Satoshi Kawata, Chairman and CEO of Nanophoton, has two secretaries, Ai Shimode and Nobune Toba. Both of them have been his secretaries since he was a professor at Osaka University; Ms. Shimode was hired 20 years ago and Ms. Toba 10 years ago. How do they see Chairman Kawata in their eyes? We asked them straight out. (Email Newsletter editor-in-chief / freelance writer Takeshi Nemoto)
—When Ms. Shimode became secretary in 2001, Chairman Kawata was a professor of applied physics at the Faculty of Engineering, Osaka University. What did you do before you became a secretary?
Shimode I was in charge of dealing with English speaking customers at a Mac customer support center. It was really depressing to hear so many complaints over the phone every day. Just when I was thinking, “I can’t go on like this ……,” I read in the newspaper Japan Times that there was an opening for a secretary in the Kawata Laboratory at Osaka University.
—So the advertisement was in English!
Shimode That’s right. Dr. Kawata was looking for someone who could speak English. English is one of my strong points. So, when I went to the interview after my application was accepted, all the computers in Kawata’s lab were Macs. I think I came in handy in that respect as well.
Initially, I worked part-time three times a week, but just around that time, my main secretary decided to retire, and I started working full-time.
—What was your impression of the lab?
Shimode I’ve been working in a company for a long time, so working at a university was a new experience for me. There was a free atmosphere because we were not chasing numbers like a company. Research is a dream come true, isn’t it? The professor was on a roll, and it was more fun than when I was at company.
—What kind of work did you do as a secretary?
Shimode There were always five or six secretaries in the secretarial office, and I was in charge of managing his schedule, making travel arrangements, and dealing with visitors. He was very busy with many requests for writings, lectures, and media interviews, and from 2002, he was also a senior researcher at RIKEN, founded Nanophoton in 2003, was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for his microscopic cow in 2004, and received the Medal with Purple Ribbon in 2007. …….
— The Guinness Book of World Records is the world’s smallest sculpture made with lasers.
Shimode That’s right. This is it.
— What was it like when Nanophoton was founded?
Shimode I wasn’t involved in the start-up of Nanophoton. The professor likes to start new things and it was fun to watch him.
— Ms. Toba, you started in 2011. How did that come about?
Toba I was a secretary in the office of the Dean of the Graduate School of Engineering. When I was looking for a new job after my term of office expired, I happened to find an opening for a secretary at the Osaka University Photonics Center, where Professor Kawata was the director. Dr. Kawada was coming for a meeting with the Dean of the Graduate School of Engineering on the same day, and when he passed by the secretary’s office, I thought, “Now is the time,” and approached him. It was very good timing. It was fate. Even before that, he had approached me when he came to the Dean’s office, so I had the impression that he was a very friendly and easy to talk to professor.
— What kind of person is Professor Kawata?
Shimode He is not just a scientist. He is so diverse that I always wonder what’s going on inside his head. He has always said that he would like to open a sushi restaurant, and I think he might actually do it someday. I would love to eat the sushi that he makes.
Toba He is a very busy man. At the time I was hired, he was on a two-month sabbatical at Stanford University, and we communicated with each other every day via videophone. Before COVID-19 pandemic, he traveled a lot, both domestically and internationally, and when he entered a meeting, he would talk for hours on end, very energetic.
— You’ve been so busy for so long, you haven’t had time to breathe?
Shimode That’s right. Now that he can’t travel due to COVID-19 pandemic like before. If it weren’t for pandemic, he’d probably be running all the time. But on the other hand, when he has a day off, he catches a cold. So I think the current situation is not good. If the pandemic does not end soon, his health will not be maintained.
Toba I can’t imagine he takes a rest. Even though he is busy, he takes good care of his health. When he was at Osaka University, he used to walk 5km one way to work, and after moving to his current office, he still walks 5km round trip. He also goes to the gym once a week for personal training.
— Let’s talk about nanophoton.
Toba But we’re both new. I start in April 2019, and Ms. Shimode starts in January 2020. We are two people who are trying something new.
Shimode Ms. Toba is in charge of general affairs related to Nanophoton, such as labor, accounting, and recruitment contact, and also manages the chairman’s schedule. She receives domestic e-mails at the same time as the chairman, and support domestic meetings, lectures, and conferences. I think she is quite busy.
Toba Ms. Shimode now attends Nanophoton’s board of directors meetings and management meetings, preparing the minutes, and publishing them within the company. She also handles English e-mails addressed to the Chairman in parallel with the Chairman, and supports him in his overseas lectures and writings, as well as work related to international conferences such as the Optical Society of America, of which Chairman Kawata is the Vice President.
Shimode In one of his interviews, he once said, “I still come up with ideas. He said that even when he was asleep, if an idea came to him, he would take a note of it on the spot. I think that’s probably still the case, and he has a lot of things he wants to do. He is now pouring all his passion into Nanophoton. I think Nanophoton is a factory for him to realize his dreams.