Equipment Leasing and Finance Association - Equiping Business for Success

Ask a Leader: Interview with Kara Miyasato

Dave Walton

Learning from a Leader: Career Development Advice

Interview with Kara Miyasato, Marketing Director, Stryker Flex Financial


September 2020

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Interview conducted by Garland Brooks, Sr. Advisor Business Enablement & Sales Optimization, Dell Financial Services and edited by Jon Gerson, President, Executive Solutions. Both are members of the ELFA Emerging Talent Advisory Council. Learn more about this interview series.

When did you first join the equipment finance industry and what has been the trajectory of your career?

I joined Stryker in 2007 in an equipment finance role that eventually became part of Stryker’s financial services business, Flex Financial. I’ve held various roles throughout the company, both inside and outside of Flex Financial since. I started in an individual contributor role, moved into people management, took a lateral move into an individual contributor project management role outside of Flex Financial, and then moved back to equipment finance in an upstream marketing role. I’m currently the Director of Marketing for Flex Financial, and my team is responsible for program development, sales training, marketing communications, business analytics and CRM development.

 

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your own professional development? How did you overcome it?

I mentioned earlier that I moved from a people management role to an individual contributor one and making the decision to move was tough. While I enjoyed people management, I was also really interested in managing projects and expanding my network within the company. Moving from people management to an individual contributor can feel like a step back, and I had a great mentor at the time who helped me to understand that careers aren’t really ladders, and even if they were, going from people management to an individual contributor is not a step backward. As long as you’re learning new things and being stretched, then the role is a good development opportunity, regardless of whether you have direct reports or not.

 

When did you first get involved with ELFA and how have you been engaged as a member thus far? How has being a member of ELFA helped your career?

My first engagement with ELFA was when I went to the Annual Convention in 2014. Honestly, looking around, I wondered if I really belonged in equipment finance. At the time, there were very few women, fewer people of color and fewer yet people under 40. I found it really discouraging, but my boss, James Cress, has always pushed me to be the change I want to see, and that means getting involved. So, I joined the Emerging Talent Advisory Council for ELFA soon after and became its Chair two years ago. I also currently serve on ELFA Equality.

The biggest benefit to me has been the networking. Previously, I only knew people at my own company to go to if I ran into challenges, and now there are so many more people I can turn to. There are people in the industry I consider mentors who I can go to when I run into roadblocks. I also have developed strong, enduring friendships.

 

What is the most rewarding risk of your career?

I had a mentor once who told me that each new role you take should be such a stretch that you’re terrified. I’m a fairly risk-averse person, so this advice is tough to follow. I think the biggest risk I’ve taken is going from upstream marketing (program development) to leading the whole marketing department. I don’t have a marketing background, so being responsible for things like communications and events was a big change. Luckily, I have a great team who are experts in their areas, and it has been so rewarding to enable them and see them execute.

 

If you had to pick one, which is more important when considering a hire—a soft or technical background? You can’t pick both, and please include which soft or technical skill is most beneficial to success.

I’d take soft skills all day long. I firmly believe that technical skills can be taught: it’s more important to find someone with a great attitude, who’s willing to work hard, who can influence others and who loves to learn. To me, the most important thing is to be curious: about what your customers are experiencing, about what technological advances are coming down the pipeline, about what processes could be improved to create a better experience. Whatever your job is, there are questions that haven’t been answered, and being excited to investigate those questions then apply the answers to the role will take you far.

 

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to someone just entering the industry?

  1. Now is the time to take risks. Try out new roles and functions: figure out what you’re good at and what motivates you. If something isn’t a fit for you, move on.
  2. Surround yourself with a diverse group of people you can go to for advice: inside and outside of your function and company, at various points in their careers, people who come from very different backgrounds, some who have similar styles to you and others who are totally different.
  3. Even if you’re new in your career, don’t be afraid to speak up. I’ve always been passionate about diversity & inclusion, primarily driven by my experiences as a woman of color, but that passion doesn’t mean anything if I don’t do anything with it. That means speaking up if I see something not right and actively advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion.

 

Given that the ELFA recently updated its mission statement and strategic plan to affirm its commitment to diversity and inclusion, can you give some perspective on what your organization has done or is doing to promote diversity and inclusion?

I’ve been proud of the work Stryker has done over the years and how we don’t tolerate discrimination or injustice. We have embedded inclusive leadership behaviors into the expectations we have for all Stryker leaders, we provide ongoing unconscious bias training globally, and we drive engagement through employee resource groups (ERGs) such as the Stryker African American Network and SAFE (which champions LGBTA authenticity at work). I love that our CEO and management team actively participate in ERG education programs and activities. Personally, I’ve gotten a lot of out the Stryker Women’s Network, and I’ve participated directly as the VP, Development on its Global Steering Committee, advocating for the accelerated growth of women at Stryker.

I see this dedication to diversity and inclusion first-hand: at Flex Financial, our leadership team is the most racially diverse team I’ve been on, and we regularly have candid conversations about what else we can do bring in the best talent and foster an inclusive environment.

Given the current national conversations about racial injustice, we held “Days of Understanding” in which we facilitated dialogues with ERGs with the goal to continue to build a more inclusive culture. I’m glad that we’re having frank conversations globally about what more we can do.