About ETP

Interviews

Business in Japan from the Viewpoint of ETP Graduates

ETP, which has a history of over 30 years, has formed an alumni association. Board members are selected annually and a networking event is also held once a year. The ETP network is invaluable for ETP graduates as they conduct business in Japan.

The following is an interview with ETP graduates concerning the ETP and business in Japan.

ETP22 : Michael Loefflad
Representative Director and President, Wuerth Japan K.K.,
ETP23 : Philipp Harder
General Manager, Marketing & Sales Europe/Russia, NSK Europe GmbH
Q.How has the ETP contributed to your business?
A.Building a network (Michael Loefflad)
Having an understanding of the language of the country you’re in, and an understanding of its culture are vital to success in business. The ETP, which provided both of those elements for me, was just the programme I needed. I learned about corporate laws, the tax system and labor, which are fundamental aspects in the establishment of a new company. Of particular importance is the fact that the ETP provided me with a network necessary for doing business in Japan. I’m able to contact just about any corporation in the country through the ETP’s alumni association.

A.Tacit understanding (Philipp Harder)
I studied basic Japanese before coming to Japan, as well as its history and religious affiliations, but actually coming here and attending the ETP showed me that the true substance of Japan was much deeper than I had imagined. Having learned through the ETP about business in Japan and about the Japanese approach to daily life has been truly valuable in my dealings with Japanese employees.For instance, Japanese people show much less emotion in their words or facial expressions than German people do, even when bothered by something. This perceived ambiguity can be the source of misunderstandings when doing business with people from Europe. However, as I have to an extent become able to understand the unspoken signals and implicit meaning expressed by Japanese people, I can now get right to the root of the problem and handle it in an appropriate manner.

Q.What do you believe is the key to success when doing business in Japan?
A.Japanese is fundamental (Michael Loefflad)
I would say language has to be the most fundamental element. The important point is not necessarily being fluent in the language; but rather being able to communicate with people, which puts them at ease.Other key elements to success would be understanding industry-specific processes and building a network. We tend to want to take shortcuts and get in contact with people directly, but in many cases that approach ends up taking more time. There are reasons why business is done in a particular style in the country you’re in, and disregarding those rules is not a smart way to do business. Naturally it’s important for us to constantly think of ways to improve performance and change the way we do things. However, I learned through ETP that taking drastic action toward that end will not lead to success.

A.Team unity (Philipp Harder)
If you are talking about keys for success as a European corporation, I would name the following four things:

  • (1)Awareness of team unity
    Even when defining the duties and responsibilities of individual team members, ensure they are mindful of consistency with the team’s objectives.
  • (2)Strong leadership
    It’s essential to strike the proper balance between strong European-style leadership and support for team unity.
  • (3)Top-flight customer service
    Earning lasting trust through a focus on quality management and customer care.
  • (4)A strong relationship with the head office
    This is particularly true with respect to R&D, marketing and corporate governance.  Turning the focus of your home country’s R&D function toward Japan can be a key factor in distinguishing yourself from the competition.
Q.What are some things that have surprised or pleased you, in your experience in doing business in Japan and with Japanese corporations?
A.Long-term intentions (Michael Loefflad)
I haven’t really encountered anything surprising, but one thing I’ve found that appeals to me is the long-term orientation of Japanese corporations. Naturally there is considerable pressure from shareholders to optimise efficiency, but Japanese corporations are not easily influenced by “business trends,” nor do they make decisions solely based on financial indicators. It appears that in large part, social stability has been maintained here through a dedication on the part of corporations to ensure that their social responsibilities are fulfilled even in times of crisis. I feel that Japanese corporations show more consideration toward people (employees) than most European corporations do.

A.Unrivaled quality, regulatory standards (Philipp Harder)
In Germany, it is common to communicate in a more aggressive manner, but in Japan all stakeholders are involved in decision-making in a more implicit way. I was surprised at first to see that as a result, it takes an inordinate amount of time to make decisions. Secondly, I was equally surprised at the speed at which action is taken once a decision has been made. In Germany, once a decision is made and things are put into motion, it is common for disputes to surface and things to get pushed back. I was also surprised to find that Japan’s many products and services feature their own unique set of quality and regulatory standards. It is one thing for customers domestically to enjoy this high level of quality, but I sometimes feel that the high cost that is often associated can inhibit globalisation. If European corporations can commit to Japanese standards, I think this culture of high quality will propagate to management and production processes in countries outside of Japan as well.One reason for the advantages that Japanese corporations have lie in their ability to customise in line with customer expectations. While European corporations also endeavour to meet the needs of client corporations, restrictions are imposed to an extent. Whilst this depends on the field and scale, considering the optimisation and profitability of production processes, perhaps Japanese corporations should also consider imposing some restrictions on customisation.