Envisioning the AI Age: Interview with Yasuko Kosaihira, CEO of Findability Sciences’ Joint Venture with SoftBank Corp.

Findability Sciences Inc., a US-headquartered global provider of AI and big data solutions, established a Japan-based joint venture called Findability Sciences K.K. with SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) in 2017. On April 1, 2023, Yasuko Kosaihira took the helm of Findability Sciences K.K. as its new CEO.

Why did she take this challenging new role and what are her thoughts on how AI could transform society? Kosaihira spoke about these topics in this interview.

From back office administration to leading a team of passionate AI engineers

Tell us about your career so far.

I started off at a domestic consulting firm right out of university, and after about three years, I took a job at the former Tohmatsu Consulting, where I worked on M&A and corporate restructuring projects. Gradually, I developed an interest in working for an operating company, which led me to join Fast Retailing. There, I was involved in IT audits and operational audits of its overseas subsidiaries. Later, I joined SoftBank Corp., which was starting to focus on Robotic Process Automation (RPA) at the time, and I was assigned to the Enterprise Business Unit. As I worked on various tasks, I transitioned to a department that oversees investments and alliances, and most recently, I was involved in managing WeWork Japan.

From RPA to AI, your career has evolved quite a bit.

Although I didn't have a background in RPA or AI, I always had an interest in these areas since my auditing days. I heard about technologies that could simplify complex tasks. In auditing, we handled a lot of data, and a lot of the work involved manual checks and cross-referencing. However, there are limitations to the routine checking methods used in audits. I've always thought that AI might be the best way to take advantage of accumulated data to gain new business insights.

In SoftBank’s RPA department at the time, we had an instance where we used RPA to stream inventory management information into Pepper–a humanoid robot that many companies were adopting at the time–and we conducted a trial. It's tough for workers to find the products customers want in a large store. Pepper was able to read the product information with the cameras embedded in its head and show product availability on its chest tablet to facilitate purchases. If a product was out of stock, Pepper displayed a QR code to guide customers to an online store. We didn't end up turning this into a service due to some issues, but it was a fun experience.

You were also involved with WeWork Japan.

Yes, I was responsible for streamlining business processes there. Leveraging my previous experiences, I managed and reorganized various functions, including legal, accounting, finance, human resources and sales. Afterward, I was appointed to oversee the operations of around 40 locations across Japan. It was my first time managing a front-facing department that deals directly with customers. Leading a team of about 100 people, addressing daily operational issues, and learning firsthand the importance of middle management gave me new perspectives and instilled new values in me.

Envisioning the AI Age: Interview with Yasuko Kosaihira, CEO of Findability Sciences’ Joint Venture with SoftBank Corp.

After leading 100 people, was it easy to accept a CEO role?

Actually, at first, I wasn't sure if I’d be CEO of Findability Sciences K.K. Having enjoyed working on the front-facing functions of WeWork Japan, I would’ve been happy to be in charge of the sales department. Then, in January 2023, I had a chance to go to San Francisco on a business trip and I met with Anand Mahurkar, the founder and CEO of Findability Sciences Inc. We were discussing the business outlook when he suddenly said, “So, when should we announce your appointment as CEO of the Japan company?” I was surprised, but things quickly moved forward from there.

Becoming a CEO didn't change my stance toward the company much. Since my consulting days, I've always treated the companies I've been involved with as if they were my own. I've always started by conducting a general check, and then moved on to make improvements. In this case, I saw it as just a step up in the decision-making hierarchy. But when I actually took on the role, I fully felt the scope of my authority and the weight of my decisions.

What was your impression of Findability Sciences from a CEO perspective?

SoftBank embarked on its AI business journey in earnest around 2016, and Findability Sciences K.K. was established as a joint venture then. However, at that time, there was a perception gap between what people thought AI could do and what it was actually capable of. There was a period of disillusionment where we realized that AI wasn’t the magic tool we initially thought it was. But during COVID-19, when there was a common understanding that we needed to change the way we work, AI fit the bill, and we’ve been able to agree on its role in the past couple of years. In that sense, after having struggled for several years with the divergence between market expectations and technology, I think Findability Sciences K.K. is at a turning point right now.

Our team is made up of an extremely talented group of engineers, capable of tooling not only machine learning but also image recognition and deep exploration, and the company is brimming with a curiosity and passion for development. It's very interesting, but because we can build everything from scratch, we tend to work on projects in different markets and themes each time. To effectively utilize such valuable human resources, we need a strategy that efficiently utilizes the strengths of the company. I’m making proposals in that area, drawing on my experience. I feel we have a good relationship where we all can respect each other's areas of expertise and complement one another.

Envisioning the AI Age: Interview with Yasuko Kosaihira, CEO of Findability Sciences’ Joint Venture with SoftBank Corp.

Kosaihira on a visit to the office in India, interacting with engineers (third from left)

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