsubishi Electric.

 

“I wore a uniform, served tea, and did all the office lady things until I couldn’t take it anymore, even though they were very friendly,” she says. “It was quite an experience.”

 

After getting an MBA at Stanford and consulting for several years, Ahmadjian entered Haas’ PhD Program, drawn by its strong organizational behavior and Japan programs. “It was the late ’80s, and Japan was a very hot topic,” she recalls.

 

But following graduation, while teaching at Columbia Business School, Ahmadjian witnessed interest in Japan plummet. “Professors at Columbia would stop me in the hallway and ask, ‘Now that Japan is over, what are you going to do research on?’” she says. But she was still happily writing on topics such as downsizing in Japanese firms and the auto industry. Then, through a fellowship, she was able to study in Tokyo for one year.

 

“I really enjoyed my research, enjoyed living in Tokyo, and decided to stay,” she explains.

 

When ICS was founded in 2000, it was a pioneering program for Japan, with classes entirely in English and an international focus, while still part of the national university system. “I think the most exciting thing about being at ICS is the unbelievable diversity, and creating a learning community out of students from all over the world,” explains Ahmadjian. “ICS is not necessarily rooted in American ways of doing business. We teach global business.”

 

She then adds, “It’s fascinating for me to step back and marvel that there are so many ways to organize business. Ten years ago, everyone was talking about how, sooner or later, everyone would be doing business the American way. Instead, national and regional differences are as strong as ever. ’It’s very exciting to be in the middle of that.”



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