June 2014 FEW Meeting Recap: Recap: Developing Corporate Meaning – The Road to Building Global Appeal, Engagement, and Obtaining a Seat at the Executive Table

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Recap: “Developing Corporate ‘Meaning’: The Road to Building Global Appeal, Engagement, and Obtaining a Seat at the Executive Table”
FEW Meeting June 11, 2014
Speaker: Vikki Bolam

By Christina Hanazawa-Gallagher, Vice President of FEW

Creating Brand Value Through Storytelling

After 23 years in Japan working as a business consultant, UK native, Vikki Bolam, Global Director, Created Shared Value Division at LIXIL Corporation, is now focused on helping her company communicate its message through powerful storytelling.

“When people communicate in Japan, it is all about facts, but I feel we lose sight of the exciting story behind it,” said Vikki, who gave FEW’s June meeting talk, “Developing Corporate Meaning: The Road to Building Global Appeal, Engagement, and Obtaining a Seat at the Executive Table.”

Part of the new story involves helping customers to understand the LIXIL brand, which has recently undergone a series of company restructuring and expansion.

Eighteen months ago, when she started at LIXIL, she had no budget, nor a specific product to launch, but creativity came through. “I thought I could use CSR to launch the brand,” said Vikki.

Since toilets are one of LIXIL’s top selling products, Vikki said, “I was eager to give toilets rather than money. I was committing to a process, but if we were helping we had to get our hands dirty and had to learn about the business.”

After spearheading a partnership with UNICEF, Bolam and her team helped LIXIL to launch ISIS (Improved Sanitation for Schools), which aims to provide 2,000,000 school children globally by 2018 with better sanitation options and hygiene education. Better sanitation facilities equals lower dropout rates among girls, who are often shunned or teased when their monthly periods come.

“(When I heard this) It was the first time it hit me that we were really living in a male-dominated society because who else would stigmatize what gave us birth?”

“I wanted to make girls feel like this is their story and help girls in poorer areas feel empowered.”

The first project was launched in Kenya, with others to follow in China, Indonesia and the Philippines, and provides composting toilets to around 400 school children who previously had no access to a toilet on school grounds.

Building toilets in a previously untapped market could also make business sense. By increasing corporate value of the brand, CSR activities become more sustainable and can possibly create a shared value between business and doing good. This makes not only moral sense, but also a fiscal one as well. Within the year, LIXIL hopes to establish a sales route in the Kenyan market.

Although LIXIL has subsidiaries outside of Japan, Vikki, feels there is still more work to do. “I don’t work for a global company; I work for a non-Japan company.”

Getting around the consensus building style of reaching a decision in Japan has actually encouraged her to use her “foreignness” to her advantage. It’s not easy though when 80% of the brand’s market and ideology is still Japan-based.

“The HR system in Japan encourages mediocrity. If you put yourself out there, you get knocked for it,” she said. “In Japan, I am a foreigner first. I have never felt I was a woman. (This means) I either do what I really want to do or I am not staying around. This has given me the confidence to push for what I want to do.”

“I want to bring CSR and brand value all together into a bigger story, “ Vikki said. “Employees and customers are looking for meaning…Storytelling is leadership, visionary, aspirational and exciting.”

Her leadership style has enabled Vikki to become one of only a handful of women (and only non-Japanese) out of 35,000 employees to be in an executive management role at LIXIL.

Lixil World Toilet Day Video 2013

Speaker: Vikki Bolam
Global Director – CSV (Creating Shared Value) at LIXIL Corporation : Lixil Corporation