• Guilhem Rogez drives American fitness tech firm Wahoo’s regional growth.
  • Humility is critical to prospering in the Japanese business environment, says the Asia-Pacific General Manager.
  • The ESSEC program opened up opportunities in the Far East for the Frenchman.

There are many reasons why Japan is viewed as an attractive business destination: safe, convenient, and modern—yet blessed with age-old traditions—the locals guard it with great pride. The Asian nation offers a compelling blend of new and old.

This perpetual give and take between contemporary and ancient mores imbue Japan with an overload of charisma. Even so, foreigners operating in the country’s famously singular business environment face various challenges.

“It takes a lot of patience,” laughs Guilhem Rogez, General Manager Asia-Pacific at Wahoo Fitness, the Atlanta-headquartered global fitness technology company. “You need to think outside your boundaries, and you need to be humble.”

ESSEC: A Gateway to the World

Rogez knows better than most about this learning process. The Frenchman, currently based in Tokyo, grew up fascinated with Eastern culture, nurtured by twin obsessions in martial arts and cinema and a hunger for new adventures.

“I was raised near Lille in northern France,” Rogez reminisces. “Even then, I wanted to discover bigger cities and explore the world. That’s why I went to Paris to study at ESSEC. The business school allowed me to experience the world.”

An initial extended taste of Japan beckoned when he was a Master’s student in international business at ESSEC’s French campus. The ESSEC Hirakata Japan Discovery Program fuelled his ambition to take up diverse positions in Asia’s automotive, leisure, and sports equipment industries. Through it, he completed an MBA internship in Tokyo as a market analyst for luxury watch brands.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do then,” Rogez recalls about his time at ESSEC. “What helped was how the school introduced me to the business world, but more importantly, they developed my mindset about being open-minded and confident in my capacity to find the right answer.”

That was back in 2006. Fast forward to several high-profile career positions and a marriage to a local, Rogez now drives Wahoo’s growth strategy in APAC from his base in Tokyo.

It has been a wild ride, the length of which Rogez says he would not have predicted when he first stepped onto Japanese soil. He’s grateful for his blissful home life, where Japanese is spoken as the primary language, with just a smattering of French and English to help develop his 7-year-old daughter’s linguistic skills.

Constant Adaptation is Key

He admits that realizing his business vision hasn’t always been easy. In Japan, he says, deliberation over every decision is commonplace. “Japanese people tend to be perfectionists,” he says.

“In business, they study everything in depth before making any move. That’s a very different way of operating than in the US or China, which means it can take a very long time to prepare a project.”

Rogez’s status as a foreigner and his relative nascence in a culture where age and experience are revered to a fault have also presented hurdles. Nevertheless, he believes the skills he has been compelled to accrue are essential to excel internationally.

“In Japan, you are always in a kind of adaptation mode,” says Rogez. “That’s not for everyone, but I have found that it keeps your brain very connected. I have always had great intellectual curiosity, and Japan has helped me pursue new goals. You don’t get used to the usual routine, so you never get complacent.”

Wahoo Answers

This ability to operate at the top of his game has served Rogez well through the years. A stint with French automotive supplier Valeo as Marketing Manager follows a period as Managing Director for racket sports equipment brand Babolat in Asia-Pacific.

Now in his third year with Wahoo Fitness, Rogez is committed to building a solid Asian community for a brand driven by performance and a passion for sports.

The firm has established itself as a market leader in smartphone-powered fitness hardware. It specializes in intelligent training products such as indoor bike trainers, GPS bike computers, cycling sensors, and heart rate monitors.

With Asia among the world’s leading cycling markets, it’s a position with enormous potential. Indeed, the current global pandemic has—if anything—boosted demand for fitness equipment as customers around the world prioritize their health.

Accordingly, Wahoo’s outlook in Asia looks bright: a radiance reflecting Rogez and his management style. The Frenchman, though, is careful to stress the importance of his colleagues surrounding him.

“I knew very little about cycling before taking up this position,” he says. “Of course, I knew about the mechanics of management, but when it came to the knowledge of the industry and the consumer, most of my team were much more expert. So I think that good leadership depends on the complementarity you have with your team.”

The Japanese routinely praise others, upholding traditional respect for humility. Almost 15 years after arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun, Rogez has fused learnings from ESSEC and his leadership experiences in Tokyo into a fitting style that drives a visionary approach.