Mitsuko Tottori’s Inspiring Journey from Cabin Crew to President in Japan Airlines

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Soaring to new heights: Mitsuko Tottori’s journey from cabin crew to president of Japan Airlines began in the aftermath of the airline’s bankruptcy over a decade ago.

Rising from a cabin crew position to the role of Chief Customer Officer, Tottori is set to assume the presidency of JAL in April, marking a significant achievement as one of the few women to helm a major global airline. While other airlines like Qantas, KLM, and Air France have women in leadership roles, they report to a male Group CEO. Tottori’s remarkable climb from the cabin to the boardroom is particularly noteworthy in a country where opportunities for women’s advancement remain limited, reflected in Japan’s status as having the highest gender wage gap among the Group of Seven nations.

“Her journey exemplifies the potential for a woman starting from the lowest rung to ascend to the leadership of a company. It serves as a powerful model for women’s career development in Japanese corporations,” noted Kumiko Nemoto, a professor of management at Senshu University in Tokyo and an author addressing gender inequality. Tottori’s nomination not only signals a shift in Japan Inc but also mirrors JAL’s extensive organizational transformation under industrialist Kazuo Inamori’s guidance following its 2010 bankruptcy.

Inamori, the visionary behind electronics firm Kyocera and mobile operator KDDI, who passed away in 2022, was enlisted by the government to rejuvenate JAL. Revered as the “God of management” in Japan, the ordained Buddhist monk emphasized practical experience and asserted that the carrier had overlooked its customers for too long.

Her appointment serves as evidence that “Inamori’s philosophy of focusing on the frontline still exists at JAL,” remarked a JAL executive. Inamori, critical of hierarchy and blind adherence to rules, promoted a culture where all staff members were urged to assume the mindset of business leaders, the executive added.

Reuters interviewed seven sources from JAL and the industry, all of whom chose not to disclose their identities to freely share information.

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