Fast Retailing, holding company for Uniqlo, Princesse tam.tam (lingerie), Comptoir des Cotonniers, Helmut Lang and other brands probably ought to be in our Top 30 Japanese employers ranking as Princesse tam.tam and Comptoir des Cotonniers have over 2000 employees between them. Both were originally French companies, so presumably the majority of those employees are in Europe – and adding on Helmut Lang and Theory (also both European origin) and Uniqlo’s stores in Europe would presumably bring the total to back over 2000.
However, as a recent Nikkei Business article and interview with Tadashi Yanai, founder of Fast Retailing, points out, Fast Retailing still has a long way to go to catch up with H&M, its avowed target. Although H&M is Swedish in origin, it has more outlets in Germany (418) and the UK (245) than in Sweden (177) – a factor of population size, of course, but Uniqlo, by comparison in its home region of Asia is overwhelmingly centred on Japan (849 shops versus 39 for H&M) but neck and neck in China (H&M having 205 shops to Uniqlo’s 260). There are 10 Uniqlo stores in the UK, 4 in Russia and 4 in France.
Yanai is determined that Fast Retailing will become truly global however “by being strongly local”. He expects that in 20 years time, most of the FR directors will be non-Japanese and wants half the staff in Japan HQ to be non-Japanese. Not only is he ensuring that non-Japanese staff are brought up through the ranks of overseas operations, but also that Japanese who work overseas “become local” – “I tell those who go to work in New York to become New Yorkers”, he says. Expatriates from headquarters such as the UK CEO Takao Kuwahara are meant to “transmit my DNA on my behalf”. Recently, it’s not so much that Japanese expatriates teach local staff, rather those local staff have now become able to teach new hires themselves. It’s “mass production” of overseas born Uniqlo people, comments Nikkei Business.
Certainly comments from employees on Glassdoor, the jobs and career site, do make reference to a “cult-like” atmosphere and Fast Retailing has a reputation in Japan of riding its employees hard, even by Japanese standards. However his recent announcement that the 16,000 contract staff in Japan would be offered permanent status is seen as revolutionary enough to merit being the front cover story of last week’s Nikkei Business, accompanied by a large photo of Yanai himself, of course.
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