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Mari Matthews – A Pioneer Of Diversity In Finance, Leads With Courage

In addition to being a co-founder of Kay Group K.K in Japan, Karin Wellbrock is an executive coach and leadership consultant with over 30 years of global experience. A passionate advocate of human-centered, inclusive leadership, she creates exceptional results.

Executive Contributor Karin Wellbrock

Mari Matthews, as Executive of the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Japan, is a vanguard of innovation in the financial sector in Japan. Her ascendancy through prominent roles at AIG, MetLife, State Street, and Google, reflects her talent for navigating the complexities of global business with a fervent commitment to diversity and inclusion. A candid conversation with Karin Wellbrock reveals Mari's courage in career shifts, her decisive yet empathetic leadership style, and her unwavering dedication to lifelong learning and advocating for women in finance.

Speed Mentoring Mari Matthews

Mari Matthews – Leading BONY Japan with fearless innovation

In our exclusive series "Exceptional Leaders: Women as Gems," we are honored to feature Mari Matthews, the dynamic Executive of the Bank of New York (BONY) in Tokyo. Mari exemplifies innovative leadership in the financial sector, breaking through barriers with her extensive background in public policy and strategic management. Her illustrious career has taken her through pivotal roles at prestigious firms like AIG, MetLife, State Street, and Google, showcasing her ability to navigate the intricacies of global business while championing diversity and inclusion.

Mari's leadership is marked by a unique combination of public policy expertise, strategic vision, and effective management. She distinguishes herself through her fearless approach to career transitions, eagerly embracing opportunities that expand her influence and responsibilities. Characterized by decisiveness, empathy, and a commitment to lifelong learning, Mari's leadership approach has made her a respected figure in Japan's international community and a pioneering advocate for women in the workplace.

From public policy luminary to financial visionary

Mari's journey to the pinnacle of financial leadership is a narrative of bold transitions and strategic risks. Beginning her career in the insurance sector as a compliance officer, she ventured into the financial world, where she carved a niche through roles in sales, relationship management, and strategic planning. Mari’s transition was fueled by a desire to influence change and make a tangible impact, showcasing her knack for seizing opportunities and turning them into strategic advantages.

Embracing challenges with fearless resolve

Mari's story is one of audacity and resilience. Her leap into the unknown, particularly transitioning to sales and relationship management without prior experience, exemplifies her fearless approach to career progression. Mari’s journey illustrates that embracing challenges head-on is the cornerstone of transformative leadership. Her decisions were not just career moves but strategic steps that expanded her influence and shaped her leadership principles.

The unyielding spirit of a trailblazer

Mari's foundational trait of fearlessness is deeply rooted in her early defiance of the conventional norms of her native country, Japan. Her determination to study abroad, against her traditional family’s wishes, set the stage for a lifetime of boundary-pushing and pioneering moves. This tenacity is a testament to her unyielding spirit, driving her to continuously expand her horizons and embrace new challenges.

Navigating leadership with empathy and authenticity

Mari's rise in the corporate world is characterized by her adeptness in balancing power with perception, skillfully navigating the intricacies of leadership with both empathy and authenticity. Her career journey emphasizes the critical role of self-awareness and adaptability in leadership, illustrating that managing others' perceptions is as vital as making decisive decisions. After returning from the US to Japan, Mari faced the stereotype of being a ‘strong woman,’ challenging the traditional business norms. Utilizing her ability to fluidly transition between cultures, Mari carved out a unique niche in the industry, establishing herself as a distinctive leader in the financial services sector.

Mentorship and the art of aspiration

Mentorship plays a pivotal role in Mari's career trajectory, profoundly shaping her path. Her story highlights the importance of engaging with mentors and sponsors who not only guide and challenge but also expand her viewpoint. Mari’s proactive and intentional approach to mentorship, emphasizing clear communication and genuine interaction, has been crucial in establishing meaningful relationships that significantly impact her growth. However, she firmly believes in the autonomy of career decision-making, asserting that while mentors are invaluable for their insights and guidance, the ultimate responsibility for one’s career choices rests with the individual.

Aligning personal values with professional ambitions

Mari's career choices are deeply rooted in her personal values and her commitment to societal impact. Her preference for environments that align with her beliefs, such as the American corporate culture, underscores the significance of matching personal values with professional settings. This congruence has not only influenced her career trajectory but also heightened her effectiveness and job satisfaction. Mari emphasizes the importance of self-discovery through exposure to different cultures and situations, suggesting that such experiences are pivotal in identifying one’s core values and beliefs, thereby shaping one's professional identity and personal values.

Role models and the quest for inspirational leadership

Mari draws inspiration from figures known for their strategic acumen and effective communication. She holds in high regard renowned Japanese-American leaders like Kathy Matsui, a former executive at Goldman Sachs and venture capital founder in Japan, and Royanne Doi, former Ethics Officer at Prudential and NGO leader. These individuals resonate with Mari’s belief in the transformative power of being an approachable leader, excelling in communication, and providing strategic leadership. They have significantly influenced her leadership style and her approach to nurturing future leaders. Mari believes in learning different facets of leadership from various executives, integrating these insights into her distinctive leadership approach, guiding both people and organizations.

The evolutionary path: Specialist to strategic leader

Mari's transition from a functional leader to President showcases her strategic foresight and holistic understanding of business dynamics. Her leadership journey is characterized by a constant quest for broader perspectives, emphasizing the need for leaders to grasp the entire organizational landscape and its external influences. Mari realized that having a specialist background will give her standing and credibility, and her constant drive and curiosity to learn, see and do more in the organization propelled her into leadership roles.

Charting a course for future leaders

Mari’s leadership journey at BNY Mellon Japan exemplifies a fearless pursuit of growth, a deep commitment to authentic and empathetic leadership, and a strategic vision that transcends traditional boundaries. Her story is not just a career narrative but a blueprint for aspiring leaders, offering profound insights into the art of leadership in the modern world.

Mari’s 10 leadership lessons

Managing self

  • Mentorship as a growth catalyst: Point out the significance of seeking and providing mentorship, leveraging it for career advancement, and expanding professional networks.

  • Value-driven professional path: Emphasize aligning personal ethics and values with career goals, ensuring that work is not only rewarding but also reflective of one’s principles.

  • Resilience and well-being in leadership: Focus on the necessity of building resilience, as success in executive roles requires not only mental acuity but also physical well-being, ensuring leaders are equipped to handle the demands and pressures of their positions while fostering a culture of health and sustainability.

Managing others

  • Championing diversity and inclusion: Advocate for creating inclusive work environments, promoting gender diversity, and implementing policies that support work-life balance.

  • Strength balanced with empathy: Underline the importance of combining decisive leadership with understanding and empathy, managing perceptions to be both respected and approachable.

  • Cross-cultural communication mastery: Illustrate the importance of effective communication across different cultural contexts, especially in global roles, fostering mutual respect and understanding.

Managing results

  • Bold decisions: Emphasize the importance of making courageous choices, stepping into unknown territories, and leading change, even in the face of uncertainty or risk.

  • Fearless opportunity seizing: Highlight the value of embracing new roles and challenges with courage, viewing them as avenues for growth and impact.

Managing change and transformation

  • Commitment to continuous learning: Stress the necessity of ongoing personal and professional development, adapting to new sectors and expanding skill sets.

  • Adapting to industry evolution: Discuss the necessity of staying abreast of industry trends and technological advancements, being prepared to lead through change and innovation.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this case study are solely those of the executive and do not reflect the official policy or position of her organization. The executive shared her personal experiences and insights as a private citizen, not as a representative of her company or any other entity. This narrative is intended for informational purposes only and should not be taken as an endorsement or official statement from her organization.


Karin Wellbrock, Leadership Consultant and Coach

In addition to being a co-founder of Kay Group K.K in Japan, Karin Wellbrock is an executive coach and leadership consultant with over 30 years of global experience. A passionate advocate of human-centered, inclusive leadership, she creates exceptional results. To bring innovation to the workplace, she is conducting research in Japan and Europe to increase female representation in leadership roles. Her program "Leader-by-Design" demonstrates this. Dedicated to systemic change, Karin is a member of an all-women-led angel investment club in Asia Pacific, and mentors startup and NGO leaders and game changers in Asia and Europe. It is her mission to elevate 100 women to the C-suite.



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