Susumu Okamura, a veteran of Daiichi Life, DIAM in the US, UBS Global Asset Management and a Columbia MBA alumnus, believes experience of secondment to another company is a must for survival in the global economy. Thanks, however, to ‘Naoki Hanzawa’ (a TV series in Japan about a heroic salaryman banker), being seconded to another company has a thoroughly bad image in Japan. However in global companies, where spin off companies are multiplying, being seconded has become part of management development.
Foreign business people are particularly enthusiastic about being sent to manage acquisitions or struggling subsidiaries. They see it as a valuable chance to put their ideas into action and do things their own way, says Okamura.
Okamura views joining your first company as a second birth, with being seconded to another company as a third rebirth, but unfortunately many Japanese managers do not see it that way. Okamura sees four types of secondees:
- The depressive – who has dropped off the elite track of the headquarters, so becomes disillusioned and loses his spark. However they are often given an important role in the subsidiary company, so they are the worst kind of boss for the employees of the subsidiary.
- The look backer – who wants to make headquarters regret pushing him out by producing great financial results. Tries harder than the depressive, but his aggressive, inflexible management style can warp the subsidiary
- The phlegmatist – has the same laid back style wherever he goes. Works steadily, doesn’t try to change anything.
- Mindset changer – is thrilled at the chance to start a new chapter in a new organisation, pursuing new dreams
As Okamura says, in traditional Japanese companies, secondment damages your chances of becoming a top executive in the headquarters. “But I want to ask instead, is it really fun to stay in the headquarters? What are you learning which is of value in the marketplace? Do you think that value will still hold in 10 years’ time?”
“We are in the middle of a diversity boom. However, unfortunately in many cases, the foreigners, women, mid-career hires and the disabled that are hired all end up being ‘dyed the same colour’. It’s not obvious why diversity was such a reason for hiring people. But being seconded is different – there is an unshakeable diversity to having to become part of a different corporate culture.”
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