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Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Balancing Cultures

May 26, 2022 4 min read

In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, observed annually during the month of May in the U.S., KLA employees enjoyed a unique and enlightening session with KLA board of directors member Emiko Higashi.

During a candid video chat, Emiko shared with KLA employees many life experiences that shaped her leadership philosophy during a remarkable career journey built upon her Japanese heritage and almost four decades of living in the United States. Often mistaken for a Japanese American, Emiko remains a Japanese citizen.  

Born and raised in Japan, Emiko Higashi now lives in California but splits her time between Japan and the U.S. Growing up in post-World War II Japan during the early 1960s, Emiko recalls eating a banana was considered a luxury – even in a middle class household where her father was a professor of physics and her mother a schoolteacher.

“For me, it’s important to have humility and empathy when I come into contact with people I meet, work with or lead. As a leader, it’s necessary to recognize what you don’t know, have the ears to listen patiently – and also be firm in your expectations so there are no misunderstandings.”

Emiko Higashi, member of the KLA board

A Life Learner

As a KLA board member, Emiko takes pride in the company’s culture, values and uncompromising commitment to the operating model. She observes that KLA is a constantly learning organism that is never complacent even during times of growth in market share and margin, “which means the wheel is really turning well and objectives are met with very little drama.”

“Learning begins at the top and as leaders, we must have curiosity about subject matter core to our business as well as people and life,” Emiko explains. “Being a lifelong learner grounds you as a person who has humility, and there is no end to the possibilities that learning can bring. I hope to be learning for the rest of my life.”

Bring Your Traditions and Background to the Table

Emiko (right) shares her experiences as a lifelong learner and global business leader during an online fireside chat with KLA employees and hosted by Jihyun Tornow, co-chair of KLA’s WISE ERG U.S. chapter.

Successfully straddling two different cultures has been crucial to Emiko’s success. While still very young, she spent long periods living in the United States, attending American schools and eventually earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. Later, she was managing director of Merrill Lynch’s global technology M&A practice and founded Tohmon Capital Partners, a global firm focused on mergers and acquisitions, strategy, planning and fundraising.

For Emiko, learning the art of adjusting to cultural norms across international borders has become part of her professional life. Although speaking up and being heard is common in global corporate life, there are often long silences in Japanese conference rooms. “Sometimes people are uncomfortable with silence, but in Asia, not speaking simply means participants are thinking about a response,” she explains.

Everyone’s identity is important and, Emiko adds, and all of her colleagues on KLA’s board of directors are unique. Recalling her own experience of being invited by Rick Wallace to join the board in 2010 and the company’s desire to build a diverse board, Emiko points out that she is one of three Asians serving on a board that includes three women and a wide span of ages.  

“I consider myself extremely fortunate to be on a diverse board where everyone brings a fresh perspective,” she says.

Constructive Dialog and Engagement

On the sensitive topic of attitudes and attacks on Asians in the United States since the COVID-19 pandemic, Emiko says she lives safely in San Francisco and has not experienced physical threats directed toward her.

Emiko explains, “The whole phenomenon of physically attacking people is very concerning, but when facing a non-physical threat, people must firmly express disagreement – but not in an emotional way even though they’re in a derogatory situation which can be very emotional. It’s important to keep the conversation constructive and not escalate it.”

“I’m forever optimistic about people. If we engage in a dialog, we can come closer to understanding each other.”

Emiko Higashi

We would like to thank Emiko Higashi for sharing her interesting and inspiring background, career and life lessons.

As part of KLA’s commitment to inclusion and diversity, the company regularly celebrates the culture and achievements of its diverse workforce. Check out some of our other  recent stories, including  a celebration of women and advocating for gender equality on International Women’s Day.

To learn more, visit KLA’s inclusion and diversity page. If you’re interested in working with KLA, browse the KLA careers page for the opportunities ahead for you.

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