At the time of speaking, Joshua Joojin Lee has just returned from a long trip to Japan and Korea, where his company, Navya, successfully launched a trial of autonomous vehicles.
“I’m suffering from a bit of jet-lag right now,” Joshua laughs. “It was very exhausting, but very motivating at the same time.”
After gaining a bachelor's degree in international law and legal studies in Japan, Joshua started his business career working in the IT and automotive industry, and spent a total of 12 years in international sales and planning, traveling more than 25 countries for business projects.
In the end, it was a desire to break out of the mould of Japanese companies that led to him pursuing an MBA.
“Companies in Japan are very conservative and very traditional,” he reflects. “For someone like me who is very motivated and always wants challenges, it can be difficult.
“Eventually, I made up my mind to take on a big challenge, break out of my shell, and do an MBA.”
Though initially Joshua focused his search on programs in Asia, a mix of the cost and duration led him to an MBA in Europe, ultimately choosing emlyon business school in France.
“emlyon is one of the oldest business schools in Europe,” Joshua says. “The school is also very strong on design thinking and entrepreneurial skills—I was really inspired by this mindset and the professors.”
An MBA in Europe
As it turns out, the international MBA at emlyon was more challenging than Joshua had ever expected.
“I thought ‘I already have 12 years experience in business, I can just study hard and get a good job,’ but the quality there was very high,” he says.
“More than just studying, emlyon provides you with real negotiation practice, lots of group work with your cohort, and skills like creativity.”
Over the course of the one year program, emlyon MBA students can choose from nine specialisations, and a range of varied courses to tailor their experience.
Joshua pursued courses in international strategy and international leadership, as well as participating in a seven-month consultancy project for Renault Trucks in Lyon.
“The main agenda was ‘what will be the future of transportation?’” he explains. “As I was hoping to move into the autonomous system industry, I really wanted to succeed in this project.”
Despite the project being challenging—“our client had high expectations” Joshua adds—in the end, his group succeeded, and Joshua says he “learned many things, both soft skills and hard skills, from time management to stress management.
“After I’d passed that one year at emlyon, I’d learned so much more than what I expected,” he adds.
Getting a job in a driverless cars startup
Joshua never imagined that he would transition from huge Japanese companies to a startup, but that’s exactly what he did when, after his MBA, he took a role at Navya, an automotive startup based in Lyon.
“When I was preparing to return to Japan, one of my former business acquaintances contacted me that his company was going to invest in new autonomous driving systems,” Joshua explains.
“I knew Navya already, as one of the best startup companies in Lyon, and he came to know they were looking for someone to head up international sales in Asia Pacific.”
So, Joshua took the leap into the startup world, an environment which he says is “fascinating.”
“I need to handle so many things,” he says, “from business development to customer support and technical details—it’s really inspiring every day.”
In 2016, McKinsey predicted that, by 2030, up to 15% of new cars sold could be fully autonomous, and Joshua says it was always his goal to "challenge the automotive industry.”
“Every day there are so many new ideas and projects,” he explains. “We took this trip to see how we could deliver the first autonomous market vehicle in Japan.”
The trip was a success—Navya plans to deploy their first public service of autonomous electric shuttles on open roads in the Japanese city of Sakai from April, as a replacement for traditional buses and taxis.
The future of driverless cars
A study from 2018 predicted that the autonomous vehicle market would be worth $556.67bn by 2026, while it is expected to grow this year by 36.2%—making now the perfect time to enter the autonomous car industry.
“Huge original equipment manufacturers, like Toyota and Daimler—they are all putting huge investments in autonomous driving systems,” Joshua explains, “But Navya is the first company to commercialize it.”
In his role at the forefront of breaking this industry, Joshua is the area manager for Asia Pacific, “but focusing mainly on Japanese and Korean markets,” he says. “This industry is booming, and it’s also changing very rapidly—there’s no telling what may happen in the future.”
Either way, Joshua recognises that his MBA provided him with the best opportunities to reach his career goals.
“One of the gifts I received from the MBA is how important it is for creating opportunities,” he begins. “The curriculum was inspiring and motivating, but the MBA is not just a place for studying—it’s really about relationships.”