As a female executive in the men's club of Japanese business, Yoshimi Ogawa has to watch her step. She can't, for example, cry in front of associates. "You can never use something that would be seen as a woman's weapon," says Ogawa.

Fortunately for her company, Tokyo-based Index Corp., she has not completely abandoned her female intuition. Five years ago, Index was struggling; the website- design firm's founders were dipping into their personal savings just to make the payroll. Index thought salvation might be found in a different line of work — collaborating with cellular giant...

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