Rudlin Consulting provides expert analysis and consulting to people working in or with Japanese companies in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Whether you want to approach a Japan-owned company as a supplier, subsidiary or partner, we can help you understand its corporate culture and strategy, and identify the people and processes necessary for success.
We can also provide cultural awareness training for your employees, as the exclusive representative in Europe, Middle East and Africa of Japan Intercultural Consulting.
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The number of articles I have seen in the Japanese media full of complaints about the “work style reforms” announced by the Abe government last year seems to have shot up, particularly since the introduction of “premium Friday” in February of this year, when everyone was supposed to leave work at 3pm on the last Friday of each month and go shopping.
The Nikkei Business magazine’s 24th July 2017 edition has highlighted 3 kinds of behaviour attracting criticism in an article entitled “That’s not work style reform!”
Dumping work on overseas subsidiaries…
Mr A, a 30 something manager in a famous Japanese electronics company, is well known for producing great reports and yet somehow always managing to leave work on time, claiming he needs to pick up his kids from school, or do the housework. He goes on business trips to Asia twice a month, as his area of responsibility is global sales, and is meant to meet customers to understand their requirements for automotive and electrical components. However according to the young staff (presumably either Japanese or Japanese speaking) in the Asian offices, he mostly gets them to write the reports.
This behaviour started when the work style reforms began to be implemented, such as receiving warnings the next morning if your PC was still on after 8pm. Mr A said he couldn’t take his laptop home because his young children make it hard to work, so asked the Asia office staff to draft reports for him. “If you try to refuse he starts talking about his kids. how he has to take them to hospital or it’s their birthday party”. I wonder though, unless he’s wrongly claiming credit, isn’t this just good delegation?
…and other complaints
Other behaviours which complaints have been received about include – refusing to read customer emails after 4:45, just moving the mouse around to show that you are working from home, lights going out in the middle of important meetings, “last orders” being 2 hours before the end of business.
Nikkei Business lists up the initiatives which have been taken:
- Ajinomoto: changed the official end of the working day to 4:30 from April 2017 and shortened the working day from 7 hours and 15 minutes by 20 minutes
- Honda: Introduced a “working interval system” whereby there must be a minimum of 12 hours break between two work periods
- Fujitsu: Authorised unlimited working from home (but only twice a week maximum after the end of the working day) for around 25000 of its employees
- Calbee: Has a bi-annual “get rid of unnecessary work” drive
- Sony: promotes a “flex holiday” system of 16 day consecutive holidays including Saturdays.
- Astellas: Introduced a “Family Friday” system where work finishes each Friday at 4:30
What Japanese companies should do instead
Nikkei magazine asked the Chinese founder of Japanese software company Softbrain Song Wenzhou what he thinks Japanese companies should do instead. “It’s pointless to expect Japanese people to become more efficient by themselves. Even if you start an initiative to get everyone to observe 9-5 working hours they will still stay in the office even if they don’t have anything important to do. Being more efficient is seen as leading to sloppiness and if you just do the essentials of your job this is seen as bad!”
- The whole organisation – not just the individual – has to focus on how to improve productivity. I totally agree – leaving it up to the individual will not work in a collectivist, collaborative workplace.
- Then you can reduce working hours
Mitsuo Sekiya, the founder of Disco Corporation, a Japanese manufacturer of precision machinery, led a true reform of work style, resulting in three consecutive quarters of highest ever profit this year. Sekiya’s view is that true work style reform requires a radical restructuring of the company and that the problem is that employees who increase their productivity are not rewarded either financially or in terms of evaluations.
Recent statistics on Japanese companies’ activities in Europe show an overall positive picture – growth in employee numbers but declines in capital investment. Could this be a reflection of the ongoing Japanese overseas acquisition boom?
Sales of Japanese overseas subsidiaries in the 1st quarter of 2017 were up 7.9% overall on the previous year and at similar levels in Europe, but growth in North America was 4.3% up on the previous year. Asia represents nearly 50% of Japanese subsidiaries abroad, and sales grew 8.8% on the previous year, according to figures from Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade, and Industry.
However capital investment declined again, by 13.6% (12 consecutive quarters of decreases) particularly in Europe (40.9% decline – the first decrease in 5 quarters) and ASEAN countries. Capital investment in North America was only down 0.8% but even this was the first decrease for three quarters.
Nonetheless, the number of employees increased 1.9% globally, and by 4.9% in Europe, the 15th consecutive quarterly increase. Growth was less in Asia (1.3%) and North America 2.9%).
This may reflect a long term shift of Japanese companies in Europe towards more service oriented, and therefore people intensive businesses, away from capital intensive manufacturing.
However, figures from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers’ Association show that automakers in Europe are still expanding production (by 7%), although below the peak levels of 2007 and 2008. 17% more cars were imported from Japan than the previous year, but Japanese car manufacturers also purchased record numbers of EU made components.
Exports of Japanese cars manufactured in Europe fell 17%, representing around 20% of Japanese production in Europe. These exports went (in order of size) to North America (24%), Latin America (10%), Middle East (10%), Africa (8%), Oceania (8%) and Asia (6%) – presumably including Japan, and the Honda Civic that Boris Johnson drove when he recently visited Japan, citing it as an example of “fantastic” British exports to Japan.
Japanese car manufacturers now operate 14 plants in seven EU countries – 4 in the UK, 3 in Spain, 2 in Portugal, 2 in Poland, 1 in Hungary, 1 in France and 1 in the Czech Republic. The major capital investments in 2016 were made by Nissan in the UK and Spain and Toyota in Poland.
For most Japanese companies, despite recent changes to corporate governance and the occasional scandal, the main motivation is the long term survival of the firm, not shareholder value maximisation.
Obviously you have to make some money to invest back into the company to survive, but above all longevity means being a good citizen in the environment and communities you operate in. There are some exceptions to this of course, but by and large, Japanese companies are pretty sincere about corporate social responsibility, to the point where I used to joke when I worked in corporate communications in a Japanese IT company, that if we didn’t watch out, our mission statement would be identical to every other Japanese technology company’s mission statement as it could be summarised as “contributing to society through innovation”.
So if you are looking to work for a company that will be supportive of your wish to make a positive contribution to society, then you may find Japanese companies congenial places to work.
Some are more active in CSR than others, so when Toyo Keizai has published its latest rankings by industry, we matched these to our Top 30 Europe, UK and Germany largest Japanese employers rankings and put them in rank order as below.
As Toyo Keizai points out, it is easier for manufacturers to score highly in their CSR rankings, which is why they dominate the top 50 overall, and also why Toyo Keizai publishes rankings by industry, to ensure like for like comparisons are made. Banking and financial services are not included in their analysis. Toyo Keizai explains its scoring system (in Japanese) here. It has around 150 criteria, across the categories of diversity (gender, age, disability), environment, corporate governance and social contribution.
- Fujifilm – #1 overall and #1 in pulp/paper/chemicals
- Canon #4 overall and #1 in electronics and fine engineering
- Denso #8 overall and #1 in automotive
- Ricoh #9 overall and #3 in electronics and fine engineering
- Konica Minolta #12 overall and #4 in electronics and fine engineering
- Honda #14 overall and #2 in automotive
- Nissan #17 overall and #3 in automotive
- Daiichi Sankyo #25 overall and #1 in pharmaceuticals
- Toyota #28 overall and #4 in automotive
- Fujitsu #30 overall and #9 in electronics and fine engineering
- Astellas #34 overall and #2 in pharmaceuticals
- Sumitomo Rubber 36th overall and #2 in oil/rubber/glass/ceramics
- Mitsubishi Corporation #42 overall and #1 among trading companies
- Lixil 44th overall and #1 in metal products
- Sony #45 overall and #12 in electronics and fine engineering
- Nidec #49 overall and #13 in electronics and fine engineering
- Takeda #50 overall and #4 in pharmaceuticals
- Sumitomo Electric Industries #52 overall and #2 in metal products
- Itochu #55 overall and #2 among trading companies
- Panasonic #57 overall and #15 in electronics and fine engineering
- NYK #58 overall and #1 in logistics
- Japan Tobacco 60th overall, 3rd amongst food companies
- Brother Industries #71 overall and #16 in electronics and fine engineering
- Sumitomo Corporation – #73 overall and #3 amongst trading companies
- NTT Data #75 overall and #4 in telecommunications
- Olympus #84 overall and #17 in electronics and fine engineering
- Dentsu #95 overall and #2 out of service sector companies
- Sumitomo Heavy Industries #138 overall and #11 amongst machinery companies
- Calsonic Kansei #138 overall and #18 in automotive
- Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) #531 overall and #19 out of 20 amongst retailers
When people hear that I speak Japanese they usually say “how amazing – you must be so clever” and “you must be in demand for all sorts of jobs”. Actually I learnt Japanese the stupid way, which was to live in Japan as a child, and go to a Japanese school. And as for being in demand, I find that most companies do not want a Japanese specialist as a full time employee.
Think vocation before language ability
So I recommend to Japanese speakers that they think about what profession or industry they want to be in first, and then look for ways to incorporate their language skills. Most companies rightly put a priority on people’s technical or interpersonal skills rather than a specific language ability.
Avoid jobs which might use your language, but there’s no career path
It’s true that Japanese companies and people who supply services to them outside of Japan often hire Japanese speakers – but this can end in frustration if the Japanese speaker is simply given a nebulous role as a translator/customer liaison/interpreter with no clear career path.
Once a week Japanese lessons lead to frustration if you want to be fluent
Non-Japanese people working in Japanese companies often ask me if it’s worth learning Japanese themselves. I always say yes, although I warn them that they may get very frustrated if they expect a lesson a week to lead to fluency. Once they discover the three different ways of writing and multiple levels of politeness, not to mention the countless ways of counting, it’s very easy to give up in despair.
I’ve also been asked a few times if it’s true that Japanese colleagues dislike it if you speak Japanese, because it means that you know what they’re saying even though you’re not “one of them” and can’t be trusted with secrets.
This seems paranoid to me and certainly I’ve never experienced anything but relief from Japanese colleagues who realise that they don’t have to struggle to explain themselves to me in English.
Japanese is like skiing
What can cause mistrust however is reaching an intermediate level, where you think you understand what is going on (but maybe don’t), and inadvertently say the wrong thing or say something in an offensive way, because your language skills aren’t quite as good as you thought. Your Japanese colleagues assumed your Japanese was good enough to rely on you, but now you’ve let them down.
It’s a bit like skiing – the most dangerous level is the intermediate level. At the beginner level you might fall over a lot but you are unlikely to be going at speeds or off piste so it won’t kill you. But if you become overconfident, and attempt something risky without the advanced skills necessary, you may well end up in hospital.
The occasional mistake is forgiven
The occasional mistake is usually forgiven, however. Once – in a hurry – I sent an email to a customer saying “thank you for your response” using the Japanese word “henji/返事” for “response” but I failed to notice that for some reason it had auto corrected to a different “henji” – “変事” – which means “strange thing.” It probably helped that I was young and also had – up to then – been efficient and polite. My customers just thought it was very funny.
Even a weekly lesson will help you understand Japanese culture
Even though rapid fluency in Japanese is pretty impossible with just a lesson a week, I nonetheless think Japanese companies should fund employees’ efforts to learn Japanese. There is more and more evidence to show that learning another language helps you understand the culture and even unconsciously adapt the way you behave – how you analyse and react to situations.
For example, the Japanese language is “selfless”, which is a core Japanese value too. A typical English sentence has a “Subject, Verb, Object” construction. “I love you” for example. But in Japanese there is often no subject, and even no object. You just say “love”, and the context provides all the clues. This is another Japanese communication trait – to be “high context” – to understand what is not being said, and be sensitive to the context.
Japanese companies value multilingual people even if Japanese is not one of their languages
Having multilingual employees is a benefit not just because they may understand Japanese corporate cultures better. Recent research in neuroscience shows that multilingual people’s brains operate differently. For example, they make more rational decisions if they are functioning in a non-primary language. Working in another language reduces loss aversion, so people become better at assessing risks and benefits.
My observation, having worked with hundreds of Japanese companies in Europe over the past 12 years is that they tend to hire proportionately more multilingual employees than domestic European companies do. Perhaps they instinctively realise that multilingual people – even if Japanese is not one of their languages – are more likely to have the abilities to manage complexity and problem solve that they are looking for.
What to do if you want to work for a Japanese company
· Just speaking Japanese is not enough – at least for long term career fulfilment (on both sides). So think about your vocation – what you will love doing professionally – first. Then look for ways to develop or incorporate your language skills.
· If you want to improve or learn Japanese well enough for it to be of use in a Japanese company, you need to immerse yourself as much as possible. If you can’t go and live in Japan, then make sure you take the opportunity of someone like LinguaLift’s services to do something every day to expose yourself to the Japanese language.
· Even if you can’t reach a professional level of Japanese, don’t despair – just the fact that you made an effort will impress a Japanese employer, and give you some clues into Japanese culture, which will help you be effective in the Japanese workplace.
· If you’re multilingual in other languages as well, apply to the regional headquarters of Japanese companies – that’s where they need people with all kinds of linguistic and cross cultural communication talent to coordinate their business overseas. And if working in Japan is one of your goals, they may well be open to transferring you to their Japan headquarters. Then you’ll get good at Japanese – fast!
Le quatorze juillet seems a good moment to announce our new Top 30 Japanese companies in France.
The total number of employees covered by the 30 largest Japanese employers in France is 35,000 – lower than the totals employed by the Top 30 in Germany (56,000) and the UK (80,000) but the automotive sector is still dominant with nearly half of the Top 30 being automotive or having some automotive business. Obviously some of the larger employee groups are related to manufacturing workforces – Toyota, JTEKT and NTN for example.
M&A’s have played a part too – NTN, a bearings company, acquired French company SNR Roulements (which was part of the Renault group) in 2006. Toyota Tsusho acquired CFAO in 2012 – a trading company with over 10,000 employees in Africa. Fast Retailing added French brands Princesse Tam Tam and Comptoir des Cotonniers to its retail group alongside Uniqlo.
As you might expect, food and drink companies also feature – Nippon Suisan acquired Cite Marine, and Suntory has its Orangina Schweppes brands based out of France. Ajinomoto is also headquartered in France for the region.
The other key sector is technology, particularly imaging – Canon, Ricoh,Toshiba, Konica Minolta, Olympus and Fujifilm. Once again, each country’s historical comparative advantage is clear (cars, food, films for France, engineering for Germany and cars, finance and other services for the UK) showing how trade and integrated markets encourage specialisation.
|Rank||Company||France employees 2016|
Whether you’re looking to work for or supply to a Japanese company, size matters. The most obvious reason being, as bank robber Willie Sutton apparently never said, “that’s where the money is”. That’s why we started our Top 30 Japanese Employers rankings – we’ve found them useful in understanding our customer base and the likely concerns of participants in our seminars.
We use the number of employees as a proxy for size rather than turnover or profit, and although there is a degree of correlation between employee numbers globally and in Europe and overall profit, there are some exceptions.
Toyo Keizai have recently listed up the companies* who made the biggest cumulative profit in the past 10 years and it’s absolutely no surprise that Toyota, one of the biggest companies in Japan and #9 amongst Japanese companies in Europe, made a whopping Y11 trillion ($99bn) cumulative profit from 2007 to 2017, far outstripping NTT and NTT Docomo at #2 and #3 who made less than half that amount. NTT and NTT Docomo are not in our Top 30 Japanese companies in Europe, although another group company, NTT Data, is.
However NTT and NTT Docomo never made a loss, whereas Toyota did go into the red – with a loss of $.8.6bn in 2008/9. Honda, who has had a tough time in Europe (and is #23 in our rankings), has also never made a loss, and accumulated a $36bn profit over the decade. Nissan, who made a loss but was famously turned round by Carlos Ghosn, is 10th largest in Europe in our rankings and has the 6th largest cumulative profit.
I was surprised to see my old employer Mitsubishi Corporation at #5, as they too had some rough patches particularly with losses in the commodity side, but clearly overall the Japanese trading companies have been very profitable, despite their death being heralded every decade – Mitsui is at #9, Itochu at #11, Sumitomo Corp at #14 and Marubeni at #21.
Unsurprisingly, almost none of the Japanese electronics companies feature in the top 30, apart from Canon at #10 and Mitsubishi Electric at #25. Other industries in the top 50 most profitable are automotive (Denso, Bridgestone) and pharmaceutical (Takeda, Astellas) related, and also heavily domestic businesses such as telecommunications (KDDI, SoftBank as well as NTT mentioned above), rail and retail (7&I, Fast Retailing).
Two of the largest Japanese companies in Europe – Fujitsu and Hitachi – are at #69 and #70 – Hitachi’s cumulative profit was heavily dented by the historic loss of $8bn in 2008/9. The largest company in the Europe and Africa region – Sumitomo Electric Industries (due to its labour intensive automotive manufacturing operations) is at #38, with a $6bn cumulative profit.
*Excludes banks, insurance and other financial services companies
Fujitsu continues to be the largest Japanese employer in the UK despite recent restructuring. We’ve added Sumitomo Rubber to the list, following its recent acquisition of UK tyre wholesaler and retailer Micheldever. Along with Kwik Fit, another UK tyre dealer and car servicing company is owned by Itochu at #3, this means that over a third of the companies in the list are automotive or have a substantial automotive component to their business.
We’ve also revised upwards our estimate of the total number of Mitsubishi Corporation employees, having confirmed from various sources that its main subsidiary in the UK, Princes, the foods company, has around 3000 of its 8000 employees in its UK operations.
The top 30 now cover around 80,000 of the 140,000 employees that Japanese companies in the UK employ. Individual profiles of each company, including trends in employment, regional headquarters, European organisation and CSR and diversity analyses are available – please contact pernillerudlinrudlinconsultingcom
|Rank||Company||UK employees 2016|
|14||Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Goup||2,100|
|17||Mitsui Sumitomo & Aioi Nissay Dowa||1,867|
The bankruptcy of Takata and acquisition of its assets and operations by a Chinese owned US based company Key Safety Systems is not perhaps the most auspicious moment to announce our new Top 30 Japanese employers in Germany – where Takata, for the time being, is at #3. Its substantial presence in Germany (in contrast to the UK, where it has no operations at all) is due to the acquisition of Petri AG in 2000.
Another Japanese company which should perhaps be classified as Chinese (or rather, Taiwanese) is Sharp. Since Hon Hai/Foxconn’s acquisition, Sharp has radically reorganised itself in Europe. There is Sharp Devices Europe, headquartered in Munich, with what was Sharp Laboratories and is now renamed a Design Centre in Oxford UK and Sharp Business Systems Europe, headquartered in the UK along with the Information Systems unit, with Visual Solutions in Munich and Energy Solutions in Hamburg. Sharp Telecommunications in the UK is being closed down. Sharp’s white goods brand (microwaves etc) is now under license to the Turkish company Vestel but there was a rumour last year that Sharp under Foxconn wanted to buy the brand back.
Many of the other large Japanese companies in Germany are also the result of acquisitions, like Takata – Musashi Seimitsu acquired Johann Hay in 2006, Lixil acquired Grohe/Josef Gartner 2011-2013, Panasonic acquiring Vossloh in 2000 etc.
Comparing to the UK Top 30 – there are some similarities – Fujitsu at the top and Sony, Ricoh, Canon, JTI and Hitachi all featuring. No doubt the list will be revised as we uncover more companies, but it does seem that there are not quite so many employees per large company in Germany as there are in the UK. This might be partly to do with the car factories – Honda, Nissan and Toyota and their associated suppliers in the UK – and also the trading companies such as Itochu, Sumitomo Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation have acquired larger companies in the UK than they have in Germany.
|Rank||Company||Germany employees 2016|
|16||Sumitomo Heavy Industries||1,386|
|18||Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems||1,352|
Our reports on the Top 30 Japanese employers in Europe, Middle East & Africa (showing trends in total global employees, Japan based employees, EMEA based employees) and the Top 30 Japanese employers in the UK and Germany (showing trends in total employees, regional HQ location, region covered, percentage UK of Europe and of global) are available as pdfs – please contact pernillerudlinrudlinconsultingcom