5 Important Career (and life) Lessons from Yoko Takagi

Yoko Takagi, partner at White and Case, on the advice she believed would have been useful when she was starting her career and that double as good life advice in this particular context.

Yoko is a partner White and Case in Madrid. Drawing on her deep and wide-ranging knowledge of corporate law, her practice focuses on mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and capital markets transactions. Yoko was a founding member of the Firm’s Madrid office in 2013, since when she has been supporting the needs of clients investing in Spain, as well as helping Spanish clients to expand globally.

It was a pleasure to have Yoko welcome this year students with a deep and inspiring commencement speech where she considered what advice she believed would have been useful to her when she was beginning her career in law. In an allusion to the pentatonic Sakura scale common in Japanese music, Yojo broke her advice down into five key lessons.Yoko Takagi, partner at White and Case, on the advice she believed would have been useful when she was starting her career and that double as good life advice in this particular context.

1. Embrace the unexpected

As students are about to embark on a journey that will change their lives and set their career clocks, we must remember that those careers will not run to individuals’ desired timelines, or on their terms. The current situation demonstrates more clearly than ever that the world does not adjust itself to your plans.

“Learn not only to expect expected departures from the plan, but embrace them—enjoy the unexpected and use it to your benefit”, she advised. “Your ability to make a positive impact and have a meaningful career has little to do with the greatness of your plan and everything to do with your ability to respond positively to setbacks”.

She cited T.S. Eliot, whom she said wrote The Waste Land while recuperating from the Spanish flu, and Amelia Earhart, inspired to try aviation as a career while watching aircrafts come and go. Both are examples of greatness that arose from embracing a change of plan. Her second lesson was about adopting a similar mindset when it comes to differences:

2. Embrace what’s different. Have an open mind

Going back to Japan during post World War II, Yoko recalled how a society which was questioning every aspect of itself after its defeat and occupation, came to adopt the jazz music that the US forces brought with them. Its sound came to represent the new-found optimism, freedom and individuality typical of American society that had previously been anathema to Japanese culture. As a result, Japanese jazz—a harmonious hybrid of east and west—emerged.

“With an open mind comes freedom”, she contended. “Modern technology, globalization and the diversity of IE University’s community present opportunities to fight tribal mindsets and connect with people from many ethnicities, gender identities, faiths, nationalities and backgrounds. Diversity can be our greatest strength, offering different approaches to problem solving and broader perspectives”.

“Allow yourselves to be vulnerable to other points of view. It’s what makes lawyers, legal firms, leaders and countries great”

 

It is easier, Takagi claimed, to stand rooted in your own convictions and disregard the possibility that somebody who disagrees with you may be right. “Pursuing personal growth and being open to others is harder work but a source of strength, and engaging with people who have fundamentally different beliefs can be transformational. It’s what makes lawyers, legal firms, leaders and countries great. Allow yourselves to be vulnerable to other points of view”, she urged, leading her on to her third lesson:

3. Embrace your vulnerability

The idea that vulnerability is a weakness is “the greatest myth of all,” said Takagi. The courage and curiosity required to rebound from adversity and failure are born of vulnerability. This was, though, a lesson that took her many years to learn.

You have to “manage, own and lean into” your vulnerability. If you want to change the world, you have to be brave enough to acknowledge failure, or the pain of disappointment. “Emotional stoicism is not tough,” she asserted. “Self-awareness is power.”

The freedom to begin again comes from that acknowledgement and self-awareness. The lessons learned from failure can be taken forward into the next effort, including the knowledge that there is the possibility of failure once again and the courage to try anyway. She described being forced off the planned path as a “secret gift” before moving on to her fourth lesson:

4. Embrace your empathy

“Empathy, and its partner imagination, are among the most transformative and revelatory human capacities,” claimed Takagi, “the fount of all invention and innovation.” Empathy enables us to envision the experiences of others that we have not shared, and there is no better attribute for a lawyer when it comes to advising a client or leading a team, she said.

With empathy, she advised, come learnings. She described a formative experience in her life, which occurred during pro bono work undertaken for European Lawyers in Lesvos, which provides legal assistance to asylum seekers stranded in the Aegean. After a week’s intensive training, she traveled to the Moria refugee camp, widely described as the “worst refugee camp in the world.”

Her experience working with victims of torture, oppression or enforced exile, reminds her of her own good fortune and the value of living under a democratically elected government with the right to legal representation and public trials.

In that camp she learned more about evil and human goodness than she had ever known before. She asserted that it is they duty if lawyers, even transactional lawyers, to do something for those who don’t have our same fortune. “It’s the power of empathy that moves NGOs and thousands of individuals to act collectively in that effort. It was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.”

5. Choose what moves you and go and change the world.

Takagi closed her address by quoting Plutarch’s statement that, “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality, which epitomizes the idea that our thoughts manifest themselves through our actions and thus impact on the world around us.”

She reminded her audience that their intelligence, education and capacity for hard work carry with them responsibilities. Holding governments accountable, ethical behavior at work, pushing institutional change, and devoting free time to good causes make an impact beyond national borders. These are both privileges and burdens.

Use your status and influence to speak for the voiceless, and put yourselves in the place of those who don’t have your advantages, she urged. “Change is the domain of all of us,” she concluded. “We have the power to imagine better. So, go and change the world.”

IE Law School would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Yoko Takagi for her inspirational address, and echo her hope that holding such events virtually will not be necessary for too much longer. We wish all of our students commencing October 2020 the very best in their endeavors as they take these lessons forward into their studies and careers.

 

Yoko is a partner in the Firm’s Corporate Group in Madrid. Drawing on her deep and wide-ranging knowledge of corporate law, her practice focuses on mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and capital markets transactions. Her track record spans a broad spectrum of public and private transactions, mostly with an international component. Clients benefit from Yoko’s knowledge and experience of advising private equity funds, companies, sponsors and investment banks on transactions involving a wide array of industries, including energy, financial institutions, cleantech and telecommunications. Yoko was a founding member of the Firm’s Madrid office in 2013, since when she has been supporting the needs of clients investing in Spain, as well as helping Spanish clients to expand globally.