In this second part of our interview with Professor Asuka Takaoka, we discuss her doctoral thesis research, how she balanced her DBA studies, work, personal commitments; and what she learned from her DBA at Hitotsubashi ICS. (Read part 1 of this blogpost here)
Could you please share with us about your DBA dissertation?
How did you define your research topic?
For my doctoral dissertation, I analyzed Japanese companies' frauds over the past 10 years, identifying the qualitative and quantitative reasons. For the quantitative analysis, I used a fraud database, board composition data, and several financial data at the time of the fraud. Based on those, I studied if there was a relationship between the characteristics of the board of directors and the frauds. For my qualitative analysis, I tried to identify the root cause of these frauds, analyzing the background behind the numbers particularly the unhealthy power balance that happened in the fraud organizations.
However, when I started the program, I had aimed at researching the differences in qualities between startup CEOs and CEOs of large corporations. I did some quantitative research on this topic, but the results were not very significant. Unfortunately, it took me a couple of years, so my recommendation to future candidates would be, the earlier you realize your data's virility, the faster you can move on.
Consequently, I changed the topic to an analysis of root causes of corporate fraud in Japan, which was also related to my work. Moreover, research on fraud in Japan was still in its infancy, and frauds were increasing in society, so I thought it was a worthwhile topic to tackle.
How did you source the data for your dissertation?
A doctoral dissertation requires an analysis based on really rich data, so it is essential to have the data available. So, when selecting your research topic, you must also assess if the availability of the data required. I used several specialized databases for my research, including corporate fraud databases and financial performance databases.
Also, Professor Ono Hiroshi, who was on the committee for my doctoral dissertation, gave me access to some of the data that he had used in his research, which was most helpful. Otherwise, I would have had to manually collect ten years' worth of data on 9,000 companies, which would have been very difficult. I purchased other data myself and utilized Hitotsubashi ICS databases, so, fortunately, this was not such a big challenge for me.
How was the writing process for you?
Writing a doctoral dissertation is the last part of the DBA program. Most of the students who drop out do so during this final phase albeit having earned all the credits.
Of course, your thesis supervisor gives you suggestions and support for your research. However, in the final part, processing the data, analyzing the results, and reaching the research's conclusion, one must do it independently.
As I embarked on writing my thesis, Prof. Ono told me, "A doctoral dissertation will not be accepted as a doctoral thesis unless it has enough content to make three books or three articles." You must select a research topic you are genuinely interested in, as you will continually work on it. If it is not something that naturally attracts your interest, it would be a more challenging road.
Now, we have been meaning to ask you about how you managed to get your DBA while working and raising a family. How did you manage to balance your studies and personal and professional life?
I do not know if I can say I had balance; when I started my DBA, I worked in consulting and was in charge of the Asian region, so I travelled a lot and worked six days a week. I think there was a lot of burdens put on my family. For the first three years of the program (when I was working six days a week), I was immersed in my work and studies. I attended classes once a week, using my vacations to study and earn credits. Actually, during my DBA's fourth year, I was completely immersed in my work, so I cannot say I had balance.
However, I knew that to write my doctoral dissertation, I would need ample time, as a thesis cannot be written in little bits of 30 min time slots. Accordingly, I decided to make a career change aligned with my professional aspirations and was more flexible, so I left my corporate position and become an associate professor where I teach now. This new position allowed me to work on my doctoral thesis, so during the last year of the program, I allocated most of my time to my dissertation.
Many of my classmates in the part-time DBA program are taking a leave of absence for a certain period to write their dissertation. In my opinion, if you know you want to go into academia, I would recommend going full-time. If I were to do another DBA, I would choose to go full-time and plan to complete it in three years.
Looking back, what did you gain the most from the Hitotsubashi ICS DBA program?
I have to say the family-like community at Hitotsubashi ICS. I have nurtured a good relationship with my professors and my classmates, and seniors in the seminar. In the consulting industry, which is a male-dominated industry, it was difficult for me to find a female role model in the real world. At Hitotsubashi ICS, there are many role models in the form of professors and senior students, and I was grateful for the advice they gave me not only about my research but also about my life and career. Looking back, the most important thing for me was cultivating the mindset of "Relentless pursuit of excellence," which is the mindset of continuing to study every day under the guidance of a teacher whom I truly respect.
As you continue to work and grow older, you may feel a sense of risk as if your growth is gradually slowing down while your work becomes more proficient. I was 40 years old when I enrolled in this program, and I am grateful that I was able to think that I could still grow even as I got older and that I was able to learn from scratch again at the age of 40 and gain a new goal in life.
Thank you, Asuka, for sharing with us your experience.
Lastly, we would like to ask you if you have any advice for those considering applying to our DBA program?
It is said that we now have a lifespan of 100 years. There is a long time to live after retirement, so I know many people are reflecting on their careers and considering what to do in the latter half of their life. If a DBA at Hitotsubashi ICS aligns with your ambitions, you should definitely try it.
In the consulting industry that I worked for a long period of my career, people usually work until the age of 50 and pursue a different path after that. I have also seen people who worry about what to do with their lives after retiring. I want my life to be fulfilling beyond the age of 50, and I thought the DBA would be central for that purpose, so I took on the challenge when I turned 40.
In addition, as I mentioned before, this program came with a great asset. It introduced me to mentors and classmates who challenged me, taught me, and whom I deeply respect. No other institution I went to – whether it was my university, graduate school, or workplace provided this kind of community.
It was a tough road to obtain my DBA, but what I was able to accomplish was beyond my studies. This program gave me a lot of confidence in myself. There may be risks involved in choosing to pursue a doctorate program, but if you have a clear reason for it, I highly recommend that you take the leap and take on the challenge.