Magazine article Personnel

An American Plants a Culture in a Japanese Company

Magazine article Personnel

An American Plants a Culture in a Japanese Company

Article excerpt

An American Plants a Culture in a Japanese Company

When Ronald Shaw became CEO of Pilot Pen Corporation of America, he joined a select group of American executives who run the U.S. operations of Japanese-owned companies. Shaw was lured to Pilot 16 years ago by Japanese executives who valued his 14 years of experience and sales contact gained at Bic Pen. For Pilot, that decision has paid off: Under Shaw's leadership, sales have skyrocketed from just over $1 million to more than $83 million, and the number of employees has grown from nine to 217. Although he was hired mainly for his sales background, Shaw nevertheless had to address a number of HR issues, many of which arose from subtle differences between Japanese and American corporate cultures. PERSONNEL's Stuart Feldman recently spoke with Shaw about some of the cultural gaps that needed bridging.

Q Although you weren't officially president until 1986, you've been running Pilot's American operations for 16 years. Could you explain that?

A I started here as national sales manager. My title was really a misnomer, because right from the beginning I was making decisions about everything that went on. I decided what we did in terms of policy, procedures, hiring practices, etc.

The agreement I had with the company from the time I was hired was, "Look, you guys came after me; I didn't apply to you for a job. You came after me because of your $1.2 million in sales, you had a loss of $500,000 and you think that my 14 years of experience at Bic Pen is going to help you turn this around. But the only way I'm going to be able to do that is if you leave me alone. Let me do it my way."

Q When you took over, you made changes in the style of management used at the company. Why?

A In a Japanese company, four or five people will sit down and talk about things for days. For the few Japanese managers who were here, that's what was going on. That's why it took forever to get decisions made, that's why there were no policies and no procedures, and that's why employees and customers alike were walking all over us. So that is one of the things we had to attack and adjust.

Q Can you give some specific examples of what the business was like under the old management system?

A There were no policies; there were no procedures. Anything would go. Employees could come in and borrow money from the company when they were short, and of course you knew they never paid it back. In fact, when I came to the company, payday was weekly and they were still paying in cash [which is common in Japan]. …

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