June 1, 2023

Questions and Answers with Ken Wakabayashi '94

Your home: Coppell, Texas

Your hometown: Yokohama, Japan, which is about 20 miles south of Tokyo. In the big picture, it is a part of Tokyo, but we proudly say Yokohama is the name of the city.

Tell us about your family. My wife’s name is Harumi, and my daughter is Koharu. She’s 17, in her senior year of high school.

What is your profession? Currently, I’m co-CEO of 7-Eleven International, which is the subsidiary company of 7-Eleven Ja- pan and 7-Eleven, Inc. It is a 50-50 joint venture partnership, and the company selected one CEO from 7-Eleven, Inc., which is me, and one CEO from 7-Eleven Japan. And we are in charge of stores all over the world except for four countries: Japan, United States, Canada and Mexico. Other than that, Asia, Europe — we are in charge of all of those areas.

How did you choose Montevallo? My father was working for an exporting company and was traveling a lot to many cities in the United States. When I was a kid, seeing him traveling, I wanted to go to the United States. When I was a high school student in Japan, I met a person who actually graduated from Montevallo. When she started talking about Monteval- lo, she said “It’s a college town, people are very friendly, and you can focus on study- ing. Tere are not many Japanese students so you can learn how to speak English very quickly.” Also, a friend of my mother had a sister who lived in Montevallo, so I was able to stay at her house.

When did you know you belonged at Montevallo? I can tell you exactly when. It was the frst time I went to the beau- tiful campus. We don’t have that type of campus in Japan. It was so beautiful with brick roads, a lot of green and trees and a lot of beautiful buildings. Once I went, I immediately saw that I belonged here.

How did Montevallo affect your career path? I often think about that. What I learned from Montevallo is that being diferent is good. In Japan, we’re kind of expected to be the same as others, and being diferent is not necessarily great. At Montevallo, for example, in the classroom there are several international students, diferent ethnicities and diferent cultures.

I started thinking that being diferent is a good thing. That is totally true in the business world. Tere are a lot of convenience store brands. If we’re going to be ofering the exact same products and experiences to the customers, then they don’t need to come to 7-Eleven. It’s all about diferentiation. We need to ofer diferent products and diferent services. Tat’s the winning formula in this indus- try, and that’s kind of what I learned from Montevallo. Montevallo has given me a lot. I really believe that. Without Montevallo, I couldn’t be in this position. Tat’s exactly why I wanted to start giving some back.

What advice would you give current Montevallo students? Study a lot and read a lot of books. And also, believing in yourself is important. Sometimes we can be worrying about the future, and not do necessary things today. You don’t need to worry about the future; your goal will be achieved. You need to focus on resolving the issues you have in front of you today. Tat’s what I have always been trying to do. Sometimes you make mistakes, but you don’t need to worry about making mistakes. Making mistakes is a part of the process to suc- ceed at the end.