Tomoko, a Vice President in the Fixed Income Division in our Tokyo office, does not give up easily, whether in her personal life or in her role on the Special Situations Group, analyzing stressed and distressed companies for potential risks and opportunities. She has learned to face challenges requiring great effort, patience and no guarantee of success. Case in point: her weekly visit with a teenager living in a home for abused and neglected children. “My mentee has a learning disability, and when we first started working together, she did not study at home and left most of her answers blank on her tests,” Tomoko says. “The care home told me that I have helped her study more than ever, and I have seen her push herself in ways she didn’t previously.”
Tomoko’s role at Morgan Stanley, analyzing debt purchases for potential risks and opportunities, offers similar challenges on the business side, requiring dedication and persistence—without always knowing if and when success will follow. “Being diligent is important,” she says.
While the job can be stressful, Tomoko always finds time to volunteer and give back to the most vulnerable in her community. At her suggestion, the firm got involved with Mirai no Mori, an organization that creates outdoor experiences for abused, neglected and orphaned children in Japan. Tomoko and her colleagues participated in events with the children, including hiking and touch rugby during our annual Global Volunteer Month. When it comes to giving back, her risk/reward analysis is easy. Volunteering, she says “has only benefits.”
Explain a bit more about your role at Morgan Stanley.
I’m a member of the Special Situations Group. We trade distressed debt and provide liquidity to companies with limited access to capital, including those in the early stages of their development. My role is to perform quantitative and qualitative analysis to understand potential risks and opportunities that may be involved with a deal. After transacting, I continue to manage the positions.
What is your background?
I was born and raised in Japan until I was 10 years old, and then I moved to the U.S. with my mom and sister, primarily for education. I attended the University of Pennsylvania for college and moved back to Tokyo after graduation.
Is there anything that has surprised you about the firm?
I didn’t think too much about my background when I first joined, but my being bilingual and bicultural is valued at Morgan Stanley much more than I ever expected.
Did you ever imagine you would work at an investment bank?
Absolutely not! I don’t even think I’d even heard of the words “special situations” before I got my job at the firm. Unlike many of my peers at the University of Pennsylvania who studied business so that they could go into either finance or consulting, I majored in communications. Working in finance was the last thing I thought I would do. I applied to Morgan Stanley in Japan at the suggestion of a good friend, who interned at an investment bank the year before and really enjoyed it.
How did you learn the nuances of performing your job?
In the beginning, I felt like I didn’t understand anything, so it was quite challenging. But I had a lot of support from a senior colleague, as well as my manager. My team was not only focused on what I could do at the time, but they also took a mid-to-long-term view of my capabilities. They were quite patient with me.
What skills are necessary to excel in your role?
You have to have some imagination to think through all the possible situations a company could face. You want to be open-minded about possibilities and be aware of your inclinations and biases when having a view. There are some things that you can’t learn just by looking at numbers, so understanding context and having the sensitivity to see where the potential value or risks could be is crucial. Being diligent is also important. All of these hard-to-quantify skills make a difference in how we perform.
In addition to your work mentoring a teenager, what ways do you like to give back?
I volunteer regularly, playing piano at a nursing home and visiting patients at a local children’s hospital. Since the pandemic has started, I have been teaching English online to middle school students from low income families. At Morgan Stanley, I’m a member of the Tokyo disABILITY Network, whose mission is to raise awareness of disabilities and foster a supportive and inclusive environment for all individuals.
How have you grown since you joined the firm?
Putting that into words is quite difficult, because I’ve grown in so many ways. From a technical point of view, I’ve gained confidence in what I do. I have become more willing to challenge myself and try to overcome just about any obstacle. This job has even changed my personality in a good way. I understand the fundamental value of things in life now and am focused on what’s most important, instead of being distracted by the superficial things.