“I was a vocalist in a heavy rock band.”

Chad Cottam, Learning Experience Specialist, Mazda Australia

Chad Cottam is a Learning Experience Specialist for Mazda Australia. Before joining the company, he lived and worked in Japan. In our Zoom chat he told us about his passion for martial arts, being in a rock band, and the difficulties of moving back to Australia just as Covid-19 took hold.

What are you driving at the moment?
A Mazda CX-5.

Do you have a favorite Mazda?
My favorite Mazda would probably be a MX-5 Miata, although I’ve never actually driven one. A friend in Japan just bought one actually. I’m a bit jealous.

Do you have a favorite drive?
When I lived in Japan, I loved driving to Kyoto from my place in Kobe. There’s a really nice 100-150-mile stretch of scenic roads.

What is your ideal road trip soundtrack?
A yacht-rock playlist with Toto, Phil Collins, Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates…

How did you end up in Japan?
I was in a sales job in Brisbane and I’d been thinking that I wanted to do something with my degree, and also travel. I’d majored in Spanish, but I figured that I couldn’t really make a long trip out of going somewhere like South America—it would be more like a holiday. So I chose Japan, also because I wanted to study a martial art called Jodo. You use a stick and it’s quite complex—it has the most sequences of any martial art. I got into that through a friend and I was lucky to have some good training. But I didn’t stick with it.

What happened next?
I met my wife, Yukari, and, at around the same time, decided I wanted to focus on music and let go of martial arts. I eventually got into a band and grew more serious about music. As I was doing that, I also got a bit more serious about the English teaching that I was doing there. I did a masters in linguistics and then got into business training as well, eventually becoming a researcher, lecturer, and part-time musician.

That sounds like a good balance. What kind of music did you play?
Rock and pop-rock. I played the guitar. I was also a vocalist for a heavy rock band.

“I wanted to study a martial art called Jodo. It’s quite complex and has the most sequences of any martial art.”

Was your Japanese fluent by then?
Japanese people tended to be very polite about it, but, yes, my speaking got a lot better.

Why did you decide to move back to Australia?
I’d always planned to come back, especially with my kids Ayumi and Kai. I wanted them to experience the other side of their culture. Yukari had always wanted to come to Australia. The move was challenging. We arrived about three months before Covid-19 hit, and we were in Melbourne, where we were locked down for two years.

How did your kids manage?
They were seven and ten at the time. It was tough for them to assimilate and get their English up to a good standard. They were really struggling. But they’re into sports and they’ve gained friendships through that, now they’re back at school. They’re moving ahead now. I speak English only to my children, and they respond in Japanese. But we have a rule at the dinner table—no Japanese—to encourage better English.

And your wife?
She was also stuck at home and didn’t have much to do apart from shopping. Luckily, that’s her favorite thing! After that, she was able to find some part-time work and then get a dream of hers going—running a Japanese food business selling bento boxes. It’s cooking for delivery. She’s hopeful that it will be successful. I’m probably more hopeful because I can see the opportunities. Where my wife works is actually very close to where Mazda is, along with lots of other head offices.

How did you then go from making music and being a researcher and linguist in Japan to working with Mazda?
One of my research focuses was technology and technology in the classroom. When I came back from Japan, I got a job at Monash University, which is quite close to Mazda. I was teaching English there, but then Covid-19 hit and I was told there were going to be no students for the next uptake. So I had to start thinking about my next career move, and I started a job where I was using technology to teach Chinese students coming to Australia. Then I moved into a straight learning design role that was fully online—no actual face-to-face teaching. Luckily for me, I got an opportunity with Mazda after that and, in the job that I do now, I get to use a broad range of skills. I’m not just designing online courses but also do videography and production, face-to-face presentations and training. All sorts of really interesting jobs.

What sort of things are you doing at the moment?
Right now, I’m designing a course on warranty, creating product articles for the Mazda CX-60, creating learning pieces for customer service, and I also just created a working-from-home course about health and safety.

Considering your interest in technology, have you got any new innovations you’d like to introduce to Mazda?
It’s just been approved that we can add some new software, H5P, which creates interactive videos. Different kinds of quizzes, and things like that, are embedded inside videos. That was one of my little wins.

What sort of mark would you like to make in your work at Mazda?
To know I’ve done everything I can to change perspectives when it comes to learning and development. To not just make learning a positive experience, but also something that people really want to do and look forward to.

Could you describe Mazda in three words?
Exciting, empowering, and family.

Interview by Helene Dancer / Zoom photo by Fran Monks

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