Economics student Daniel Flames (Lower Sixth, Cobham) met with investor and Japanese equities specialist, Yuki Soga (Nugent 98). They discussed her time at Stowe and how she went from studying Biochemistry at Oxford University to being a Partner at a US Hedge Fund before setting up her own Investment Consulting Company.
How did Stowe prepare you for your career and what advantages did it give you?
I came to school in the UK because I found Japanese education quite boring. You don’t have to think about anything, there is a system that teaches you what the question is and how to answer that question properly. You never have to think about why or how and are never encouraged to think outside the box.
My two years at Stowe allowed me to achieve straight As (there weren’t A*s) at A-Level. I applied to Oxford after a gap year and I got in. At Stowe, I studied Further Maths, Maths, Chemistry and Biology – nothing to do with finance. But the British educational system really encourages thinking; if you don’t know the answer to something you have to think about it in different ways to get to an answer.
Stowe opened so many new doors for me, not just in English but also with life skills such as how to adapt myself in totally different environments; how to communicate with people effectively and social skills. It was a unique place to build a great network of people from a variety of diverse backgrounds and those things really matter in the wider world. Dr Brian Orger, my Tutor, was in the centre of that process and I will always be grateful to him.
I think the most advantageous things I learnt from Stowe are to be logical and think creatively. Mr Tearle, who is still one of my greatest influences, made us write a summary of each 20–30-page chapter in our Chemistry textbooks – but only gave us one piece of paper to summarise all the information. It takes real skill to be able to identify what the key information is and how to make it clear and easy to understand. I still write down notes and a summary to this day.
What advice would you give to Stoics wanting to study investment?
There are four things I would say to Stoics:
Be curious – always think “why?” and challenge yourself to find the answer.
Be humble – recognise that you are not perfect and don’t know everything. In the investment world, if you are right 55% of the time then you are experiencing success.
Network with as many different people from a range of backgrounds who have different opinions. Use as many people as possible to obtain knowledge, ideas and inspiration. It makes a real difference and opens your mind.
Learn about everything that interests you – you never know when it will help you in your life.
How did you get into the Hedge Fund industry?
I always thought I wanted to be a scientist. My plan was to do a masters and a PhD and be a scientist at a university or a pharmaceutical company. However, there was a moment during my masters when I suddenly thought, “This is not what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I liked the science, but I wasn’t going to be happy stuck in a lab. I wanted a more dynamic career, to go out into the world and experience new things and meet new people.
So, I wrote to multiple organisations, such as law firms and banks, with information about myself and asked if they would be interested in taking me on as an intern or a temp. A law firm came back to me and offered me an internship in their Finance Department in their Tokyo Office, the only catch was that they wouldn’t be able to pay me. Despite this, the benefits of being able to work in an international organisation, seeing the financial world through the eyes of the legal industry and meeting a completely new group of people was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I interned for six months and used that period to speak to various people about the different career choices that were available and it made me realise that finance was the industry for me.
You’ve worked in London, Tokyo, New York and San Francisco. How do they compare?
Each location has pros and cons. In terms of living, Tokyo is the best; it has the best food, the trains are efficient and the general lifestyle is amazing. However, in terms of the financial world it is such a small city and it isn’t overly dynamic. Also, I am a working mum which is difficult in Japan as it is really behind with women’s rights and equality.
I’ve always loved London; it has a huge financial industry with people from all over the world. I also found the working culture much more sophisticated than Wall Street. New York was so tiring; it was non-stop, especially if you wanted to get ahead.
To what extent has the culture in Japan influenced the way you work?
There is a real hierarchical culture in Japan, everyone obeys orders, systems and processes, which is outdated in today’s world. To be successful as an analyst or investor you must be able to think creatively and use your imagination. When I had people working for me, I tried to get them to be less serious, I encouraged them to have fun. I promoted brainstorming and creative thinking to inspire better results.
With Japan being so male dominated, I was often the only woman in a room of 200 men which was hard. There were times when I phoned up Japanese corporates to arrange a meeting and I was asked what times my boss could do, as they just assumed I was the assistant to a male boss. The one positive of this, however, was that I was memorable to these companies as I was the only woman who went to see them and was trying to understand their company. This especially helped when I started up my own business and I needed to interact and create relationships with those companies – they all remembered who I was, which made it a lot easier to establish that connection.
What led you to make the change from Partner at a US Hedge Fund to managing your own Investment Consulting Company?
I am one of those people who always thinks “what’s next?”, I can’t stay still. When I made Partner in the US Hedge Fund I was in a very comfortable position, however, that wasn’t what I wanted. Life is too short. Before I made Partner my goal was to become Partner, then when I did there was nowhere else to go, the only thing I could do was quit and go onto the next big challenge. You must make your life as fun and as interesting as you can. There is the thought that you should prioritise money over everything else – but what is the point of that when you only have a finite time on this earth?
Lots of Stoics will want to take the risk and start their own business in the future. What would you say to them?
First, you need to have a good business idea, then, before anything else you need to do your due diligence and lots of research. Make sure you really understand the market, the industry, the competitors. Work out if it is scalable and make sure your goals are clear.
But, if you do have an idea and a vision then go for it, start the process. It may not turn out exactly as you thought it might, but you won’t know if you don’t start it. If you start something and fail, it is much more beneficial than just thinking about doing it.
What I have noticed is that people are a lot more open to helping you than you think they are. Don’t be embarrassed or be afraid of embarrassing yourself by asking for help or pitching an idea – you have nothing to lose.
If you could go back in time, what would you change and what would you keep the same?
If I could go back to Stowe now, I would like to have had more confidence and socialised more with my peers. I was overly conscious that I was an Asian girl in a Caucasian school and that my English wasn’t great. I wasn’t confident when it came to making friends and having fun – I should have participated more in activities instead of just studying all the time. However, I’m so glad I decided to study in the UK and at Stowe, if I had to live my life again I would make that same choice.
What is your next challenge?
In terms of business, I, along with a friend in the Hedge Fund industry, are currently in the process of establishing a fund that invests in Japanese companies and markets them to global investors. Japan is no longer the big strong nation it was up until 1980 and the international community has somewhat forgotten about it over the last few decades. Yet the country still has many good things to offer from IP and technologies to tourism and the country is trying to revitalise. The fund, I believe, will allow global investors to have exposure to the best of Japan and achieve returns. It also helps the process to achieve re-recognition of the country and re-strengthen the bridge with the global economy. At a more personal level, I also would like to spend more time supporting the next generation’s entrepreneurship as well as learning more about finance.