Developing an International Style of Management

By Peak, Martha H. | Management Review, February 1991 | Go to article overview
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Developing an International Style of Management

Peak, Martha H., Management Review

Developing an International Style of Management

From the moment a flutist in traditional Japanese dress appeared at the opening ceremony, it was clear that attendees of the first Global Conference on Management Innovation, held in Tokyo last November, were in for something unusual.

That feeling grew when Tadahiro Sekimoto, president of NEC Corp., shared his management philosophy and NEC corporate motto in poetry: "Feel the wind on your shoulders," he recited. "Smell the wind. Keenly sense the strength and direction of the confronting wind."

The conference, which drew more than 1,000 top managers from 44 countries, was jointly sponsored by the American Management Association, Management Centre Europe (AMA's European affiliate), and the Japan Management Association (JMA). The conference is to be held annually, and it will serve as a forum for senior managers to develop an international management style that can be applied equally well in all countries. After all, Tatsuki Mikami, JMA's vice chairman, pointed out, "Music and the arts have no national borders. Why should management?"

An international management style will take some time to develop, and can only happen as senior managers from various countries share their viewpoints on a variety of topics. With this in mind, various themes emerged at the conference.

"Glocalization." "It's not where you do business, it's how you do business," said John Stanley, IBM-Europe's director general of marketing and services. Today, globalization means more than having markets and offices scattered about the world, all connected to headquarters back in the home country. Stanley, whose viewpoints on global business are born on his experiences as an Englishman working in Paris for a U.S. firm, believes that through "mesh" globalization, or "glocalization," international conglomerates are best able to take advantage of local expertise.

Recent developments in communication and computerization (C&C) have made it possible for subsidiaries located in disparate parts of the globe to coordinate product lines and markets without going through the main corporate office. This "meshing" of corporate strenghts is an inevitable outcome of the borderless economy as technology has grown and deregulation taken hold, according to NEC's Sekimoto. "C&C is key to the success

of NEC's globalization," said Tadashi Suzuki, NEC executive vice president and director.

At IBM-Europe, for example, country CEOs are autonomous in their country subsidiaries and also sit on a pan-European board. This "glocal" structure achieves coordination across the corporation's European operations while pushing responsibility down closer to the customer. Through this corporate matrix, Stanley said, IBM-Europe aims to become more market-driven and less technology-driven, that is, to become a provider of customer solutions. "The differences of local areas must be IBM's strength," he said.

The process of "glocalization" is not new at Sony either. Because Tokyo headquarters is separated from the corporation's overseas markets--its greatest strength--Sony developed a matrix management format in 1983, according to Sony Deputy President Ken Iwaki. In the new arrangement, country organizations were placed on one axis of the matrix and products on the other, and managers of strategic business units were given full autonomy by the "home" office in Tokyo.

In the 1990s, Iwaki said, Sony plans to have three major market zones: North and South America, the European Community and Asia. In each zone, at least 50 percent of materials will be supplied by local production, without control from Tokyo.

Competitive alliances. "Japan leads the world in the art of cooperation and partnership," said Thomas R. Horton, chairman and CEO of AMA. In other cultures, these tend to be opposing forces. Yet foreign partners are key to entering foreign markets, and R&D requires the economies of scale that alliances make possible.

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