©Photo by Laura Pollacco

CrossFit Business Owner Violet Pacileo

Trading In Tokyo’s Crazy Finance Scene And Gaining Autonomy In Rural Kochi

By Laura Pollacco
October 13, 2023
Careers, Savvy Spotlight

After having a long and varied career in the stock market, Violet Pacileo left it all and opened up her own business focusing on the sport she loves.

Though many daydream about packing in that stressful city life and moving to the deep countryside, the realities of making such a change are something else entirely, especially when you have a family to think about. But this is exactly what Violet Pacileo did when she left Tokyo and her career in finance to be close to her mother, moving to Kochi Prefecture and later opening the most scenic CrossFit gym in Japan. 

CrossFit Business Owner Violet Pacileo© Photo by Laura Pollacco

Pacileo has led an extremely tumultuous life, from her upbringing between Japan and the U.K, working in a high-stress industry and moving to the States and back. Her latest challenge has been opening a business in the middle of rural Kochi, a move that has given her the opportunity to gain autonomy over her career and bring new energy to the town. 

What was working in Tokyo’s stock market like? 

When I first started in 2006 it was a pre-financial crisis so it was booming. There were tons of expats, including traders from Wall Street and London, so it was really bustling and exciting. Then, overnight it just changed. I remember seeing the stock market and exchange rate just take a nosedive. Counterintuitively, since the fund I was working for had a long investment horizon for stocks, this was an exciting opportunity, because it was like all the stocks had suddenly gone on sale.

Finance is very fast-paced, you have to pay close attention to the news, keep your finger on the pulse, and you have to be aware of the politics that go on within companies. Of course, when you get paid a lot, there’s also a lot of stress that comes with it. 

What was gender equality like in such a male-dominated industry in Japan?

The working situation came as a big shock for me, especially since I was coming from the U.K. I found it really draining because, no matter how hard I worked or my successes, these “big boss men” only saw me as an object. It really affected me, I cut my hair short, I covered myself up more conservatively and at the office, I even adopted a certain persona because I thought if I wasn’t attractive maybe they would finally take me seriously. All those thoughts used to go through my head. I thought it was my fault. Fortunately, as I got older, I realized it was not, but the thoughts used to plague me constantly. 

Have there been any improvements in the industry?

In some ways, the finance industry is at the forefront of change. ESG (environmental, social and governance) and SRI (socially responsible investment) investing have been around for a while, but we are seeing much more interest coming from different governments, especially in Japan. Japanese listed companies, for example, are now required to comply with the Corporate Governance Code, and there’s a bigger push for workplace diversity including gender equality.

How was your work/life balance working in finance in Tokyo?

CrossFit Business Owner Violet Pacileo© Photo by Laura Pollacco
Who could ask for a better view when spinning?

When I was working in sales, I would leave the house at 5 a.m. to fit in a CrossFit class at 6 a.m. before heading to the office, so I didn’t see my kids in the morning. And, of course, my job required me to meet and entertain corporate clients, which meant lots of drinking and that usually meant I didn’t get home till midnight. I only saw the kids on the weekends, and I felt like I wasn’t being a good parent.

When I moved to work at a hedge fund things were better because I could work remotely, so I didn’t have to work late nights. However, I was still on call 24/7, constantly checking Slack throughout the day and night. That wasn’t healthy either. The last hedge fund job really took a toll as it was a bad cultural match for me. It made me realize I didn’t want to be in finance anymore.

Why did you decide to move to Kochi?

CrossFit Business Owner Violet Pacileo© Photo by Laura Pollacco
Making sure to celebrate both her cultures.

My mom is originally from Otoyo, where I now live. We used to come and visit my grandparents here every year for summer and winter vacations. In fact, my granddad used to grow rice right where the gym now stands! At first, I started helping my mother maintain the property, as it was too much for her, and in the countryside, you really need to keep the land in good shape as it affects your neighbors. It was actually my husband Carlo who brought up the idea of moving to Kochi since I was spending so much time going back and forth.

How did the CrossFit business come about?

For the first few months after moving, I spent a lot of time wondering what I was going to do next. Although we were living on my mother’s family’s property, we still needed to find an income stream since I was no longer working in finance. Carlo and I came up with a few different ideas, but in the end, he said “just do whatever makes you happy.” So we decided on the CrossFit business.

Initially, we were just going to do something on a small scale, because we were working out in our garage and our neighbors were really interested. They started asking if we could teach them so we thought, “Oh, maybe this could be a bigger business.” So, I built a detailed business plan with 10-year projections, raised capital over two challenging years and won a government subsidy with a persistent effort to construct my very own CrossFit retreat, which is also the first of its kind in Shikoku.

What was your goal in opening CrossFit Otoyo Strength? 

CrossFit Business Owner Violet Pacileo© Photo by Laura Pollacco
With help from a local female firm, they built the most stylish gym in Kochi.

I didn’t start Otoyo Strength to change the community. I came up with this business out of a desire to feed my family, and it just happened to be CrossFit because it makes me happy. It’s now grown to become a community-building endeavor in this location where I came to be close to my mom. I didn’t choose this business because I wanted to be a revitalization specialist, but somehow I have become one!

How has your pace of life changed since moving to Kochi?

Many people may think, “Oh, you moved to the countryside, you must have a really slow pace of life and you have lots of time with the kids” but as a business owner, I still work 24/7. Actually, it doesn’t matter where you are—in the city or the countryside—if you’re a business owner, you’re working 24/7. It’s hard work, we’ve only been open for 10-11 months so we are still in the growth phase and it’s still really tough. However, I have a lot more autonomy now and don’t think I could ever go back to working for someone else. I love being able to make all the final decisions on my business.

What would be your advice to people looking to leave the cities for a rural life?

CrossFit Business Owner Violet Pacileo© Photo by Laura Pollacco
A gym that inspires change.

You really need to have a connection to the land. I know that’s not what people want to hear but you need some kind of strong connection to be accepted into the community. Beyond that, what you need to have is a clear purpose. 

For example, in Otoyo there are many families that have been here for generations and grew up here, they just want to keep living the way they have so far. When coming into a countryside community, you have to understand that a lot of people don’t like change. I see myself as a facilitator, I can facilitate change but I certainly can’t force it on them. They have to be able to see for themselves that they want to change. So while it is great to go to the countryside and do your own thing, you need to accept that you can’t really force the community to also do your thing.

You can find out more about Violet and CrossFit Otoyo Strength, as well as her tiny home chalet next to the gym, over on the CrossFit Otoyo Strength website.

Savvy Spotlight is a monthly feature introducing foreign and Japanese women at the frontline of what’s successful, contributing, cool, unique and interesting in the city. If you have anyone in mind you would like us to interview, leave us a comment below with your recommendations!

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