I’m in two minds about rankings such as the Hay Group/Fortune Most Admired Companies annual survey. On the one hand, the inevitable conclusion, that Japanese companies seem to be way below par in terms of awareness and reputation amongst the global executives and analysts interviewed, is no surprise and depressing to those of us who want to support them. If you’re not as well known or respected as you should be in the global business world, let alone in your industry, how can you hope to hire and retain good people, do deals with governments and partners or convince communities that you have their best interests at heart?
On the other hand, when you look at the companies that do well in such surveys – almost all American – it seems their ranking is more based on whether the executives surveyed either own/use or would like to own/use the product or service (Apple at #1 again) or that they are the current flavour of the month in a particular industry, hyped up in the trade press, and with a bigmouth founder still running things (Salesforce.com is “most admired” in software). I’m not sure whether it is a true representation of the objective understanding of the respondents of the nominated companies’ fundamental and sustainable reputational traits such as governance or commitment to the environment or the way they treat their people.
Although some Japanese brands do quite well each year in the Hay/Fortune rankings(Sony, Toyota, Honda), they do not rush to issue press releases about it the way American companies do, points out Minato Asakawa, Hay Group Japan’s Marketing Principal in a series currently being run on the survey in Diamond Weekly magazine. In fact only Canon’s US subsidiary put out a press release this year on how its mothership had moved up one spot to 4th globally in the computers (sic) category – a reflection of how important the USA is to Canon claims Asakawa. In my experience it is more because Japanese companies don’t like to boast (particularly if not #1) and also think surveys like this are for Americans only. Although I note my old employer Fujitsu did actually publicise that it had entered the list for the first time.
Softbank also did well this year, rising to 7th in the Telecommunications category, from 11th the previous year, scoring well on innovation – but is this also because Softbank has finally popped up on the radar of the average English speaking exec due to its attempted acquisition of Sprint?
Japanese car brands have made a comeback, with Toyota regaining its #1 position in the industry from Volkswagen, and Honda and Nissan both moving up the rankings. Industry evaluations are made by other executives in the same industry, whereas the overall rankings are cross-industry. So whereas Toyota is clearly highly regarded within the industry, it is actually roundly beaten by BMW in the overall rankings – C suite taste bias again.
Ajinomoto is number 10 in the foods industry ranking and Sumitomo Chemical is at 10 and Mitsubishi Chemical at 11 in the chemical industries ranking.
However, apart from these, although 52 Japanese companies were nominated in 2013, the most of any country after the USA., not many of them (12) make it into “most admired” category (350 in total). According to Asakawa, if anything, the trend is towards less Japanese companies making into the “most admired” rankings. JAL and ANA don’t make the grade for the airline industry rankings, nor does Nippon Life into the insurance rankings.
Hay, who of course want to get some business out of this, reckon its because Japanese companies score badly on people management. I would argue that this is more to do with a lack of familiarity of the global executive with how Japanese companies manage their employees. If you’re working at IBM, you know how HP and Dell run things, because you either worked their yourself, or you know people who do. I doubt you’d have much idea about what goes on at NTT or Hitachi.
If you asked the average European how they felt about the reputation and ethics of Amazon, Google, Starbucks and Apple, given the current controversies over tax and subcontractors, I doubt they would be quite as admiring.
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