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Mitsuko Tottori: From Flight Attendant to First Female CEO of Japan Airlines 

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Mitsuko Tottori, Japan Airlines’ newly appointed president, has outlined her vision for the company’s future.

During her first media interview on Wednesday, she emphasised the importance of diversifying the airline’s revenue streams, particularly in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tottori, aged 59, is a former flight attendant who has broken barriers by assuming the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and president at Japan Airlines.

The appointment marks a significant milestone for gender equality in Japan’s corporate landscape.

The country is ranked 125 out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2023. In Asia, Japan ranks the worst for gender parity. As of 2023, only 12.9% of senior and leadership posts were held by women, according to the Global Gender Gap report. Tottori’s appointment places Japan Airlines among the less than 1% of Japan’s top companies led by women.

Mitsuko Tottori’s Story 

Tottori’s career trajectory from cabin crew member to president is nothing short of remarkable. She began her journey with Japan Airlines in 1985 as a flight attendant and steadily climbed the corporate ladder over three decades. In 2015, she was appointed senior director of cabin attendants, paving the way for her eventual appointment as president and CEO in April 2024.

Her remarkable rise makes her the first woman to hold this prestigious position at Japan Airlines.

Speaking to BBC, she said:

“I don’t think of myself as the first woman or the first former flight attendant. I want to act as an individual so I didn’t expect to get this much attention.

“Since joining JAL, I have spent most of my career in the Cabin Attendant Division, the front line of safety and customer service. In addition, as the head of Customer Experience last year, I have continued to think about the value we provide to our customers. I would like to continue to move forward with a customer-first mindset,” she said.

According to the airline, among the reasons for Ms Tottori’s promotion is her “high level of insight and field experience in safe flight operations and service through her career,” and her “significant contribution to maintaining safe operations during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In her interview with CNN, Tottori stressed the need for Japan to foster an environment where women in leadership roles are not seen as anomalies.

She expressed her hope for a future where female executives are a common sight in the corporate world.

“Japan is still in a place of establishing the initial goal to increase (the number of) female managers. I hope that Japan will soon become a place where people are not surprised when a woman becomes a president.

“We do want to seriously increase the number of (women) managers, and more than that, I think it’s important that women themselves want to be active, so I hope to see more and more of (them) in the future,” Ms. Tottori stated.

Her leadership vision, however, extends beyond gender equality to strategic initiatives aimed at driving growth and innovation within Japan Airlines. She highlighted the importance of secondary revenue streams, such as mileage services and low-cost carriers.

Her story serves as a beacon of hope to all females striving to climb the corporate ladder.

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