One swallow does not make a summer, and I am not entirely convinced by Nikkei Business’s assertion that there is an upcoming group of Japanese who did MBAs overseas in the 1990s and 2000s and are now taking over and changing corporate Japan. The examples cited are Minato Koji (University of South California Business School MBA 2003), formerly of Oracle Japan, who was headhunted for a CEO position at Itoki, an office furniture manufacturer, Takahashi Hidehito (Columbia MBA 1992), President of Resonac Holdings (formerly Showa Denko) and Matsuoka Yoko (known as Yoky) who is founder of Yohana, a Panasonic subsidiary – who hasn’t got an MBA, but went out to the USA when younger, to become a tennis pro.
Nikkei Business characterises them as familiar with technology, having learned Western-style management through study abroad, and having acquired the know-how to take risks and put them into practice at foreign-affiliated companies.
Morimoto Masaru, now chairman of Showa Aircraft, who gained an MBA at Harvard in 1993 when he was working at Sumitomo Trust Bank says that in the 1990s, around 20 people a year were sent to study abroad from Sumitomo Trust Bank. “Large companies were competing to send students.” Students studying aboard surged in the 1990s, reaching 83,000 in 2004. As I was there in Japan (and was sponsored by my Japanese company, the first ever non-Japanese, to do an MBA at INSEAD, in 1997) I saw this for myself. The issue then was that companies then did not know what to do with their newly minted MBAs. Corporate finance, or maybe send them to the USA, was the usual offer – MBAs were jokingly known as Managing Business in America. Many of them became frustrated and joined foreign companies – which is exactly what Morimoto (Club Med, Coca Cola), Minato (Sun Microsystems, Oracle), Matsuoka (Google) and Takahashi (GE, GKN) all did.
I do agree, however, that it would be positive for Japanese companies if more Japanese employees and young people studied abroad – so long as Japanese companies can work out what to do with them afterwards – perhaps the new job-type systems will help with this. The Japanese government has just announced that it wants the numbers studying abroad to reach 100,000 a year by 2027. This was achieved before, but even in 2019, before the pandemic hit, there were only 77,953 Japanese students abroad, compared to the record high of 115,146 in 2018.
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