Fifteen years – that is how long Sei Tomohiko has been part of the Uniqlo brand ever since joining as a Uniqlo Manager Candidate (UMC). From learning the ropes about how business is done at this popular Japanese fashion retailer, Sei now helms the brand in Malaysia as its Co-Chief Operating Officer (Operations) where he is in charge of current business direction.
He shares a unique story of how he came about to working for the brand: “Have you ever come across a job advertisement with only one sentence in it? Chances of such occurrence are infrequent given the trend of job advertisements to be packed with complete descriptions of the job and a long list of requirements,” says Sei. “That was my first exposure to the Uniqlo brand!”
“While other apparel companies try to find or follow the latest fashion trend, our Chairman, President and CEO Tadashi Yanai believes that customers care more about quality and value. Uniqlo was the first company in Japan to establish an SPA (Specialty Store Retailer of Private Label Apparel) model encompassing all stages of the business – from design and production to final sale. This is how we at Uniqlo provide such high-quality clothing at such reasonable prices,” he explains.
As a Uniqlo Manager Candidate, Sei joined a group of passionate peers and undertook an intensive on-and-off-the-job training. Think of it as a pathway to explore the many different sides of how the store operations run, especially in what it takes to make it a success. “These trainings help build the skills and experiences necessary for me to run a business generating millions in sales,” says Sei. “It prepared me to take on many roles – an an innovator, a talent developer, a problem solver and above all, a business leader. In Uniqlo, your personal growth, responsibility and achievement are limited only by your efforts and abilities.”
A year after being a Uniqlo Manager Candidate, he became a Store Manager before being promoted as an Area Manager four years later. From 2007 to 2010, Sei was an executive and later a manager at the Uniqlo University (Fast Retailing Training Centre). In 2011, he became the Director of Store Operations Support and in 2013, Store Operations Manager for Uniqlo Singapore. Last year, Sei was promoted as the Co-Chief Operating Officer for Uniqlo Singapore and then in September, he switched focus to Uniqlo Malaysia in the same role. In fact, Sei points out that his career progression is a potential for someone working in the company.
Some of his most memorable experiences in the past 15 years? “Opening new stores when I was a store manager! Huge preparations were involved in pre-store opening and it feels great for my ideas are being implemented. Definitely rewarding seeing how much of a difference I can make in the business.” says Sei. As for his role as a Co-Chief Operating Officer, Sei says that it involves a lot of setting goals and strategising. “As a business leader, we need to understand the exact needs of our customers and be quick to react with a results-oriented mindset in order to serve them better. Without customers, the business would not exists,” says Sei.
When asked what makes Uniqlo unique in terms of corporate culture, Sei says “Unlike other retailers, we do not believe that the head office is superior to the stores. We believe that store managers and the people working at the head office are equal.“
In reality, many of the borders are of our own creation; they exist only in our minds.
GO BEYOND BORDERS
Quoting from the Chairman, President and CEO, Tadashi Yanai, “We want to be a company in which people can work with other individuals in teams to achieve their dreams, regardless of gender or ethnicity, age or academic background. We hope to provide opportunities to all employees and we believe that this is the kind of company that can change the world and open up new future,” says Sei.
He strongly believes that you must have the mindset to change if you want to succeed like he has. “In reality, many of the borders are of our own creation; they exist only in our minds. Reaching new heights involve being slightly uncomfortable – whether or not by choice - but it can push us to achieve goals we never thought we could. In other words, when we challenge ourselves, we tend to rise to the occasion.”