Interview with Takayo Takamuro, the Managing Director of Telehouse Europe
Not so long ago, few women held executive roles in Japanese companies. Still fewer had the opportunity to work overseas. Our interviewee today is a trailblazer in both contexts. She is Takayo Takamuro, Managing Director of Telehouse Europe. Here she relates how it was for her and offers encouragement to women pursuing careers in the tech sector.
It’s an honour to meet you, Ms Takamuro! Thank you for spending this time with us. Would you tell our readers a little bit about where your interest in the telecommunications industry started?
I completed my degree in sociology from Keio University in 1995 and, even though I didn’t have a technology background, it was clear that this was a very exciting time for telecommunications. The business environment was changing dramatically and lots of new markets and opportunities were presenting themselves. For me, it was much more attractive to join a new telecommunications company than go into a legacy industry, because it was more dynamic and challenging. It seemed to offer a much brighter future to a new graduate and I was hungry to learn! Given the growth in the Internet and digital services, the industry is even more dynamic and challenging than anyone could have imagined.
I really enjoyed working in the telecoms industry and working closely with multinational customers. During this time, I realised my customers in Europe or the US were very familiar with the Telehouse name, rather than KDDI. This inspired my interest in the data centre sector and is what made me want to work at Telehouse.
You’ve been working in the telecommunications industry since 1995 with KDDI, until finally joining the team at Telehouse in 2004, where you now hold the position of Managing Director. What have you learned most about yourself since then?
One of the most important traits I have discovered is that you must be prepared to keep learning and keep communicating with people. When I started my career, I didn’t know anything about telecommunications or the data centre industry. I had to learn everything about it, and continually learn, through communicating with colleagues and management. This hunger to learn has been a great asset for me.
In 2007 I left Telehouse Europe to return to the Japanese headquarters and work for an executive board member for one year. Throughout this time, I attended every meeting with the board member, supporting them. This experience was very important as it was an opportunity to gain a wider view of the company. It allowed me to learn the company’s direction and responsibilities, not only for Japan but also our customers globally. It was an incredible opportunity to learn something different – how to manage the company as a board member.
Why did you think moving globally was necessary for your career progression at that time?
I must touch upon the culture and gender gap in Japan. Even just a few years ago, it was not normal for women to hold executive-level roles in Japanese companies. When I was starting my career, over 70 per cent of KDDI’s (Telehouse’s parent company) revenue was domestic, so naturally most people in the company were working in Japan. I felt I needed to create a uniqueness for myself, something that would make me stand out, which meant focusing on the global business. Traditionally there was no opportunity for women to work overseas with a Japanese company, because only men were considered for such roles. In fact, I was the first woman at KDDI to get an overseas position and so, in a way, I was a test case, to see whether a woman could do a good job.
However, the culture is changing, something I can see when I return to Japan. Recently, against the background of changing demographics in Japan, women are being encouraged to take up more leadership positions. The government would like more women to join the enterprise workplace, and society is becoming more understanding of this. It is a trend in Japan and also at KDDI.
Did your experience in Japan prepare you for the Western corporate culture?
There is a difference between Japanese and Western cultures, and sometimes it’s a little difficult to understand but, at the same time, I really enjoy it. The team at Telehouse Europe helped me to adapt and are always very kind and supportive to me. When I was still in Japan I worked in sales, working closely with clients such as Google and Microsoft, along with major carriers who used our network to establish their own operations in Japan, so I had the chance to learn about Western corporate culture during this time.
In general, I have a sense of freedom working abroad. Usually people are quite shy in Japan, women even more so. Women were not always encouraged to speak up in meetings for example, and so often they would be more reserved. I want to say to other women, “Don’t be shy, and don’t hesitate!”
Looking back on it now, did you feel the move from Japan to Europe was essential? Would you still have made the same decision knowing what you know now?
Working at Telehouse is a great highlight for me and for my career. I wanted to work abroad because I was heavily involved in the global business. Some time ago, I had a meeting with my line manager and I said that if I ever have the chance to work abroad, I would like to take it. But I wasn’t certain that this dream would come true, because at the time women were not given positions like mine.
I think moving from Japan to Europe was an important decision, not only for me, but for other women in the company, too. Of course, it is a big sacrifice and a great commitment to move from one country to another, but my husband and family supported my decision. Not long afterwards, other women, colleagues from Japan, also took positions abroad. Of course, I do not regret the sacrifices I have made and I would make the same decision again. I am very happy to be leading Telehouse Europe and it really is a great honour for me to be here.
The telecoms industry, or tech in general, is still a very male-dominated industry. I can imagine this layer of adversity was equally tough to navigate along with everything else. What did you initially think of it? What do you think of it now?
When I began my career in sales, I tried to not be discouraged and accepted the challenge of not having many female colleagues. Slowly, more and more women have started to see sales as a good starting point to begin a career in technology.
Yes, the technology sector is still male-dominated, but this will change. We are heading in the right direction. Women now entering the telecommunications industry and working in data centres are helping to challenge this perception and, in turn, reshape the industry. The culture is changing and I’m really excited to see what the future holds.
You talk about not having female mentors during your time. In your opinion, how crucial is mentorship for young women in tech? Could you have benefited from a similar apprenticeship when you first started?
I have never had a dedicated mentor in the formal sense, although I have always been supported by my colleagues, line managers, and directors. I have constantly tried to pick up ideas from the people around me that I can put into practice, and which fit me as a person. One piece of advice that stayed with me was during a conversation with a manager. He told me, “To enjoy your life, you have two options: either keep things the same, or make things happen.” I have always chosen the path of making things happen and accepting new challenges. This is how I choose to enjoy life, and this is certainly the path of Telehouse as well.
If you could offer one piece of advice to aspiring women looking to accelerate their careers in tech, what would it be?
Some of the best experiences I have had in tech have come from being out of my comfort zone, so I would encourage women to embrace this challenge. For those that may not have a technology background, my advice would be to get out from behind the computer screen and take every opportunity to get on-site, for example in a data centre.
In order to increase your knowledge, you need to meet technical people, learn about what happens first hand, what the requirements are, and what’s important for the business. This is what I encourage at Telehouse. I mentioned that my degree was in sociology, so I would say to other women that just because you don’t have a tech background, that doesn’t mean tech isn’t for you. Always have a mindset of being prepared to learn!
Takayo Takamuro was appointed to the role of Managing Director in October 2022, after having previously held the role of Deputy Managing Director. Takayo is responsible for the leadership and development of Telehouse Europe, including staff welfare, client satisfaction, and the company’s ongoing sustainability efforts.
Takayo has over 25 years’ experience in the data centre industry, joining Telehouse in 2021 from parent company KDDI, a Japanese telecommunications provider. She started her career in the telecoms industry in 1995, before moving on to lead global sales and business development for major manufacturers and finance companies.