Jenni Sparks

Business - March 6th, 2009
Jenni_Sparks

CFO of AIG Edison Life

with Poppy Calvert

“Japan is really a generalist society and there isn’t the same kind of value

attributed to “professionals” here that you get in other countries”

Jenni is the CFO of AIG Edison Life. She came from Australia to Japan over a decade ago with many years of professional experience in the insurance industry (and her family in tow!) and has since remained working in her area of expertise here in Tokyo.

How long have you been in Japan?

I initially came here from Australia back when I was eighteen. I stayed with six different families in the Chiba prefecture during a twelve-month exchange program. The normal thing was to stay with one family for the whole exchange but I was the first foreigner that many of them had ever seen and they all wanted me to stay with them.

It was such a fantastic and positive experience that I was determined to come back as soon as possible so I came back with my two children and husband eleven years ago.

How did you get to your position?

It was natural to apply to reinsurance companies. As a foreigner and a reinsurer, I became known to many people in the insurance industry.

So one job led to another, I met a lot of people, and eventually joined AIG. I’d been working in the insurance industry for a very long time, so with my experience, Japanese language capabilities, and my actuarial qualification AIG were happy to offer me the job as CFO here in Japan.

What are the Japan-specific challenges you face on a day-to-day basis?

The challenges I have here are not necessarily Japan-specific but they are specific to the role that I have come to play over the last eleven years. The biggest challenge for me is creating a good work/life balance as there is insufficient time in any day to achieve all I want to gel done. Work does lend to overtake my life and now that the children have left home I am thinking that I wish I had had more time with the family.

Even though it has been tough and challenging here in Japan it really has been a wonderful life. We had planned from a long time prior that we were going to move to Japan, so it was a very positive move for us. I think unfortunately for a lot of people moving to Japan is either something they’re told to do for the good of their career or they come with a lot of trepidation and while they might enjoy it they are not free to take hold of everything they really could here. The language is certainly part of it; if you don’t speak the language it really tempers your experience and makes it so much more difficult to take advantage of all the things on oiler here.

What advice would you give to aspiring professionals here?

I would certainly say get a qualification. The way people have worked within companies in Japan for a very long time has been to work within lots of different departments in order to get a broad understanding. Japan is really a generalist society and there isn’t the same kind of value attributed to “professionals” here that you get in other countries. Whilst I think getting a broad impression of all areas of a company is valuable, I also strongly believe in a need for professionals, particularly in finance and business-related areas.

One of the strengths of Japan is working as part of a team and that’s true of professionals too. So have your professional qualifications but stay part of a team and value the people around you.

What do you do for fun here in Japan?

Well we’ve got a Harley Davidson, which we love to ride. I’m actually too timid to get a license and ride up at the front but I completely enjoy sitting on the back like lady muck with my husband doing all of the work. You can’t think about work at all whilst you’re on it, it’s totally relaxing.

We recently bought and completely renovated a house in the country, near Minakami. It’s a wonderful place on a river, surrounded by ski resorts. In Tokyo we only have a small apartment as our base for the weekdays. We go to the country house every Friday night, straight from work on the shinkansen (bullet train), and leave for work again on the Monday morning!