Alumni’s Voices

Philipp Refior

Sumitomo 3M Tokyo
Manager of the Asia Pacific Design Team
The interview was conducted in October 2012.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Munich, Germany. I am still very close to my friends from back then.

Where have you lived or studied?
After I graduated from high school, I would have had to go to mandatory military service, but I ended up doing an apprenticeship in banking for two years . . . maybe military service would have been more fun. Once I completed all my exams, I finally could do what I wanted—and that was to study design. I went to Parsons School of Design in New York, which was quite a culture shock for me. After graduating with a degree in product design, I stayed in New York City and worked as a design consultant for six years.

Have you lived long in Japan?
It has been almost eight years. I came to Japan in 2005 to work with Panasonic as a designer in their home appliances department, where I helped develop products for the US and European market.

Please tell us about the work you are doing now at 3M.
I was hired at Sumitomo 3M in 2010 to build up their design department, and develop products for the Japanese market. I started working in consumer business, where we focused on 3M’s well-known brands, such as SCOTCH®, Post-it®, and so on. I am happy to say that it has been going very well. My team has won numerous design awards and is now responsible for all of our business units; this includes health care and architectural products.

That sounds interesting. Why is 3M interested in design?
3M is a company with a long history in innovation. We are constantly developing new technologies and materials, which improve people’s lives in one way or another. It is our job as designers to package these technologies into products that are easy and fun to use—and fit well into our consumers’ lifestyles. Our vision is to provide solutions for every company, home, and lifestyle so connecting with consumers and learning about their needs is part of our everyday job as designers at 3M.

How big is your team?
There are four of us currently, three product designers and one architect. In addition, we have to manage outside designers who work with us on a project-by-project basis.

Do you work with Japanese only, or do you have international collaborators?
The local team here at Sumitomo 3M is Japanese. But we are part of a global design organization within 3M, which has studios in the US, Italy, and China. We are all trying to keep an international mind-set, and it is our job to share the observations from our markets with the rest of the team. It is always really exciting to see which ideas work best in what parts of the world.

How do you apply the lessons learned from the McGill MBA Japan Program now?
My function is basically to be the bridge between design (the right-brain side of the company) and our business and lab teams (which is definitely more left-brain). Of course, I am still a designer, but I need to be able to communicate, in the language of business, why a certain idea makes sense. Also, managing a small team means I now work in a way that is different to how I worked before. There are a lot of valuable lessons from my two years at McGill that come in handy every day. I often wish I could remember more from the lessons I learnt during the MBA program.

Looking back, what was your study experience like at McGill?
It was great fun! I really remember it just as that, fun, even though I probably looked at it a bit differently back then.

What were your classmates like?
We had a very international class, and it was really impressive to learn about people’s backgrounds while you worked with them on a project. I thought that the social aspect was a big part of the experience, and I immediately missed the time we spent together once the program was over.

Was the program challenging?
You definitely have to make sacrifices, and I had to seriously improve my time-management skills. So, you end up seeing your existing friends less than you did before, but you make lots of new ones — people you would not have met under normal circumstances.

What would you say to people who are considering joining the McGill MBA Japan Program?
I would recommend it to everybody who has an idea about what he or she wants to get out of it. It is a great program and you get to meet fun, new people. But it is also a lot of work. So to help keep up your motivation, you should know why you are doing it and where you want to go with the degree.