Articles



April 4, 2017

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Bowing vs shaking hands



When I attend various shinnenkai (New Year’s parties) at the beginning of each year, I find it hard to snap back into remembering to bow properly, whilst negotiating my wine and canapés, and exchanging akemashite omedetou ("Happy New Year") with Japanese business acquaintances.


It feels awkward at first if I haven't been socialising with Japanese people for a while, but thanks to my time in a Japanese school, where we bowed every morning to the teacher, and had twice weekly outdoor assemblies where we rehearsed standing at ease, then standing to attention, then bowing – the proper way to bow is somewhat instinctive for me.


For most non-Japanese people, bowing correctly is a challenge, and in my opinion, we worry too much about it. Most Japanese people, when meeting with a foreign person, will expect to shake hands. I usually advise that a slight nod of the head or bend at the waist is a good cultural compromise when shaking hands with a Japanese person. If you have not been brought up to bow, and also had it drilled into you again at an induction course in a Japanese company, when you do try to do a full bow, you will almost certainly get it wrong. Bowing too deeply or for too long a time will result in your Japanese counterpart feeling obliged to dip down again for a further round of needless bowing.


You often see this happening in public in Japan, where neither party wants to stop bowing first, in order to show respect. In the mid-1990s, an English-language magazine targeting Tokyo’s expat community extrapolated on this phenomenon by publishing an April Fool’s article saying authorities were going to set up “no bowing” zones, near revolving doors and on station platforms as excessive bowing was causing a safety hazard. Plenty of people believed the article.


I do know of one case where bowing actually did lead to physical injury. A British employee of a Japanese company in Europe related the story to me: “Our new Japanese Managing Director for Europe was going round all the departments to introduce himself and as he turned to me I put out my hand to shake hands. He, however, had started to bow down low, and I caught him right in the eye. Fortunately it turned out he has a good sense of humour, and whenever I see him in the corridor now, he covers his eye with his hand!”


Bowing is deeply engrained in the Japanese psyche, it would seem. One Japanese friend of mine, who has been living in the UK for 30 years, still bows whenever he meets a Japanese person, even in the streets of London. I asked another Japanese friend of mine, who has also been living for many years in London, if she would ever consider hugging her mother when she came to meet her at Narita airport each time she returns to Japan. “Ewww no!” she said, and then laughed, realising how years of kissing, hugging and shaking hands in the UK had made no impact on her instincts at all.


This article by Pernille Rudlin originally appeared in the Nikkei Weekly.  This and other articles are available as an e-book “Omoiyari: 6 Steps to Getting it Right with Japanese Customers”


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January 9, 2017

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Poland, Migration and the Future of the EU



It has just been announced that Polish immigrants now represent the largest group of foreigners living in the UK. There were around 831,000 Polish born residents in the UK in 2015, overtaking Indian born residents.  This represents a ¾ million increase on 2004 when Poland joined the EU, showing the scale and speed of the increase in immigrants from Eastern Europe – one of the root causes of the British vote to leave the EU.


Poland’s connections to the UK go back further than this, however.  A large group of Poles settled in the UK after WWII, and were welcomed because of the well-known heroism of Polish pilots who flew in the Battle of Britain.


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December 27, 2016

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 The European Love of Argument


I was looking at my diaries from when I was 11 years’ old and living in Japan, and was amused to see that I had written in them that my burning ambition was to be a politician.  Quite a few of the people I knew at university have become politicians, so I suppose on reflection this was not an impossible dream for me.

I then wondered why I did not try to realise this ambition. I think it is because I really don’t like confrontation and I take it too personally.   This might be rooted in my childhood in Japan – Japanese schools do not offer as many opportunities to debate as they do in the UK.  But I also spent my teenage years in British schools, where, like many schools in the UK and Europe, there were plenty of opportunities to become good at arguing, such as school debating societies and public speaking competitions.


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December 11, 2016

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Nidec’s Nagamori-Ism Brings Profits And Productivity To German Acquisitions


Nidec acquired Geraete und Pumpenbau, a German pump manufacturer based in Thuringia in 2014.  The 1000 or so employees were worried about their job security as a result, according to Nikkei Business magazine.  Nagamori visited shortly after the acquisition and said “you are making a superb product.  We can sell this not just in Europe, but US and Asia,” he declared in Japanese, without an interpreter: “Let’s make GPM even bigger.”
Michael Grellmann COO of GPM, says that since joining Nidec Group, they have been able to reduce costs and double profitability thanks to thorough “progress management”.
Nidec started acquiring companies in 2010. mainly in North America and Europe.  They have now made 49 acquisitions, of which 24 are overseas.

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December 10, 2016

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How Nidec Reduced Overtime by Improving Communication


Manufacturer of electric motors Nidec was famous for having hard working employees who didn’t care how many hours they put in.  The founder, Shigenobu Nagamori, himself said “I only take a holiday on New Year’s Day”.  Now, according to the Nikkei Business magazine, Nidec is undergoing a revolution where going home on time is the norm.

Nidec started a project last year to promote the better utilization of female employees.  Overtime working at Nidec’s headquarters had been on average 30 hours a month.  The first step was to get senior level managers to go home on time.  This immediately decreased overtime by 30%.


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European Pride + Global Standardization = Long Debates




The European senior management team of a business which had been newly acquired by a Japanese company complained to me about being treated as if Europe was one homogenous country, when in fact they only had offices in 5 very different countries in Europe, with a headquarters in Germany.  “It’s true, we know how to work with each other in Europe – after all Europeans have been living and working together for hundreds of years, but it seems strange that on paper we’re supposed to be a tri-regional structure of Europe, North America and Asia, and yet North America has only two employees and Asia has no regional headquarters, with Taiwan, China, Korea and Japan being managed separately”

This was just a small company, but actually I have seen similar situations in many other much larger Japanese multinationals.  It’s partly that Europeans are very sensitive to their status –and want to be treated on a par with other regional heads – and this means the European definition of regions, with Asia as one region.


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Pernille Rudlin


Why the British and the Japanese are Less Productive Than the Dutch



When I was visiting the Netherlands last week, one of the Japanese managers I met said his main concern was how to motivate his staff.  I hear this question often from Japanese managers working in Europe, and I always want to ask – what do you mean by motivation – what would it look like?


Usually a motivated employee is thought to be an employee who makes an effort and perseveres.  This is hard to measure objectively, and it is a worry amongst Europeans that Japanese managers evaluate employee motivation by how many hours employees are at their desk.  This is a justified concern, reinforced recently by a report I heard regarding a Japanese GM in Spain who was worrying why his Spanish staff were away from their desks far more than Japanese or even British staff.


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Pernille Rudlin



70% of Best Paid Directors in Japan are not Japanese


Japanese Presidents of listed companies usually receive remuneration around 10-20 times the average salary of other employees of their company – in contrast to US or UK top listed companies, where the multiples are more like >300 in the case of the US and >180 in the case of the UK.

So it’s no surprise that in order to attract non-Japanese directors, Japanese companies are having to fork out above the average sums.  According to Tokyo Shoko Research, 7 of the top 10 best paid directors are non-Japanese and around 20% of the top 100 best paid directors are non-Japanese.


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Pernille Rudlin


Japan - Into Africa






Many Japanese companies have set up European regional headquarters, largely in the UK, Germany or the Netherlands and use this as a base for consolidating their administrative activities across the region.  Increasingly these days the designated region covered is not just Europe, but EMEA – Europe, Middle East and Africa. 

The historical ties that the UK in particular has with Africa and the Middle East, means that it is not only easy to access the Middle East and Africa from London, but also that it is relatively easy to get hold of information about countries in those regions in the UK as there are many expatriates and experts on those countries based in the UK.



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Pernille Rudlin


What Steps We Will Take Next - Japan's Insurance, Automotive, Aerospace Post Brexit


 


The Nikkei Business magazine has started a series called “Brexit shock”, where they ask various leading executives with business interests in Europe what they think the impact will be.  This week they’ve interviewed Tsuyoshi Nagano, CEO ofTokio MarineHoldings (property and casualty insurance) and Yoshihisa Kainuma, President of Minebea (another one of those Japanese secret successes with dominant shares in vital but unglamorous sectors such as ball bearings and pivot assemblies).


Tokio Marine acquired Kiln, a Lloyds underwriter in 2007 and the US company HCC Insurance, which also has a presence in the UK.  “The UK has developed as the centre of our European business” says Nagano.


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Pernille Rudlin



Top 30 Japanese companies in the UK – Brexit impact



I’d been avoiding doing a Top 30 Japanese employers in the UK ranking to accompany our Top 30 Japanese employers in Europe, as officially disclosed data are much harder to get hold of.  But with Brexit, more data has been disclosed about employee numbers and where there are still no data from the company itself, I took the top figure from publicly available sources.

Credit research agency Teikoku Databank, for whom I write a monthly column, estimate there are 1,380 Japanese companies with operations in the UK, with the manufacturing industry accounting for 40%.  The estimate commonly used by the Japanese Embassy in the UK is that Japanese companies directly employ around 140,000 people. Our Top 30 represents over 90,000 of those employees, so they represent around 2/3 of the total number who are employed by Japanese companies in the UK.


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Pernille Rudlin



Balkanizing Europe – in a good way


On the way to the stunning Krka waterfalls in Croatia, from where we staying on the Adriatic coast for our holidays last summer, our tour guide suddenly said “we are now in the Balkan part of Croatia”.  The term Balkan has many resonances for Europeans who know their history.  Not only is it 20 years since the war in the Balkan peninsular, but it is 100 years since WWI, which was thought to partly have been the result of “Balkanization”, whereby the countries, formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian empire, fragmented into warring states.  Clearly our guide wanted us to appreciate that Croatia was not just Balkan, but also Mediterranean, and therefore part of modern Europe.


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East meets East #3 Pork, guns and the Galapagos


My fantasy local start-up idea is a tonkatsu (Japanese deep fried breaded pork) restaurant, using outdoor bred Norfolk pork and Colman’s mustard (manufactured in Norwich) with a side order of locally grown shredded cabbage. *

Although tonkatsu is now viewed as a typical Japanese dish, in Japan it was originally a yoshoku “Western Style” dish, introduced into Japan in the 19th century, when Japan began to open itself to foreign influence and trade again.  Japan had cut itself off for the best part of three hundred years, with no foreigner able to enter or any Japanese leave the country under pain of death.


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Mitsubishi Motors & Nissan – Is Ghosn prepared to try to nail jelly to the wall?


When it comes to the Mitsubishi group of companies (keiretsu), I did almost literally write the book (A History of Mitsubishi Corporation in London: 1915 to Present Day), although my focus was more on the way the pre-war Mitsubishi Goshi evolved into Mitsubishi Corporation, the trading company, and more specifically, its London office.

It’s generally perceived in Japan that the Mitsubishi keiretsu has been the most cohesive and robust of all the keiretsu (Mitsui, Sumitomo, Fuyo being the other main ones) but as you might imagine, the current Mitsubishi Motors fuel economy data manipulation scandal has put this to the test.


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Pernille Rudlin



Japan's "No Overtime Day Refugees"



Working 24/7 was seen as the norm during the Japanese ‘economic bubble’ but after the bubble burst in 1990, Japanese employees’ productivity came under the spotlight.  Some companies tried to introduce “waste free” working such as flex time, working from home, early starts and so on while other companies have tried a tougher approach by turning out the lights or fining people or insisting on being notified if overtime is to be done.  Some companies play encouraging music like “There’s Always Tomorrow” (a hit pop song in the 1960s) at the end of the working day.  No Overtime Days have become widespread.

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Pernille Rudlin



East meets East : East Anglia to East Asia (Via Europe)


When I first moved to Norwich, just under two years’ ago, my new bookkeeper unnerved me by saying “we don’t do euros in Norfolk”.  A third of my turnover is in euros, so I wondered whether I had chosen the best location for my business.


It’s true that there aren’t that many Japanese companies – my target customer group – locally in East Anglia either.  However, those that are here reflect the regional strengths in food processing and energy. Mizkan owns Branston Pickle, which is made in a factory in Bury St Edmunds and Marubeni is the owner of Seajacks, a Great Yarmouth based offshore wind power engineering company.  Although car companies such as Toyota and Nissan are probably the most famous Japanese investors in the UK, Norwich-based Lotus is owned by Proton, a Malaysian company.


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Pernille Rudlin



Why is there no Japanese word for Risk?



Listening, or rather looking at the presentation of Kazumasa Yoshida, the CEO of Emergency Assistance Japan, I was yet again struck by the fact that there is no direct translation in Japanese for the English word “risk”. Yoshida even had a slide to define “risk”, with “risk” written as “リスク/risku” in katakana, which is the Japanese alphabet used for borrowed, foreign words.  His definition of risk was the potential for a crisis to occur, which if then becomes reality, is a threat, and then when there is harm, is a crisis.

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Pernille Rudlin



Bending Over Backwards to be Inclusive


I was discussing with a client recently the way accepted terminology keeps changing in the UK business world.  Apparently “flexible working” is now being renamed “agile working”.  “Agile” working is meant to have a wider definition than flexible working – the idea being that the focus should be on performance and outcomes, allowing maximum flexibility on the who, what, when and where of executing the work.  “Flexible” usually (as it does in Japan) means flexibility on the hours worked and tends to be used when workplaces are trying to be family friendly towards women.  “Agile” working implies it is a way of working for every employee.

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Pernille Rudlin



Are you ‘Regular’? Probably not, if you were hired outside Japan, or female


My first essay on Japan, a thesis for my Modern History & Economics degree, was on the day labourers in post-war Japan and the so-called dual labour market.  It’s with a sinking heart, nearly 30 years’ on, that I have to acknowledge that the concerns I had then, about the harm done by erecting an impermeable wall in a labour force between ‘permanent’ and ‘temporary’, continue to this day, when thinking about how to improve diversity and inclusion in Japanese companies.


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