Founders' Interview

創設者インタビュー

 元新聞記者でありジャーナリストである高嶺朝太が、記者という第3者目線からSSEAのファウンダー(創設者)3名にインタビューを行いました。どのように多様なメンバーが集まり、SSEAという多国籍企業がどのように設立され、これまで発展して来たのか、聞き取りを行っています。

「これまでに無かった組織を作りたい」

ファウンダーたちの想いを、ぜひお読みください。

(2022年12月作成)

Chief Executive Officer

 Shintaro Akazawa

Chief Operating Officer

 Alec Gregory Monhollon

Director of Employee Care

 Tara Amadea Kelleher

Shintaro Akazawa

Chief Excective Officer

 SevenSeas English Academy創設者の赤澤信太郎氏に、弊社で働く意義と、弊社の強み、そしてこれからの英語教育について聞きました。

 赤澤氏は、東日本旅客鉄道、外資系航空日本支社、商社での海外営業勤務等を経て、2014年にSevenSeas English Academy(SSEA)を設立しました。小中学生時代には英会話スクールと進学塾、高校時代は大手・中堅予備校、大学時代はTOEICスクールや米国留学などを経験し、1人でも多くの方に英語と言う「世界の共通語」を学んで頂くことで世界の多様な価値観と無限の魅力に触れて欲しいという理念のもとに、8年間でSSEAを5つの国籍から約20人が集まる多国籍企業へと育て上げました。赤澤氏に話を聞きました。



①英語学習スクールの会社を立ち上げようと思い立ったのは、どのような理由からでしょうか。

 元々「英語スクールを立ち上げたい」という具体的な動機や目標があったのではありません。大学の専攻も英語でもなければ教育でもありませんし、英語が特別に身近にあった環境や教育の中で育ったのでもありません。1980年代〜90年代の庶民として非常に一般的な育ち方をしてきましたし、僕はまったく「英語の専門家」ではないのです。ただ高校生くらいから「日本社会にはなにか処方箋が必要なのではないか」という感覚があり、大学では社会学を選択するに至ったことは、いま思えばこの仕事と無関係では無かったのだろうと思います。

 個人的な部分では、20歳の大学生になり自ら初めて海外へ留学に出た際に、これまで英語を「実際に使って話すための機会や教育」が、自分が20年以上過ごしてきた人生の中にはまったく存在していなかったことを嫌と言うほど痛感しました。留学を通じて多くの友人が海外にも出来ましたが、英語を使って海外の人間とコミュニケーションを図り理解しようとする経験に、それまでの人生の何よりも価値や楽しさを感じたことも大きかったのではないかと思っています。

 また、当初は英語スクールという姿は想定もしていませんでしたが、仕事であってもそうでなくとも、「人を幸せに出来ることをしたい」「少しでも良い社会になって欲しい」という希望は、学生の頃からずっとあったと思います。ただ、既存の企業や組織ではどうしてもそうした想いや方向性を理解してもらうことは難しく、最終的に「ゼロから自分で作るしかない」との結論に至りました。ですので、起業そのものを目的としていたのともやはり違うかなと思います。

 自分に何が出来るか、自分の強みは何だろう、今の日本に足りないものは何だろうと総合的に考えた時に、英語や海外での経験を伝えるサービスを始めようとの結論に至ったのはある意味で、考えたと言うよりむしろ「自然にその方向へ進んだ」のではないかと思います。その意味では、自分がビジネスを立ち上げたと言うよりも、日本と言う環境がこのようなビジネスを必要としただけなのかも知れません。そして起業は、目標ではなくそのための「手段」だったのだろうと思っています。


弊社では生徒様にどのような英語学習サービスを提供しているのでしょうか。

 弊スクールがパーパスとしていること、SSEAという組織を設立したことの意義は「日本社会と世界に貢献すること」であり、そのために日本の1人でも多くの方に英語でコミュニケーションの楽しさを知っていただいて、実際に使える英語を身につけていただくことです。ですので、生徒さまが「将来英語を武器にできる」ような学習環境とサービス、サポートを提供することを基本としています。

 具体的には、語学学習ですので出来る限りクラス定員が小さい方が良い。一方で、マンツーマン専門だと費用がどうしても高くなりますので、ネイティブ講師のクラスには定員2名クラスも設定して、費用と効果のバランスが最適になるポイントを模索しています。目標があくまで「1人でも多くの方の英語力向上をお手伝いする」ことであり、高学歴エリートや富裕層のみをお手伝いすることではありませんので、料金は「十分に手が届く適切な水準」かつ「しっかり効果がある品質を維持できる」ようなポイントを考えた結果のものとしています。費用が高くなりすぎて学習が継続できなければ本末転倒ですし、かといって効果のない「安かろう、悪かろう」でも意味がありません。「品質の高いものに多くの方が手が届くように」を大切にしています。

 また、同じ語学学習でも生徒さまによってニーズも必要とする学習法も異なりますので、決まりすぎたカリキュラムを提供するのではなく講師が生徒さま自体を理解してクラスに必要なことを見極め、コーチングをしながら「一緒に学習して行く」家庭教師のようなスタイルのサービスを行っています。あくまで主役は生徒さまであり、目的は生徒さまの英語力を伸ばすために必要な方法を見つけるお手伝いをすることですので、私たちが特定の考え方や学習法を押し付けることがあってはならないと考えています。


③弊社は8年間で支店も拡大し、着実に結果を出し続けています。その間に感じた苦労、学んだことなど経験をお話しできないでしょうか。

 おそらく「日本人がどうやったら英語を得意になるのか」というノウハウがまだ日本には存在していないので、学習法は既存のものを参考にするよりもむしろ、自分で英語を学習して身につけてきた講師たちにその経験をスクールのカリキュラムに落とし込んでもらうという「新しいものを作る作業」を常に行っています。ですので、参考にすべき正解や前例が無いことは、常に難しい取り組みかなと思っています。

 また、組織としてもこれまでになかった「真の多国籍企業」を設立するために、給与体系や評価方法といった組織のシステムまですべてゼロベースで作ってみては試し、上手くいかないところを修正するといったことを行っていますので、常に他の外国人幹部や従業員たちとディスカッションして意見を擦り合わせていく必要があるのは国際会議のように難しいと感じる反面、どこでも学べない経験が出来ているのかなとも思います。

 私たちは日本を拠点とする企業ですが、カルチャーは日本企業でも米国企業でも欧州企業でもありません。国籍や性別、年齢などに捉われずに個々の強みと能力を最大限に活かしながら、様々な個性とカルチャーをベストミックスさせる取り組みが、最も難しいと同時に、最も価値ある経験ともなっています。

 面白い発見だったのは、一般的に実力主義、個人主義と思われている欧米でも、組織のメンバーが仕事に求めることは実は日本人とあまり大きくは変わらないということが分かった事です。職の安定性や気の置けない仲間、信頼や居心地の良さとそれを実現するための適切かつフェアな労働環境、何より「会社は自分を大切に考えてくれている」と実感できることはすべての人にとって普遍的に大切なことであり、会社の財産とは何よりもそこで働く「人」であるということです。もちろん細かな習慣の違いはありますが、越えられないほど違う訳でもないことが分かりましたし、国籍はあまり重要ではなく結局は個々人の価値観を擦り合わせて行けるかどうかの問題ですので、目標を共有するチームとして仲間を大切にして行けば、それぞれの強みや経験を最大限に活かしてこれまでに無かった何かを実現できるとの手ごたえを感じています。スクールのOperating Principle(経営理念)である “Students First, Employees Second, and Profits will follow at the end.” は、そうした「組織として大切なことの順番」を全員が忘れないように唱えたものです。これはただの奇麗ごとではなく、あくまでビジネスとしての目標達成を実現するための基本原則として位置付けていますし、ここを貫いて来たからこその今があるのは間違いありません。


④弊社で働く意義を聞かせてもらえますか。

 頑張れば誰にでもチャンスがあって、自分が正しいと考えることを実行する機会があり、未来に何か新しいものを実現する可能性を感じられる、そこに尽きると思います。国籍も年齢もジェンダーもすべて忘れてリセットし、ゼロから「より良いもの」を考えられますので、既存の企業や組織には珍しい「自由」が、ここでは見つけられるのかなと思います。ちょっと恥ずかしい言い方をするなら、夢や明るい未来を目指して自分自身で取り組める、といった雰囲気です(笑)


⑤英語ビジネス業界は、競合他社が数多くひしめいています。他社、スクールと比べ幣スクールの強味と、今後の展望をお聞かせください。

 幣スクールはこの業界では後発になるかと思いますが、後発だからこそ既存の問題点をすべて反面教師にしながら、ゼロからやり方を考え直してスクールを作ることが出来ますし、言い方は悪いですがほんとんどの英語ビジネスがただのマネーゲームを行っているのが日本の現状ですので、競争力に絶対の自信があり、他社と競合しているともあまり感じていません。同じ業界に分類はされても、実はまったく違うことをやっていると考えています。

 目標は「日本人の大部分がTOEIC700レベルの英語力を身に付けられること」ですので、その目標を達成するために少しでも多くの人にサービスを提供できるよう、これまでのポリシーを大切にしながら地道に着実に取り組んで行こうと思っています。


⑥今後の日本の英語教育の将来、赤澤さんの描く理想の英語教育とはどのようなものでしょうか。

 重複しますが、日本人の70%くらいがTOEIC700レベルの英語力を身に付けられたら、そのとき日本は内部から何かが変わることが出来るだろうと考えています。英語教育と聞くと何かとネガティブな印象や堅苦しさ、苦しさや富裕層の特権のようなイメージを連想しますが、そうではなく「誰でも英語を楽しんで、細く長く続ける」ことができたら、それが一番なのではないかと思います。ですので、「自分には英語なんて無理だろう」とお感じの方にこそ、ぜひとも幣スクールへ来ていただきたいと思っています。

 「理想の英語教育」は存在しないものだと思います。改善が終わることはありませんので、理想を描くよりも「いま少しでも良くできる目の前のことは何か」を1つ1つ積み重ねて行こうと思います。英語は誰でも出来るようになる、それが真実だと証明できるよう、今後も取り組んで行きます。

Alec Gregory Monhollon

Chief Operating Officer

I interviewed Alec Monhollon of SSEA who is Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the company. I asked him the importance of working at SSEA and his story in which he came all the way from New York to Tokyo.

Monhollon majored in economics in university in the United States. He worked at a media company and worked as a manager and supervisor in the restaurant industry. Monhollon then moved to Japan and taught English at one of the major Japanese English schools with a TEFL Certificate.

Monhollon has been working as an English instructor and the COO for over four years. As one of the executives of SSEA, Monhollon told us about his experiences of working in Tokyo.



①You are from New York. What made you decide to work at this company, which is based in Tokyo?

When I made the decision to relocate to Tokyo I was initially looking for a temporary change of scenery. Through my wife, I had the opportunity to move to Japan and start a new career. I was very eager to put myself into an environment I was very unfamiliar with and improve myself by learning about traditional Japanese culture and business customs. After settling in to Japan and starting my career with SevenSeas English Academy, I quickly became comfortable as this company is able to provide a sense of job security that is needed for people who desire to work and live in Tokyo long-term.


②Could you please tell me the significance of working at this company?

After I first moved to Tokyo, I worked at another English language school and interviewed at many other English language schools before ultimately accepting a position here at SSEA. The interview process here was very efficient, relaxed and the questions were practical and presented in a very friendly manner. Much like the interview, the work environment here is also very relaxed and comfortable. There is no micromanaging which I experienced at other English schools and the contracts are direct and easy to understand. We are always looking to grow our company as a team and consider all employees from top to bottom as equals.


③You work as the COO while working as an instructor. Could you tell me the fun and difficulty you have experienced through your experience both at the workplace and in Japan?

I think this is common knowledge about the work environment in Japan but it is much more team oriented than the United States. My experience working in Japan is largely positive but there are also some difficulties as well. For example, familiarizing myself with Japanese labor laws and business customs are areas I am always learning about. Outside of the company, I have never experienced any major struggles. Adjusting to a new country can take a little longer than expected but because of SSEA I was able to adapt quickly.


④Could you tell me the company’s vision from the viewpoint of the one who works at an executive position?

Our company's vision has always been to provide high quality English lessons while offering a comfortable environment for both staff and students.
Our goal is to change the traditional way of teaching English in Japan and to create lessons through pictures and activities that will engage students of all ages. Because of our teaching methods, we are able to easily accommodate any student of any age.


⑤Your company is in a competitive industry. Compared with others in the same business, what strength do you think your company has?

When I worked in other English schools in Japan I quickly noticed that micromanagement was standard. In addition, the employees were often treated as disposable and the employee turnover rate was high. The schools would often create an environment where teachers would have to compete with each other for students in order to earn money. This created a very tense and unfriendly atmosphere in the workplace. At our company, we offer long term employment, inviting atmosphere and a team oriented environment where all workers, regardless of their position, are working towards achieving the same goal.

Our success also comes from our ability to easily customize any lesson to meet the needs of our students. We provide ample training and continued support to all of our instructors to ensure they are never struggling and are always prepared to provide first-rate lessons that our students have come to expect. Our company is always evolving and we do not follow traditional Japanese business customs which is why we are able to have such a diverse team working with us.


⑥What made you decide to leave your country and live and work in Japan for such a long time?

When I first decided to move to Japan, I planned on living here for 2 years. 6 years later and I am still here. The reason I have continued living in Japan is because Japan is an easy and comfortable place to live. Compared to NYC, it is more affordable to eat out and you can easily find places to live with reasonable rent prices. Access to universal healthcare is a big bonus as well. Japan is a relatively small country so it makes domestic travel by bullet train, airplane or bicycle convenient and enjoyable. Because of SSEA I can continue to live in Japan for many more years.


⑦You used to work in New York. If you feel your current job is more satisfactory than your previous jobs, could you tell me what parts you like?

Sure. I really enjoy the opportunity to meet with and learn about the different personalities of not only the students but also the diverse staff we have working for us. Compared to many of the jobs I worked at in NYC, the environment here is very much stress-free and I have always felt that the support between all members is much stronger than I have experienced when working in NYC. All of the students who study and have studied at our school are very respectful, polite and we have experienced minimal complaints throughout the years we have been in business which is not always the case with many hospitality related businesses in New York. Additionally, in NYC I would typically put in between 10-20 hours of overtime work each week which I have not had to do working for SSEA. Even though I enjoyed working and living in NYC, I am very fortunate to have found a company that challenges me enough to keep me motivated without requiring me to overwork and that does not interfere with my private life. The atmosphere here is very relaxed and is not at all strict like you would find at many of the conversational schools in Japan. All of the staff members here are very team oriented and enjoy working together to accomplish the same goal which I did not experience at the previous schools I worked for in Tokyo.


⑧Employees with diverse backgrounds and from various countries work at the SSEA. I assume that it is sometimes difficult to coordinate them and work together because of different cultures and opinions.

For any company aspiring to create an international workplace, it is important to have a management team who have experience working overseas and in international settings. All of our Japanese managers have experience working and studying overseas which helps contribute to a well-balanced environment and a mutual understanding of the cultural differences and the individual backgrounds of each of our staff members.

My dream is to create an organization where people from all English speaking countries can work together with our Japanese staff to create an environment that allows all members to freely exchange information about their backgrounds and the history of their home countries with the staff and students. I aim to achieve a workplace where all employees opinions and ideas are valued equally and are taken seriously.

Tara Amadea Kelleher

Director of Employee Care

I interviewed Tara Kelleher, who is the Human Resources Director at Seven Seas English Academy (SSEA). I asked her about the importance of working at SSEA, and for her personal story about how she came all the way to Japan from her home country, Ireland.

After getting a Master of Arts in International Relations, Ms. Kelleher relocated to London in the UK, where she first worked at a recruiting agency, then in administration and public relations at a large healthcare company. After that, she moved to Tokyo, where she worked as a client services manager at a foreign-funded asset management company.

Tara has been working as Human Resources Director while teaching at SSEA for over four years. She is now on maternity leave after becoming a new parent in Japan, which is far from Ireland.



① You are from Ireland. What made you decide to work for this company based in Tokyo?

I came to Tokyo in 2016 to be with my husband, who is originally from Nagoya. We met in London in 2014, and when he had to return to his country, I chose to move as well in order to continue my life with him.

Of course, this meant I left my burgeoning career in Europe behind, and had to start over from the beginning. As English teaching is a common job for foreigners who are new to Japan, and I wanted to move away from corporate office work, I decided to try it out. If not permanently, then at least as a possible stepping stone to other roles down the line. I was fortunate to be accepted for a native instructor position at SSEA in 2018, just after my husband and I had our wedding ceremony.


② Could you please tell me the significance of working for this company?

While I initially joined SSEA out of the necessity of needing a reliable job in order to survive in a new country, I quickly became attached to the company for its considerate and relaxed working environment, which was a very different atmosphere from my previous jobs. I also realised how much I enjoyed interacting with students, and that I learnt as much from them culturally and interpersonally as they did from me.


③ At SSEA, alongside your role as HR Director, you also work as an instructor. Could you tell me about both the benefits and difficulties you have experienced in the workplace, and in Japan in general?

After working in very corporate environments, coming to SSEA was a big change for me. The atmosphere of the company, while professional, is much more relaxed and congenial than a typical business. The social aspect of instructor work is also very enjoyable, as I get to meet many different kinds of interesting people. Of course, work is still work, and sometimes spending all day talking with a variety of people of all ages can be physically demanding. But, overall, I find it’s worth the effort, and I get great satisfaction from helping others improve their English language skills.

In turn, it helps me integrate into Japanese society, as I get to meet people from many different backgrounds. This is a great opportunity as a foreigner living in Japan, as sometimes living in a foreign country far from home, with a language barrier, can be socially isolating. Speaking with students and my coworkers incentivises me to learn more about Japanese history, culture and society every day.


④ You are going to have a new family member. Could you tell me about the future vision of you and the company, from the viewpoint of one who works in an executive position?

Now I am currently on maternity leave, it’s a bit strange to be away from SSEA for an extended period of time after working there for several years. Of course, I will be returning to work at SSEA as soon as I’m able, and I’m happy to know that I can do so thanks to the reassurance of my coworkers. SSEA has been extremely accommodating during my pregnancy, which has allowed me to transition into my new lifestyle with minimal stress.

Of course, I’m looking forward to meeting my coworkers and students again in the near future, and I admit that I miss being able to talk to them regularly. I’m also looking forward to seeing how the company has developed while I’ve been away.


⑤ Your company is in a competitive industry. Compared with others in the same business, what strength do you think your company has?

I think SSEA stands apart from many English schools simply because the ownership and staff have a genuine interest in helping students learn, and take pride in seeing their students improve over time.

SSEA also hires instructors who either live in Japan permanently or for an extended length of time, in order to foster rapport between staff and students alike, and I think this is a huge benefit to both. Many other companies are unable or unwilling to hire staff long term, which can adversely affect the quality of their teaching, and I think that students can tell when this is the case.

At SSEA, our students usually attend classes for a long time because they enjoy getting to know their assigned instructor, and feel more comfortable learning with them. They know they can rely on their instructor to be available for them.


⑥ What is the decisive factor that made you choose to permanently live in Japan?

Of course, the primary reason was that I wanted to start my married life with my husband, who had to leave London and move back to Japan in 2015. He chose to live in Tokyo, and I joined him as soon as possible. While I like visiting my home country, Ireland, and will always make time to see my family there, I feel settled in Japan and don’t have any desire to move elsewhere. I enjoy the city lifestyle in Tokyo, with all its conveniences, and I feel safe and secure about raising my child here. My job at SSEA is comfortable and enjoyable for me too, and I’m very content to keep working at SSEA for a long time to come.