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Norwich School Blog

ON Takeover: Gordon O'Byrne - A Creative Career in Japan

As part of ON Takeover week, we are taking a look at where Norwich School took some of our Old Norvicensians...

In the latest ON Magazine, which takes a look at ONs in the world of work, we hear from Gordon O'Byrne (72-77), who tells us about how his creative career journey led him to living and working across the world in Japan.


What are you doing now for work?  

After quitting my Graphic Design job in London and moving to Tokyo in 1988, I have worked in both Japanese and multinational companies as a Creative Director and Brand Strategist. I work mainly in the Japanese language for the Japanese market. 

In 2003, I started my own Creative Direction and Brand Strategy consultancy based in the trendy Harajuku area of Tokyo. 


Explain your company to us.  

We work with our clients as advisors and strategists for new and ongoing initiatives ranging from new product and brand launches, marketing and communication strategy, online learning experiences, business events and conferences to Japan market entry consulting.  

Ultimately, we create memorable experiences to connect people to brands and organisations. In doing so we help businesses grow and build enduring relationships with their communities. 

I have had the pleasure of working with some of the worlds top brands including Coca-Cola, Nissan, IBM, Cartier, Hitachi, Nestle, Amway and Dyson. 


What is your motivation?  

Gratitude. Helping those I work with. My passion to keep learning, keep changing and keep moving forward. 


Tell us what changes and challenges you have faced working in a COVID-19 world.  

We are continuously adjusting to the new normal and the remote-work culture; however, working virtually was already part of business-as-usual pre-COVID so we were well positioned to adjust further. Tokyos lockdown has not been as strict as those in many countries, so we can still meet face to face when absolutely necessary while maintaining social distance.  


How have you got to where you are today?  

By taking a risk and embracing an adventure. After working in design agencies in the West End of London for a few years after graduation, I became bored with the life of a graphic designer in London. I started learning Japanese at night school because I thought it would be fun to speak a Far Eastern language. As I progressed, I was frequently told that you have to be in an immersive environment to learn the language properly, which led to me winding up my life in London and heading to Tokyo, without a job or anything, to see what happened. I felt that if I did not take a risk and have a mad adventure when I was young, free and single then I would likely regret it later in life. 

Now I am a permanent resident of Japan, married to a wonderful Japanese lady. I have two children, two cats, my company and many bass guitars. 


What is your most memorable work experience?  

Too many to choose an absolute favourite. From bringing Coca-Cola Japans brands into the digital space and establishing their online presence, to launching a new beauty brand for the Japanese market on a packed cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, with Jennifer Lopez as brand ambassador. 


Who is your inspirational figure?  

Design inspiration – Frank Gehry. Musical inspiration – Jaco Pastorius. 


What makes Norwich School special to you?  

Living more than half my life in a completely different culture on the other side of the world has given me a singular appreciation on how privileged I was to receive an excellent education in such a historical school and surroundings


What is your favourite Norwich School memory?  

Playing a solo bass guitar piece of Jazz music in the cathedral at the morning assembly. It was notable at the time as the music curriculum at Norwich School in the mid 1970s was strictly limited to orchestral instruments and classical music, so electric instruments were not taken seriously. 


What hobbies/interests do you have outside of work?  

As those who knew me at Norwich School will know, music and playing the bass guitar have been my passion since I was 14. I have been playing actively ever since; however, the pandemic has put a stop to gigs for the time being. I cannot wait to get back to playing live again! 

I am also a very keen cook, specialising in regional Indian, Middle Eastern and French food. Tokyo is often called the foodie capital of the world and I completely agree! 


What might someone be surprised to know about you?  

I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with a tumour in my throat when I was 16 and still at Norwich School. It very nearly killed me on multiple occasions and in 1991 the doctors gave me a single-figure life expectancy.  

Long story short, soon after that, medical technology advances enabled surgeons to do what had been impossible before – to remove the tumourThirty years after that, I am still thriving and thankful for the life I have been given! 

There is always hope and faith, no matter what your current situation is and no matter what people tell you. 


Would you be willing to offer career advice or work experience/leadership skills to the Norwich School community?