The new corporate governance code in Japan puts further pressure on Japanese companies to have external, independent directors on their boards. For those companies wanting to be on the new prime market, the code stipulates that a third of directors should be external. Companies are now facing a severe shortage of candidates deemed suitable to fill these roles particularly if companies are also trying try to be as diverse as possible in who is appointed.
The same faces keep popping up, including people such as Professor Christina Ahmadjian of Hitotsubashi University who is currently an external director for four Japanese companies; Japan Exchange Group (the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges), Sumitomo Electric Industries, Asahi Group Holdings and NEC . She was also an external director at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries until June of this year.
Her remedy for this shortage of suitable candidates, which she outlined in a recent interview with Nikkei Business, is to hire people from a wider variety of backgrounds. Not just university professors like her, but Japanese women who are working outside Japan, or even having a quota for people under 30 years of age. In her view, even a third may not be enough, because it would mean that the majority are still “salarymen” who have worked their way up the same company all their careers. “The director’s most important role is to appoint and dismiss the CEO. Previously, when I asked a Japanese company what is the difference between the board positions of a managing director (known as joumu in Japan) and a senior managing director (known as senmu), I was told, when a managing director gets older, he becomes a senior managing director. Such a board of directors will not be able to make the top management quit.”
You need people who don’t read the air
External directors need to be able to reject management policies in board discussions. They must also have the mindset that they can quit themselves at any time. You need people who don’t “read the air” the way salarymen directors do.
“Two years ago I decided to stop talking about diversity. I will not give a speech on it and I refuse to be interviewed on it. It doesn’t change no matter how strongly I put the case. If I give a lecture on diversity, people will listen hard and then say “OK, that was good.” I felt it was just entertainment. Japan’s gender diversity is certainly more advanced than before. More companies are introducing maternity leave systems. But why is it so slow. I think “just do it!””
As for diversity in terms of nationality, there are many students who love Japan and want to come to Japan to study and work for a Japanese company. However, after graduating, if they get a job at a Japanese company, after about five years they quit, as they have realised that they can’t sse a future, and their friends at other companies are being promoted faster and have higher salaries. So ofthen they choose to work for a foreign owned company while living in Japan.
1980s uncle management
“Japanese companies are more concerned with their internal talent management than with diversity. So why not hire in Indians and Russians with the necessary IT skills?” Ahmadjian is concerned that what she callls “uncle (ojisan) management” from the 1980s means Japan will not be able to compete globally.
Ahmadjian has lived in Japan for over 20 years, and was herself an office lady at Mitsubishi Electric in the early 1980s. She served tea and wore a uniform. “I really enjoyed it then, but it was a world of old uncles.” “When I asked the top management of a company what is the definition of young, I was told 55 years old. I got them to lower the definition to 50 years’ old.” Japanese-style management may have worked well as a system in the postwar context, but I think it is time to reconsider.”
For more content like this, subscribe to the free Rudlin Consulting Newsletter. 最新の在欧日系企業の状況については無料の月刊Rudlin Consulting ニューズレターにご登録ください。