June 29, 2012

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 customer, employer or potential investor, 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 – as the exclusive representative in Europe, Middle East and Africa of Japan Intercultural Consulting.

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December 1, 2017

The Japanese petrochemical industry has had a tough time due to slowing domestic demand and competition from developing countries.  Mitsubishi Chemical has spent 10 years restructuring and shifting to new markets in automotive and IT sectors.  In order to compete with major rivals, further restructuring of the Japanese petrochemical will be necessary, says Hitoshi Ochi, President of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings in an interview in Nikkei Business.

Ochi was General Manager of the corporate planning office at Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings 10 years’ ago, when Yoshimitsu Kobayashi was president – together they embarked on the restructuring of chemical related Mitsubishi group companies which has resulted in Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsubishi Rayon and Mitsubishi Plastics being merged into one, and brought together in 2012 in one building, with the classy address of 1-1-1 Marunouchi.

Mitsubishi Chemical has withdrawn from generic chemical production and is now focusing on high added value materials for the automotive and IT sectors as well as nurturing the pharmaceuticals side of the business.

According to Ochi, the reforms are not finished.  “We now have to restructure our portfolio” he says.  Reaching a certain scale in the business will still be important, but the new challenge is to get this to bear fruit.  “We’ve grown into a large tree, but now we have to cut back some of the branches”.  He does not rule out withdrawing from certain businesses.  For example, transferring the ABS resin business to a new joint venture with JSR and Ube.

Mitsubishi Chemical was also able to combine sales of different product lines from Mitsubishi Chemical, Mitsubishi Rayon and Mitsubishi Plastics to win a combined order from Toyota for the Prius PHV.

Ochi says he really felt the walls dividing the organisations before they were combined, when he was President of Mitsubishi Rayon.  If he asked something of the Mitsubishi Chemical President it would take at least half a year to be processed because of course the Mitsubishi Chemical President would put the profitability of his own company first.  “Now I am the one President, I can just ask for something to be done and it’s done.”

“Former Mitsubishi Plastics people are becoming much more proactive about suggesting sales strategies – a world of difference from having to ask them to sell something before”.

Mitsubishi Chemical is also looking at new ways of conducting research and development – to become more specialised at developing new technologies.  “The Germans are right about Industry 4.1.  Using IT to build supply chains and create a virtual industrial cluster.  This is a scary strategy for Japanese companies.  Japanese companies will have to follow suit. There are several hundred Japanese chemical companies and we will have to collaborate.  We need to earn money not from volume but functionality.”

Ochi does not rule out combining with Asahi Kasei or Mitsui Chemicals however.   Japanese manufacturers have some strong product lines, and if there are synergies, it makes sense to combine, he says, agreeing that there are too many Japanese chemical companies to compete internationally, and that it might be better to only have 3 or so.  “If you look at what is happening to chemical companies in Europe and North America, Japan is clearly behind.  We also need to globalize further.  Not just bringing generic products to Asia but value added products to Europe and North America.  I keep saying that we cannot direct everything from Japan.  We need to let the local managers develop new business lines.  We can still do well in the West”


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Koji Nagai has been pushing structural reforms since he became President and CEO of Nomura Holdings since 2012, after the resignation of the previous CEO following an insider trading scandal.  In an interview with Diamond magazine he is asked why he was chosen to become President.  “In truth, I do not really know.  I don’t know how long I will remain CEO but I am giving it my all”.

Nagai remembers when in 1997 the then President Hideo Sakamaki resigned because of an illicit trading scandal, and then his successor Masashi Suzuki only lasted 48 days.  After him, Junichi Ujie was chosen.  “It seemed extraordinary to me. Ujie had been CEO of Nomura in the USA for many years, and had never been involved with Nomura’s domestic retail business – the lifeblood of Nomura.”

“I asked President Suzuki why he chose Ujie, and he said “I didn’t choose him, the times chose him”  It shouldn’t be about who gets on well or badly with whom, but what Nomura will need in 10 years time, and that meant Ujie was the only candidate.”

Ujie was President from 1997 to 2003.  He started up Nomura Asset Management and Nomura Investor Relations as subsidiaries.  He also restructured the company into a holding company structure and issued ADRs on the New York Stock Exchange.

This shaped Nomura for the 21st century, says Nagai.

Nagai was told, when he first joined Nomura from university that he would never become section chief, because as a graduate from a private university, he was not hungry enough.

“There was a Nomura Man (they were all men) type”, says Nagai, and he did not really fit the aggressive salesman stereotype as he was rather shy.  However when he moved to the Tokyo headquarters and headed up the company union, he became aware of the diversity of Nomura’s staff, in terms of age and gender and background.

Nagai sees becoming President after the scandal as the moment for him to put a stop to everything that up to know he had thought was not right or disliked, and so embarked on a reform of Nomura.

In an earlier interview with Diamon magazine, Nagai states that the two areas he focused on were firstly, recovering the trust in Nomura – not only through mere compliance but to foster a strong social mission and ethics.

The second area was to have a new global strategy, responsive to changes in the business environment.  Asia is integrated with Japan as the “mother market” and management resources redistributed accordingly.

When Nomura acquired the European and Asian divisions of Lehman brothers in 2008, it was obvious that Japanese companies were being forced to go abroad in search of growth and so Japanese financial institutions needed to step in to help with M&A.  “I have to say, however, to be honest, the answer to the question of why Nomura needed to be global was not clear.  We were going global for the sake of being global”

It had been a source of pride at Nomura that they opened a New York office in 1927, only 2 years after Nomura Securities was established.

Nagai instead felt that Nomura should put customer needs first, where Nomura can add value and is competitive.  So Nomura should be a financial services group based in Asia and review the business in Europe and the US, focusing more on advisory business and corporate finance.

Diversity is still important to Nagai, however.  He dislikes the way people are pigeon holed as “sales” or “corporate” or “branch office” and wants to introduce career change opportunities to employees.  It is important for organisations to accept “foreign bodies” such as different business backgrounds and cultures, and mid-career hires, to avoid rigidity, he concludes.

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November 30, 2017

American private equity companies such as Bain and KKR have been active in Japan recently, making me wonder whether the companies they acquire should no longer be classified as “Japanese”. Bain are about to take on WPP’s stake of Japanese ad agency ADK and led the consortium which acquired Toshiba’s chip business. KKR recently completed its acquisition of Calsonic Kansei from Nissan and two businesses from Hitachi (power tools and chip making).

The members of the Bain and KKR teams that undertook the acquisitions are mostly Japanese nationals, but a recent article 院Nikkei Business about how Calsonic Kansei is developing since the acquisition shows that they are trying to inject a more Anglo Saxon way of thinking.  When it was still under the Nissan umbrella, its main focus was how to respond to Nissan’s requests.  “Now, it is not ‘how’ but ‘what’ that is important ” says Kazuhiro Sato, in charge of product planning.

Calsonic Kansei is aiming to raise its non-Nissan customer base from 20% to 30% and is hoping to do this through developing new technologies for electric vehicles, such as air conditioning – building on its experience of developing components for Nissan’s Leaf.

Calsonic Kansei has also launched a cyber security subsidiary White Motion as a joint venture with French company Quarkslab.

Calsonic Kansei have around 2000 employees in Europe, the bulk of which are in the UK (making it #18 in our Top 30 Japanese UK employers), where there are two factories resulting from the acquisition of Llanelli Radiators in 1989 and Marley Foam in Sunderland – it also has factories in Romania and Spain.

Calsonic Kansei is the result of a domestic merger of Calsonic (air conditioning) and Kansei (display meters) in 2000, the year after Carlos Ghosn took over at Nissan and declared that only 4 of the 1394 companies that Nissan had shares in were “indispensable”.  Which the 4 companies were was not clear, but Calsonic and Kansei were not among them.

Calsonic Kansei fought back by adopting the “cockpit module” concept which had become popular in Europe, to the extent that they even installed production lines for it in Nissan factories.  Nissan then increased its share in Calsonic Kansei in 2005.

However Ghosn continued with his open procurement policy and it became clear to Calsonic Kansei too that becoming too dependent on one customer was not healthy or conducive to high growth.  When the capital alliance with Mitsubishi Motors was formed in 2016, Ghosn also talked to Roberts and Kravitz at KKR about selling Nissan’s share in Calsonic Kansei.

Calsonic Kansei might still be swallowed up in further industry restructuring.  It is several orders of magnitude smaller than giants such as Bosch or Denso.

Calsonic Kansei’s president Hiroshi Moriya says although there was anxiety at first when KKR became the new owners, since then as sales to Nissan have not decreased and KKR is helping the company to find new people to build relations with overseas customers, employee motivation has improved and they are looking for new ways to revitalize the organisation, such as joint project teams between Japanese and non-Japanese engineers.  “It is important not to fear failure and to be ambitious.  What is important is speed.  I keep telling everyone in the company that mistakes can be fixed.”


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With over 1000 employees in its London operations, Mizuho is #26 in our Top 30 Japanese employers in the UK, although it has not made any overseas acquisitions recently which might boost its size in the UK, unlike other Japanese financial institutions.  However it has been building up a war chest to acquire fintech companies – although what impact it will have on its employees is ambiguous, as the Financial Times claimed last month that Mizuho is aiming to shed around a third of its global workforce over the next ten years, through greater use of information technology.

This looks to affect the operations in Japan primarily, and will be through natural attrition as Japan’s rapidly ageing population means a large number of banking staff will in any case be retiring.

Mizuho Financial Group president Yasuhiro Sato has been very visible in the Japanese business media over the past few months, talking about the next phase of banking.  Mizuho was the result of the merger of Fuji Bank, Daiichi Kangyou Bank and the Industrial Bank of Japan in 1999, which in itself caused major headaches in the back office as it tried to integrate three different IT systems and multiple duplicate layers of bureaucracy, that are hard to eliminate in a culture where mass redundancies are taboo.

Sato says his strategy of One Mizuho is the answer to both the post merger integration and also the challenges that banks face post Lehman Shock.  One is to strengthen core capital, to ensure that major banks can never collapse again and the second is to ensure customer oriented business operations, as a financial intermediary rooted in real customer demands, with a strong sense of fiduciary duty.

One Mizuho should mean that customers are not simply offered loans or interest on their deposits but also other non-interest based investments, from the trust and securities side of the business.  The bank needs to become more like a consultant, listening to customers’ hopes, understanding their family structures.

Instead of acting as a main bank to Japanese industry as in the past, Mizuho is looking to incubate new companies and foreign companies, taking a 15% stake in a fintech venture.

Mizuho’s USP is that it is not a zaibatsu originated bank (unlike MUFG (Mitsubishi) and SMBC (Sumitomo and Mitsui) so it has a neutral view on Japan’s industrial structure which means that its industry research division is often called on by suppliers who want to bridge the various keiretsu (conglomerate) supply chains.

Mizuho has also teamed up with SoftBank to create J.Score, a service which provides loans to individuals such as students, using personal, non-financial information to give credit scoring.

Sato justifies the Mizuho mission of “Contributing to Japan, Asia and the world” (which I have to admit, I have teased Mizuho employees about, as it seems to imply in English that these are separate non-overlapping entities) by explaining that Japan is the pivot for the megabank and is Mizuho’s homeland.




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November 27, 2017

Pachinko machines

I often illustrate that Japanese companies are the “last functioning socialist organisations” in my seminars by pointing out that although they are very hierarchical, the top executives of Japanese companies only earn 10 or 20 times the average employee’s salary, compared to 160 times in the UK for FTSE 100 companies and more than 300 times in the USA for Fortune 100 companies.

Toyo Keizai have confirmed that this multiple still holds, by listing the highest pay differentials for TSE listed companies.  The top 10 include new technology companies such as LINE (mobile apps subsidiary of Korean internet company Naver) at #1 with a multiple of 165 between staff and director salaries and Nexon (Korean owned video games company) at #2 with a multiple of 57.7 as well as founder run companies such as Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) at #3, with a multiple of 31.4.

Foreign executives head up Nissan at #4 and Takeda at #5 – both with multiples of just over 29. The rest of the top 10 are around the 20-25 x mark with Sankyo and Universal Entertainment – both pachinko gambling machine companies at #6 and #8 and Art Nature ( a wig manufacturer) at #7. Electronics company Tokyo Electron and chain restaurant company Skylark (Chairman Ralph Alvarez ex President McDonalds) at #9 and #10.

Toyota is at #14 and after #15, multiples are below 20 and cluster around the 10x mark for established companies that are in our European Top 30 such as Sony, Daikin, Panasonic, Itochu, Astellas – through to Canon bunched with 8 others at the bottom of the Top 500 with a multiple of around 6 between employees and directors.

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October 31, 2017

“Has Toyota Changed?” is the headline front cover article for Nikkei Business magazine (16th October 2017).  It features 100 testimonies from people from the traditional Toyota group of companies, and also those companies with which it has a relationship either through investment or collaboration.

It’s a reminder of the huge influence and reach Toyota has – including in the EMEA region, as blogged previously. But it also illustrates how the advance of IT in the automotive industry means the balance of power is becoming more equal between Toyota and its suppliers, if they have the software and AI know-how it needs.

I’ve become increasingly aware of this shift myself. I was conducting a seminar for graduates at a supplier in the Toyota group in Spain recently – most of the graduate trainees had post graduate degrees in computer science. The silent, gleaming factory where we held the seminar made circuit boards and we all had to wear hairnets and anti static boots – to an industry outsider visiting, you would never have known it had anything to do with cars.

The Nikkei providers a useful summary of the extent of Toyota’s reach:

Getting guchoku with Nvidia

One of the testimonies is from Masataka Ohsaki, country manager of Nvidia Japan.  He says Nvidia’s CEO Jensen Huang visits Japan every three months and meets with around 20 Toyota executives for discussions and to review progress.  “He’s an engineer, so he expresses his opinions very clearly…we are not just a sub contractor to Toyota, we are equal partners…we have to express our opinions, otherwise we cannot develop the high performance software needed for Toyota to use our Xavier AI supercomputer.”

“In the AI world you have to be able to express your thoughts clearly – “if you do this you will improve performance” or “you can cut costs” or “it will be safer”.  Of course it is not easy for Toyota to accept opinions from other cultures straight away, but it is important to debate.  It might make them feel uncomfortable to treat us as equal partners, but we have completely different technical skills to them, so there is no alternative.  Toyota has understood that in partnering with us we have to be “guchoku” (frank, tactless, simple honesty) in exchange of opinions.  I expect some Toyota people are confused by Nvidia’s stance, but many have accepted it positively.  Because we are in an era of disruptive technology, Toyota has decided that it has to be of the mindset that can engage with a different culture like ours.”


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October 30, 2017

The 30 largest Japanese companies in the UK employed over 80,000 people in the UK in 2016, a 7% increase on 2015.  Less than a third of the annual results are in for 2017 but it seems this growth is not going to continue – in fact total employment at the 9 companies for whom figures are available so far shrank by 7.5% 2016-2017.

The Top 30 represent more than half the employment (140,000) commonly attributed to Japanese companies in the UK.  Two thirds of them have built upon major acquisitions.  The most notable entrant into the Top 30 in 2016 was SoftBank after its acquisition of ARM.  Acquisitions also accounted for the rapid growth in 2015/6 of Dentsu and of the MS&AD insurance group, who bought Amlin and Insure the Box.

The main new entrant for 2017 will be Sumitomo Rubber, who completed their acquisition of Micheldever, the UK based tyre suppliers, in February 2017.

But this is not enough to counterbalance the shrinking of Japanese service sector companies in 2017 – namely Fujitsu, Nomura, Fast Retailing (Uniqlo) and Yusen Logistics, part of the NYK Group.  SoftBank made good on their promise to increase their UK workforce, and automotive manufacturers such as Yazaki and Calsonic Kansei expanded in 2017, but Toyota cut back their workforce.

We won’t know the full picture for 2017 until mid 2018 and it’s hard to speculate whether any of this is Brexit related, or more to do with a long term regional re-balancing and restructuring, where multinationals integrate their back offices in the region into lower cost locations, and at the same time the management layer becomes more evenly dispersed, as teams become virtual, and move according to where key customers are based.

The ranking for 2016 is below.  For more detail on trends over the three years from 2015-2017 and how the numbers relate to global and European totals, as well as the history of Japanese M&A in the UK, please subscribe to our premium newsletter or contact Pernille Rudlin (pernilledotrudlinatrudlinconsultingdotcom) for details of corporate subscriptions and customised reports.

Top 30 Japanese employers in the UK in 2016     (October 2017)
Rank Company UK employees y/e 2016
1 Fujitsu 9,849
2 Nissan 7,657
3 Itochu 6,697
4 Honda 5,430
5 Ricoh 3,702
7 Hitachi 3,484
8 Mitsubishi Corp 3,482
6 Toyota 3,233
9 Sony 2,937
10 Canon 2,744
11 Dentsu 2,571
12 Nomura 2,468
13 NSG 2,167
14 Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Goup 2,100
15 Denso 1,925
16 NYK Group 1,919
17 SoftBank 1,749
18 Calsonic Kansei 1,729
19 Konica Minolta 1,613
20 Sumitomo Corporation 1,405
21 Olympus 1,362
22 Yazaki 1,345
23 Brother Industries 1,254
24 Fujifilm Holdings 1,247
25 Unipres 1,237
26 Fast Retailing 1,100
27 Mitsui Sumitomo & Aioi Nissay Dowa 1,089
28 JT Group 1,086
29 Kao 915
30 Mitsubishi Electric 865
 TOTAL 80,361


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October 29, 2017

The first Ghosn shock happened in 1999 when Carlos Ghosn became COO of Nissan and decided the survival of Nissan necessitated a radical paring back of the number of suppliers and smashing up the vertical keiretsu (enterprise group) that had been built up around it, largely in the Okayama region of Japan.  Around 90% of automotive suppliers lost work, but were saved by the fact that Mitsubishi Motors also had a major factory in the region.

Although Masuko Osamu, CEO of Mitsubishi Motors said, when Mitsubishi came under the umbrella of Nissan in 2016, that this would be a plus for automotive suppliers, because it would increase the number of orders they would receive, this has turned out not to be the case, according to Nikkei Business magazine.

The Renault Nissan Mitsubishi alliance is meant to bring cost savings and synergies, whilst bringing them into the top 3 car manufacturers.  Each of the three brands shares their technology on electric vehicles, driverless cars, IoT, parts and platforms, centralises purchasing, selects the technologies that they want and then develops their own models, targeted at different customer segments.

The Nikkei illustrates the article with a map showing the relative regional production concentrations of each brand – Renault, with 29 factories stretching from north western Europe down to India, and another cluster in Latin America, Nissan’s 41 factories covering Africa, Australasia, Asia, USA and Brazil, and Mitsubishi Motors’ 17 factories mainly concentrated in Asia, Russia and Brazil.

This heralds the beginning of the “Virtual Major [company]” according to the Nikkei – they do not actually merge, but work collaboratively in each region as if they were one company.  Which sounds great on paper, but I sense a lot of work for us cross cultural communication consultants arising from it!



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