Service sector dominates Japanese investments in the UK

Although most people think of car manufacturers such as Nissan, Honda and Toyota when they think of Japanese investment in the UK, our Top 30 Japanese employers in the UK very much reflects the way the UK economy itself has shifted from manufacturing to services.

The three car groups are still in the Top 30 – in the Top 10 in fact – employing over 18,000 people – although many hundreds of them are not actually working on the factory floor, and are design engineers or in sales and marketing.

There are over 200 companies in the Top 30 employers (each consolidated group is counted as one employer) and 15-20% are manufacturers. They employ over 33,000 (36%) of the 92,000 or so people employed by the Top 30. This reflects why countries want to retain manufacturing – manufacturers are relatively larger employers, providing decent jobs in often deprived areas, creating a ripple effect of suppliers and further jobs.

Comparing these numbers with Roger Strange’s 1991 figures given in his “Japanese Manufacturing Investment in Europe” shows that while Nissan has grown from 2,500 employees to over 8,000, Honda from 400 to over 7,000 and Toyota from 1,900 to over 3,000, some have shrunk. Sony used to employ 1,800 in Pencoed, making TVs – it is now a technical centre manufacturing high end audio visual products and employing around 500-600 people

Other companies have changed their product mix – Hitachi used to employ around 1,000 people in Aberdare, making TVs, video recorders and microwave ovens and another 500 at Maxell in Telford making audio tapes and floppy disks. Now most of its manufacturing employees are working at Hitachi Rail and there are around 85 employees at Maxell, making plastic moulded products for the food, pharmaceutical and automotive industries and another 100 or so in Horwich making engine control systems.

Some have stayed the same – Ricoh had 650 employees in Telford in 1991 making fax machines and photocopiers, and still has 650 employees there 27 years’ on, making printing devices.

Brother is in the Top 30 not because it grew its manufacturing operations in Wrexham (in fact there are only 164 people there compared to 634 in 1991) but through the other big Japan-UK investment story – acquisition. It now owns Domino Printing Sciences, who develop and manufacture printing systems in Cambridge.

Also growing through acquisition is NEC. A couple of years’ ago it seemed like it was fading out of the UK and focusing on developing markets. It was no longer manufacturing – for obvious reasons – video recorders, car telephones, TVs and faxes in Telford. But in 2018 it acquired Northgate Public Services and through its acquisition of JAE in Japan, their UK operation and now it has over 2000 employees in the UK. Other big acquisitions have been SoftBank acquiring ARM, Dentsu acquiring multiple marketing agencies, Sumitomo Rubber acquiring tyre dealer Micheldever and Outsourcing acquiring various recruitment and debt collection agencies. The reason Fujitsu is still at the top of the ranking – just – dates back to its acquisition of ICL in 1990. All, notably, service sector companies.

A final thought on the current hot Brexit topic of location of regional HQ. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to identify one country location as the sole European headquarters – I’ve left the HQ column in the chart below, largely on the basis of where the historic HQ was and where most of the key regional people are based – but many companies are moving to a more virtual, dispersed structure, with Brexit and Japanese tax haven laws providing added incentive to do so.


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