Tadashi Yanai, the founder of clothing retail chain Uniqlo, reinforces his reputation as a hard nut with a robust response to the Nikkei Business special feature about companies who get blacklisted by young Japanese for having tough working conditions. “Uniqlo is a “black” company because we have a global strategy, which has disorientated many long-term employees, who were nonetheless doing a fine job”, he says, and now thinks that Uniqlo should have evaluated them well regardless of whether they were globally minded or not.
But that is about the only concession he makes, stating that many people leave Uniqlo because they don’t make the grade as future store managers. Young Japanese have to understand that they are in a global competition, he insists, going on to criticise Japanese people who think it’s OK to be Number Two in their markets. He says half of the people Uniqlo interviews for jobs are non-Japanese now and that he demands that the Japanese recruits work overseas. If they don’t then he will regard them as “labour” rather than management material.
In other words, Yanai is breaking the unspoken rule amongst Japanese companies that graduate recruits should all be treated equally, as if they can all be senior managers.”I think peple who use the expression “black company” are those peple who want to preserve the Japanese working environment of the past. We can’t afford to do that.”
For more on how Uniqlo operates, there was an interesting panel discussion on BBC’s Radio 4 programme The Bottom Line last month, with Berndt Hauptkorn, CEO of Uniqlo Europe, along with Sir Stuart Rose ex MD of Marks and Spencers and Andy Street of John Lewis.
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