For Part 1, we asked Mr. Suekane to explain the background for launching the mentor program in the Equipment Leasing segment, as an example of how Tokyo Century is establishing a workplace focused on employee well-being. As for Part 2, we interviewed Mr. Akiba, who is in charge of the mentor program, and spoke with Mr. Yamakawa and Mr. Itaba, who were a mentor and a mentee, respectively, in the program’s first year. As the program’s operations manager, how did Mr. Akiba apply his ingenuity in creating a comfortable setting for participants? What changes and realizations did the mentor and mentee experience by participating?
What is Tokyo Century’s Mentor Program? How the Mentoring Pairs Exercise Their Own Initiative in Deciding How to Use Their Time
—How does the mentor program work?
Akiba: The program pairs young and senior employees who are not typically in daily contact with each other in a mentoring relationship to provide individual support apart from on-the-job training (OJT). Its main purpose is to facilitate communication between senior and junior employees from different divisions and build new networks.
The program kicked off in fiscal 2022, with employees in their second to fourth year after entering the workforce serving as mentees and those in their fifth to eighth year as mentors. Participation is voluntary, and each pair sets their own schedule for meeting a total of eight times per year.
—How is the program different from OJT?
Akiba: Unlike OJT, in which senior employees from the same division as the subordinates mainly provide work-related guidance, the program has senior employees provide a more general level support that is not so closely linked to the work of the mentees, who also work in different divisions from their mentors. The pairs are encouraged to work with each other on their own initiative and with no obligation to submit general reports or details about their consultations.
New Relationships and Autonomy Generated through the Mentor Program as the First Step to Creating a Workplace Focused on Employee Well-being
—How did you exercise your creativity in setting up the mentor program?
Akiba: So that participants would be able to experience the program as distinct from the workplace, we started out with a kick-off meeting in which they could meet each other. We played background music and projected a welcome board on a screen to create a playful ceremonial atmosphere. Incidentally, the welcome board was designed by a young employee of the Equipment Leasing Business Development Unit. Since everyone had communicated mainly online during the COVID-19 pandemic, I wanted to create opportunities for face-to-face gatherings, such as these kick-off meetings and get-togethers.
—How do you plan to further develop the program?
Akiba: The number of participants doubled in the second term of the program in fiscal 2023. And members of the head office as well as branch offices are now taking part. I hope that in the future we will be able to carry out this program jointly with Group companies.
Both Decided to Participate in the Mentor Program to Have Contacts with Other Division Members and Senior and Junior Employees
—What was your first impression of the mentor program?
To be honest, when I first heard about it, I was concerned about what I would have to do. I wanted to know how it would be different from OJT, what the Company wanted me to do in the program, and other things before participating.
I was very much looking forward to having new contacts with senior employees, and the program would make this possible. However, as Mr. Yamakawa mentioned, I hadn’t heard many details about the program, so I was wondering about what it might entail.
—We understand that the two of you decided to go ahead and participate even though you didn’t know in advance what you would be doing. Why was that?
My division has many young employees like Mr. Itaba. I sometimes hesitated to give them advice in the course of everyday work, fearing that I might either be too strict or too cautious since I wasn’t confident in establishing a close enough relationship, to speak frankly. As I increasingly struggled with how to communicate with them on a daily basis, I decided to take part in the program with the hope of learning new tips for building relationships with the younger generation. That was the main reason I decided to participate.
I joined the Company in 2021, and in my first year I worked from home more than half of the week. A senior colleague in charge of OJT taught me well, and I strived to gain the knowledge I needed by studying on my own. But I was concerned about my lack of experience as a salesperson, such as not having had many opportunities to directly interact with customers and therefore having a limited sense of actual work in the field.
Although I wanted to make contacts with other division members, there weren’t any opportunities to do this. So I was attracted to the mentor program and joined without hesitation.
Learnings from Experiencing a Casual, Non-obligatory Atmosphere
—Tell us what you actually did when you met.
At first, we used program materials a lot as we talked, but after a while, we just chatted. In the end, I think the ratio became about 60% chatting and 40% learning with the materials.
For example, the materials included questions like, “What is the most important consideration for you in choosing a briefcase: function, design, price, or brand?” As we exchanged our thoughts on this, I remember that it gave me a chance to reflect deeply on the differences in our values.
There were no expectations or requirements, such as submitting reports or assignments, and we were allowed to talk about whatever we wanted, so I always felt relaxed during our meetings.
Same for me. I think the atmosphere was quite casual for discussing and considering issues, and I could be myself—just another participant—without much concern about my role as a senior employee. Since we both enjoyed golf, we hit it off and later had a great time playing a round together.
—Did you come to any special realizations in the course of the one-year program?
I feel that I’ve gotten better at dealing with the concerns and uncertainties of young employees. I’ve learned to listen to them carefully and sometimes think through things with them so they can come up with their own solutions instead of directly telling them what to do.
The relationship wasn’t like in OJT, where I had to guide and lead from a business perspective. Instead, I was able to relate to him empathetically and openly. This was a valuable experience in mutual respect and working together, as I’ll have more junior staff in the future. I think I’ve become more versatile.
Mr. Yamakawa organized golf outings as well after-work get-togethers, where I could talk with senior employees for the first time, and I was really grateful to establish contacts with senior employees from different departments who had worked for different lengths of time at the Company. As there were not any senior employees in my division who had spent as many years at Tokyo Century as I have, I think the most significant benefit of participating in the program was that it enabled me to connect with members of other divisions with whom I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered in my daily work.
Deciding to Continue Participating in the Mentor Program
—How do you want to share your experience as a mentor and mentee, and what are your hopes for the future?
I am participating in the second term of the program as a mentor. Following Mr. Yamakawa’s example, I will try to get closer to the mentee that I’m paired with to build a relationship of mutual respect and trust.
As I got to know the personalities of many employees, I realized once again that the Tokyo Century corporate culture is about watching over and encouraging employees rather than putting the brakes on their challenges. So I want to approach everything positively and not pass judgements based on preconceptions.
I tend to openly express my emotions, both at work and in private, and I often firmly state my intentions without hesitation, even to those above me at the Company, and sometimes I regret that I may have said too much. However, my seniors accept and respect the positive aspects of my personality, and I feel this is part of Tokyo Century’s corporate culture.
I have adopted an attitude of mutual respect through this program. I want to apply this to help as many employees as possible to work in an open workplace where everyone can share their thoughts and to pass on this culture to them. I want to work toward establishing a vibrant workplace where employees can honestly exchange opinions regardless of their career path or position, with the hope of becoming someone who can promote the growth of those around me as well as my own.
Equipment Leasing Strategic Planning Division, Equipment Leasing Business Development Unit & Business Advisory Division, Equipment Leasing Support Unit, Equipment Leasing
Joined the Company in 2015 as a mid-career employee after working for a foreign financial institution. He has been in charge of sales support and organizational development in the Equipment Leasing Strategic Planning Division of the Equipment Leasing Business Development Unit. In 2020, he obtained a career consultant certification and has been in charge of the mentor program from launch to operation.
IT Equipment Business Division II, Corporate Business Unit III, Equipment Leasing
Joined the Company in 2016 and was assigned to the Financial Products Division in the Specialty Financing segment as a new graduate, where he was engaged in JOL sales. In 2020, he was transferred to his current division, where he is responsible for cultivating collaborations with major Japanese IT vendors and expanding sales, and he works with passion, sometimes bouncing frank opinions off his coworkers.
Corporate Business Division I, Corporate Business Unit I, Equipment Leasing
Joined the Company in 2021. He has been mainly in charge of major manufacturing companies in the Corporate Business Division I and involved in leasing business, proposing solutions for factories, and developing cooperative relationships with companies and partners. When not at work, he is a power hitter on a baseball team.