Karen Wenk-Jordan

Karen Wenk-JordanOccupation:
President, Wenk-Jordan and Company, International Financial Strategists Management Consultants.
Time in Japan:
Fourteen years

What do you do?
I have my own company, a financial consulting company, although I wouldn' necessarily call myself an investment advisor, it's more like liaison. We deal with very high net-worth Japanese investors but we have foreign clients too-they keep our sanity. Clients come to us and we determine what they want and then I tell them what's available. I'm like an omiai, but a financial omiai instead of a marriage one.

What brought you to Japan?

Well, I have a background in computer sciences and I used to work for a company called Rolm putting in communications systems trading floors. Then Citibank "borrowed" me because I had experience with their systems and they were just about to establish their electronic banking global network. They had divided the world up into five easy pieces and they gave me Asia. Then, when I finished, I went back to Rolm and they sent me out here. On the plane to Japan, IBM's acquisition of Rolm was announced and so I arrived here an IBM employee. I became the only female marketing person in IBM Japan, and probably one of the only female bucho (section chiefs) in Tokyo. Apart from a two-and-a-half-year stint in Nice, I've been here ever since.

What kind of changes have you seen over the years?
When I first came here there were very few foreign businesswomen; I would walk down the street and the Japanese businessmen would stop on the sidewalk and just stare. Also there was hardly anything around in English. That didn't happen until the IBM "invasion" in 1985 when 486 foreign families hit the streets and subways of Tokyo. The municipal authorities learned fast to put signs up to prevent all these foreigners harassing people on the streets.

What do you like most about living in Japan?
I guess some of the standard answers are things like safety, especially for women. I've seen that change a bit over the past few years but it's still much safer than it is elsewhere. I like the politeness and the cleanliness and that day-to-day living is so amicable-people seem to take the time to interact.

What do you dislike most?
That there are always 5000 people in front of me and 5000 people behind me. That you have to work so hard to have a good time. People often ask me how I'm treated by Japanese men, but I think I've been very lucky in that. I don't think that Japanese men treat Japanese women very well at all, but because I'm a foreign woman and I'm dealing in international things, it hasn't been that difficult at all.

What's the strangest thing you've seen in Japan?
There was this time, I think it was 1985 or 1986, we had a considerable snowstorm and I took a taxi over to the Okura Hotel. On the side of the hotel there's a slope and there was this guy there trying to clear the snow with a hose. So it's freezing cold, there's ice everywhere, it's snowing and all these taxis are coming down the hill sideways, slipping on the newly-created ice.

If you could take one item back to your native country, what would it be?
An ofuro. I think they are just wonderful. A nice hot, bubbling bath, just lying there with the's like civilization and luxury in one. I like that.

Do you have a favorite place to eat and drink in Tokyo?
You know, an area where I think that Tokyo and New York are pretty much on par is restaurants. So it depends what kind of food I would be eating. If I was going out for Italian, it would be to Elios over in Kojimachi; if it was to a Japanese restaurant, it would be Kushihashi, which is like a gourmet yakitori place right in the middle of Roppongi; for something simple there's a kushikatsu place in my old neighborhood that I love.

You're stuck on the Yamanote line for eternity and you can take one book, one CD and one luxury item, what would they be?
Well, a book I've just read, and one I would read again if I had the time, is Numbered Account by Christopher Reich. It's one great mystery with murder and intrigue in the international finance industry. That could keep me going for a while. Choosing one CD is really tough; I like so many different types of music. I like C?line Dion, I like Streisand but I also like classical stuff. That's really difficult. For a luxury item I'd take a laptop with an Internet connection or one of those massage chairs.

Do you plan to stay in Japan?
I don't plan to die here and I don't plan to retire here, but then again I don't plan to retire for a while. If my business keeps going the way that it is, then I may be able to get into a position where I spend three or four months of the year here and the rest in the US and Europe. With communications the way they are now, I wouldn't have to be here all the time. That's what I'd like to do eventually.

Wenk-Jordan and Company can be contacted at 3457-9045.

Karen Wenk-Jordan spoke to Richard James.

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