This post is also available in: Japanese
I met up recently for a dinner in London with most of the members of a team of British and French people I worked with at a Japanese company, ten years ago. An event like this would not be so unusual in Japan, I suppose – an OB-kai (Old Boys’ party) – but it is not a regular occurrence in the UK. In more individualist societies, employees will not have joined the company as a cohort, nor left the company as a cohort on retirement. My team members did indeed join the Japanese company at different times and some have now retired. Some, like me, left of their own accord and others were made redundant.
What united us was the leader of the team, who had handpicked us to work together. He is now in his seventies, and active in U3A (a collection of charities providing education and self-improvement for those who no longer work) and has just moved house, in order to be closer to his grandchildren.
Family was a big theme of the evening with photos shared of children and grandchildren. Health of course was also a topic – one person, now a CEO, had recently undergone a triple bypass operation and been told he should not work full time again. We also talked of the impact on mental health of the pandemic on our children, one of whom had been diagnosed as autistic.
Of those who had retired, two were living in Portugal and one was active as a local councillor in the UK (and could not attend the dinner as he was campaigning). Another person who could not join us was living in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Three of us were working as independent consultants. One was about to start a part time MA in international relations – purely for the intellectual challenge rather than as a career move. He had turned down a senior role at Huawei, because he felt he could not build up the same level of trust that he had felt when he worked in a Japanese company.
Japan was still of interest to everyone. Even though he had been to Japan many times on business trips, one of the group decided to visit Japan again, but as a tourist, with his wife. They had such a wonderful time, they want to go again, to travel to the north and west.
So, as our team leader always used to insist when I wrote a press release or article – reflecting on ten years’ ago and now, what is the action point?
The project we were all working on ten years ago was to define more clearly the values and vision of our Japanese company, in order to bring employees together, globally. Ten years’ on, I still think this is a necessary step but new forces are dispersing employees – such as job mobility, the job gata system (introduction of job descriptions and specialization) and remote working. A good global leader will need to ensure that employees are drawn together again, in an environment where they can build enduring, trusting human relationships.
This article by Pernille Rudlin was first published in Japanese in the Teikoku News, 14th June 2023
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