Partner Bain & Company - Tokyo, Japan
Shintaro Okuno’s career path has been on a fast track. Literally.
Now a partner at global consulting firm Bain & Company, he started life after college working for Central Japan Railway Company, where he drove the country’s famous 200-mph bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka.
“Each train could carry more than 1,300 passengers. We were taught to think of them as individual clients whose needs we were serving from the moment they boarded the train until they got off at their destinations,” Okuno said.
A graduate of Kyoto University, the Osaka native went to work for the railway company because he wanted front-line work experience. After four years there, he joined Bain’s Tokyo office, enrolling at MIT Sloan School of Management in 2007 with the support and encouragement of other alumni who worked at Bain.
“Before I came to MIT, there was for me the initial process of getting acclimated to the ‘American’ way of doing things when I started at Bain,” he said. “Then at school, there was the American style of learning to get used to. Students are much more vocal in American universities. The learning process is much more interactive and participatory.”
Okuno was promoted to partner in January. He is a member of the firm’s Strategy and Mergers & Acquisitions practices, where he helps clients simplify and refocus their business portfolios, rationalize and manage costs, and reallocate resources. He is an expert in turnaround strategy and post-merger integration and has worked in a wide range of industries such as technology, pharmaceuticals, consumer products, automotive, construction, industrial goods and finance.
As an MIT Sloan student, Okuno was part owner and CEO of the student-run company SloanGear, selling MIT Sloan-branded apparel and gifts. At the time, the company’s annual revenue exceeded $120,000. Okuno won the bid to run a business on campus and grew the revenue by four percent despite the economic downturn. As SloanGear tradition goes, he sold the company to other students upon graduation.
“The classes I took provided the all important ‘theory’ framework and background of business concepts that I could then apply to my real world activities,” Okuno said. “Having opportunities like SloanGear and the $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, I could immediately put that learning to work in a real-world setting, which was exactly consistent with MIT’s emphasis on learning by doing.”
Okuno has risen quickly at Bain, but he keeps the lessons learned on the bullet train and at MIT Sloan close by. He works with Bain associates looking to enroll at the School and comes back to the Boston area every year to recruit MIT Sloan students. Students, he said, should “try to soak up as many insights and lessons as possible on business basics, but also participate in all that MIT has to offer outside the classroom.”
And he keeps in touch with his former railway colleagues. “We do much different jobs, but when they talk about what they do at work, I remember where it all started for me, and how client service is really at the heart of it all.”