Around 40% of overseas ventures by Japanese companies result in withdrawal, according to Masato Hikita, director of Headwaters IT consulting company, writing for Diamond business magazine. His clients usually suffer from at least one of the following, he reckons:
- No one person with decision making authority
Overseas companies are shocked to hear that Japanese executives don’t actually have executive power. When Japanese companies venture abroad, they usually send the kacho (section chief) out on a scouting expedition, and he talks to people on the ground there who agree that they should collaborate on a project. The local company gets moving quickly, but at this point the Japanese company suddenly grinds to a halt. When asked why, the Japanese company responds that now the bucho (head of department) must visit. And then after that, that the director must visit. At which point the local company wonders why on earth they have to answer the same questions so many times, and decides to start negotiations with someone else.
2. Bringing domestic rivalries overseas
Rather than two Japanese companies fighting to monopolise a market and both end up losing, Hikita recommends that smaller Japanese companies collaborate, particularly in the early phases of raising brand awareness in a new market – for example a joint exhibition stand at a trade fair.
3. Being fooled by a local Japanese “pro”
Just because a Japanese person has lived in another country for 10 years, does not make them an expert in setting up business there. Hikita recommends talking to JETRO or going to local gatherings of Japanese businesspeople to get recommendations.
4. No ‘line in the sand’
According to a Japanese government survey, 90% of Japanese SMEs have not set a bottom line for when they will decide to withdraw from an overseas venture. As Hikita rightly says, from my experience, Japanese companies are happy to make plans for growing a business, but don’t do any planning for what should happen if a business fails. Many say because they have never done something like this before, they don’t know how to judge whether something is a failure. Hikita recommends that nonetheless, through talking to partners and other businesses, some attempt should be made at setting limits, and constantly reviewing status.
5. Overconfidence in the brand
Apparently Japanese companies will assert that the local partner should bear all the costs of marketing, because “we are allowing them to use our brand”. As I’ve mentioned before, a common problem for Japanese companies who are used to everyone in Japan knowing who they are and what they do, without having to make the effort to explain themselves. They are so confident in their brand, they believe they will succeed in the “red ocean” of American and European markets, without realising the true investment required to compete.
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