Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

Important to Have Non-Japanese Managers for Japan

“I think there are many markets where we have an office where a local appointee can do the job just as well as an ex-pat but I think that there is an argument that you need an ex-pat if you are a foreign company in Japan. One reason for that is that you can come at issues in a different way. It’s easier to behave in a non-Japanese way. Japan typically is “the older you are the more senior you are” in a lot of companies, and as I’m younger than most of the staff here if I was Japanese maybe that would be an issue. But it’s not with me. They’ll accept you more as a foreigner, I think.”

“But you can’t get away with just being a foreigner. If I spoke a load of rubbish or was unfair I wouldn’t get away with it but I think that they accept that non-Japanese will have different approaches to solving problems, and they also accept that we are a non-Japanese company and I am the representative of head office. So they will understand that our HR policies may not be what you have in a typical Japanese company. It is probably more palatable for me to put those in place than it would be coming from a Japanese country manager – and also more palatable to me. Culturally, promotion based on merit is obvious to me, something that is a good thing, because I’m not Japanese. Maybe it will be agreeable to some Japanese too, but there will be some that will think that length of service should decide promotion. So it might not be good for the company to put in a Japanese person who had a very traditional mindset and didn’t agree with the company policies.”

This post is part of a series of excerpts from interviews with foreign executives in Japan, focusing on creativity. Excerpts have been edited for confidentiality.
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