Reporter: Minako Kawasaki
June 16 2015
On 16 June, one Australian woman spoke about her history with Japan. Wendy Holdenson is the Executive Vice President of Mitsui Australia. Mitsui & Co is the world’s most diversified trading company, with an established business going back more than 135 years. The company established their first office in Australia in 1901. They exported Australian wool, grains, and metals and imported commodities such as fabric, jute and timber into Japan. In Japan, Mitsui is well known and highly regarded, being one of the most sought after companies by new university graduate applying for jobs.
Wendy Holdenson has had a stellar career both in her role as Executive VP of Mitsui Australia and in the years leading up to it, but her presentation unexpectedly began with a story of how her association with Japan started by accident. She explained how at 16, her father said she was too young to go to university. Instead Wendy went on a one-year exchange to a rural village near Tsuruoka in Yamagata, which is an area of heavy snowfall in Japan. What’s more, her host family had four generations living together and ran the local funeral parlour. She spent the year at an agricultural high school. But without any language, she spent much of her time planting rice seedlings in muddy paddies in spring, manually harvesting the crop in autumn, and making rice cakes during the long winter.
Several years later after university, she started work at Mainichi Shimbun, a famous newspaper company in Japan. At this time in 1981 she wrote a book called 「女は仕事を辞めてはいけない(“Woman, don’t leave your post”)」. Her book was a best seller that was often used as a sort of manual for companies in how they approached their female staff and is still found in libraries in Japanese universities across the country. In 2009, Wendy was appointed Australian Consul-General in Fukuoka for four years, a city where the parent companies of restaurant chains ‘ramen brasserie IPPUDO’ and ‘Japanese teishoku restaurant YAYOI’ are based. In Fukuoka Wendy worked with these companies to assist in their efforts to expand their businesses into Australia.
Wendy also spoke about how she has been heavily involved in the aged care industry and how in her previous work she visited numerous aged care facilities in Japan to observe best practice and compare it with similar institutions in Australia.
Near the end of her speech, Wendy spoke about the importance of supporting younger generations and announced a project Mitsui was running to help talented young people. She explained how Mitsui is running an internship program to help students build professional connections, gain industry relevant experience, develop language skills and immerse them in Japanese culture. The program has been developed in conjunction with the Australian Government as part of the New Colombo Plan. Then Wendy introduced several young people in the audience and reiterated her commitment to supporting those that wished to learn about Japan. I believe her message was very positive and will resonate strongly with the young people who will in the future help further strengthen the Australia Japan relationship.
Previous Event Reports :
2015 University Awards - May 2015
Rugby World Cup 2019 - Nov. 2014
Food Safety and Security - JAEPA July 2014
Tohoku - 3 Years On - March 2014
Nikkei Australians- November 2013