Thursday, December 12, 2013

Should the president be foreign or Japanese?

This is an old dilemma for all foreign brands in Japan and tends to be a pendulum swing as opinion at the head office country cycles backwards and forwards. The questions arise around not simply skill set and experience but around language, culture and understanding the Japanese consumer. But rarely do they revolve around the question of communication. Everyone tends to overlook this point until it is specially raised to their attention.

The confidence a global business has in its international subsidiaries is driven not simply by quarterly results and the issues above but, in my view, to a significant degree by the communication lines between the two. Small and simple misunderstandings can grow to being major obstacles to confidence and credibility. By definition it is the foreign head office that will decide the CEO of a company and it is the foreign head office that will decide if the time is up and change is needed.

Small misunderstandings over long distances, time zones and regularly but not daily contact can lead to mistrust and a breakdown of this necessary confidence. Small misunderstanding down the length of a corridor can be managed and resolved simply by walking into someone's office and asking. The success of the local president is not simply defined by the results but by managing global relationships. Anyone who can do both can be successful in Japan but manage only one and they'll be looking for a new job sooner than they may realise.

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