The digital transformation being undertaken by so many Japanese companies is beginning to have an impact on their European operations. One of my longstanding clients has notified me that their European HR and Learning & Development function in the UK has been outsourced to a company in India and the UK staff have been made redundant. I suspect this is not just happening in Europe but globally, as the company has divested many of its subsidiaries and is keen to consolidate and digitize the administrative functions of the remaining businesses.
Several other UK subsidiaries of Japanese companies which had a regional coordination or regional sales function have transferred these functions to EU based subsidiaries. This was partly in response to Brexit, but it has also provided an opportunity to restructure their businesses. Some have become branches of Japan HQ or of the EU subsidiary, and still retain regional coordination functions and staff, funded by management service fees.
Those that have continued as incorporated subsidiaries have found that although their turnover has dropped, their profitability has improved, partly due to the reduction in headcount but also because they are able to focus on their UK business, without having to carry the costs for coordinating across the region.
I have seen the same influences improving the profitability of my own business this year. A few years’ ago, I transferred my EU business to my German partner, so I no longer have to bear the costs and complexity of coordinating it. This and implementing some new, user friendly, cloud-based accounting software meant that I didn’t need to pay for a bookkeeper to come in once a month.
The pandemic pushed much of my training delivery online, permanently, which has meant it can reach a wider audience, so the contract sizes are larger than before. My main overheads are now software and IT related, not travel expenses or paying locally based subcontractors.
Costs have also come down because I stopped my membership of various networking groups – partly because during the pandemic there were no in-person networking events to go to, but also because I was getting enough business from existing customers or through online enquiries, so there was no need to find new leads.
From my experience of working in or for Japanese multinationals over the past 30 years, I suspect that these changes will prove to be cyclical. Individual subsidiaries will start to ignore the global outsourced administrative functions and quietly build up their own local capability again. Then to avoid duplication of costs, a regional function will be revived.
My overheads are beginning to increase too. I’ve started renting an office, as I find my home office is too distracting, and it is good for my physical and mental wellbeing to walk to work. I may even re-join some networking groups, because after all, the point of digital transformation is not just to cut costs, but to innovate. And that is best done by meeting new people, in person, who have fresh perspectives.
This article by Pernille Rudlin first appeared in the Teikoku Databank News in September 2022
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。