Govida's Asia Head on the importance of form over results, doing your best in the moment, and learning from the wisdom of the past.
Jérôme Chouchan is the Managing Director of Godiva Chocolatier for Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, India, Australia, and New Zealand. He has extensive management experience in Japan and Asia, having worked for premium global brands such as Lacoste, Hennessy and Lladrro. He has a master’s degree in management from the Grand Ecole HEC Paris. Jerome has also practiced Kyudo in Japan for over 25 years, and holds a Kyudo Renshi (instructor’s license) and a 5th dan degree. He is a Board Director of the Kyudo International Federation, the body governing the development of Kyudo globally. He published his first book Target in Japanese in 2016, now also available in English from Lid Publishing as of earlier this year.
How would you summarise yourself in one sentence?
I am always looking for the new, while respecting the past.
What's the most exciting thing happening in your life right now?
Receiving people’s comments and feedback on my book “Target”, which was recently published in English and launched in New York and London.
Which figures (historic or present, public or private) played the most important influence in your life so far?
There is a unique 20th century French philosopher called René Guénon, who wrote extensively about the perennial wisdom to be found in sacred traditions and religions, and whom I believe was way ahead of his time. He has had a strong influence on my thinking, in terms of learning the universal principles of wisdom from authentic traditions, and applying them in the circumstances of today’s modern world.
What's been the biggest failure or mistake you've experienced in life or work so far? What did you learn?
Four or five years after I first came to Japan, I was in my late twenties and working for the French Mint. A senior executive at one of our local Japanese distributors came to me with a proposal to start up a business together. Excited by my first real chance to do something entrepreneurial, I agreed, and invested my own money into the partnership. On our first day of business, we discussed our plans with our French headquarters – upon which my partner suddenly changed his tune and told them he would lead the business and be the decision maker – and that my role would simply be a liaison officer with head office.
I felt completely betrayed, of course – my dreams of an entrepreneurial partnership in tatters from day one. When I told headquarters about my situation, they just told me to be patient and that things would improve. So I agreed, and stayed on for what turned into the three most miserable years of my career, during which my partner took complete control of the business.
I learned two very important career lessons from this experience. First, before entering into any partnership, make sure to gain complete clarify around expectations, roles, and responsibilities on both sides. And second, most importantly, have the courage to speak up, and to put your foot down when enough is enough. Don’t just be a “yes man”. Be brave enough to say what you think – even if you are afraid of losing something.
Looking back, what key pieces of advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
I would tell myself to spend more time with my children when they are growing up. It is all too easy to get wrapped up in your work and busy with your career – and by the time you know it, your kids will be adults and the precious moments of their childhood will already have passed you by.
What key values do you live by?
Authenticity and unicity. Each of us, when we are our being true authentic selves, can come together to form a unit and contribute as one greater force. It’s when we try to be something or someone we are not, that things become superficial and fall apart.
Additionally, to always do your best no matter what you are doing. Regardless of how talented or capable you are, if you always do your best there’s nothing more you can do, and nothing else that matters. The result is not in your control, it is the reward for doing the right thing.
What keeps you up at night?
Sometimes, mundane business matters when things are not going quite as you might have wished – but we learn to live with such things. At other times, it’s thinking about my sons, both of whom are in their twenties and living overseas, and starting to experience their own ups and downs of life’s adventures.
What keeps you motivated when the going gets tough?
Putting things in perspective, and focusing on what I am learning as well as the opportunity to get better. Also, bringing myself back to the question of why I’m doing what I’m doing, which helps remind me of its value. There’s passage in the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scriptures) which essentially teaches us that we should not perform our actions with the desire of the fruit of action. We should focus on the right action as our duty, without worrying about the result. Reminding myself of this helps me to stay motivated, and to detach from any anxiety about the outcome.
What are your morning rituals for getting a great day going?
My ideal way to start the day is to wake up early, head into my garden, and shoot 3 or 4 arrows into the “makiwara” – a traditional straw target. This requires you to do very precise movements using your whole body, standing up straight with good posture, and focusing your energy. This helps to clear my mind for a new day.
Where do you have your most "A-ha" moments?
Often when having a casual chat with someone outside of a work context, unexpected insights or words can suddenly pop-up into view that somehow make things click, or give new life to an idea. That’s why I always encourage others to use opportunities to connect with different people in different situations, as unexpected inspiration can come from the most unexpected moments.
How do you energize outside of your work?
I can usually be found practicing Kyudo on the weekends. Otherwise, I also enjoy unwinding by watching a good movie, and going to onsen with my wife – our favourite spot is Yugawara.
What's your biggest vice?
Enjoying good food and nice wine – although I try to resist doing so too much!
What are the best reads you've had lately?
Let my People go Surfing – The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, by Yyvon Chouinard (Founder, Patagonia)
The Bhagavad Gita (Hindu scriptures)
The Practice of Management, by Peter F. Drucker
Top movie of all time?
The Passenger, by Michelangelo Antonioni.
Favourite cartoon character growing up?
Lucky Luke – the Western comic series originally created by Belgian cartoonist Morris. Lucky Luke is a cowboy and gunslinger who’s always fighting against the bad guys, leading a life full of action while always keeping his great sense of humour. His slogan – “The man who shoots faster than his shadow” – has stayed with me since childhood.
What's on heavy rotation at home right now?
Léo Ferré and Supertramp.
Favourite travel destination?
Dordogne in South-West France, where I’m currently renovating a house.
Top bucket list travel destinations?
The Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia (where Paul Gauguin spent his final years).
What will you be doing post-retirement?
Practising Kyudo, and writing – especially about what we can learn from ancient wisdom and tradition that can be applied to modern business.
And to close with, your favourite quote?
“Right-minded shooting will always result in a hit”. I have the Japanese calligraphy for this framed on my office desk. In essence, this means you shouldn’t focus your energy on hitting the target, but on what is inside you – your mind-set, and your form. If you do this well, you can be confident the results will follow.
“Let not the fruit of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction”, from the Bhagavad Gita. These days, especially in business, we get so obsessed trying to drive performance and achieve results, that we forget to focus on the essential: our duty to do the right thing for the consumer, the employee, and society as a whole.