Magazine article Management Review

Bank of Tokyo Exec Debunks Japanese Stereotypes

Magazine article Management Review

Bank of Tokyo Exec Debunks Japanese Stereotypes

Article excerpt

"American firms that did their homework have been extremely successful in Japan.

Resident Senior Managing Director for the Americas, The Bank of Tokyo, Ltd.

Born: March 31, 1932, Tokyo, Japan Married, two sons

Most important business lesson: Put yourself in the other guy's shoes. Some people believe that you win by asserting yourself. I think that long-term success comes from winning friends, from understanding-but not necessarily agreeing with-the other side.

First job: In the catalog department at my college library at Georgetown University Business philosophy: Success in business is 90 percent effort and 10 percent luck. Any person needs a certain amount of luck to make it. Mentor: I was fortunate in having not one, but many good superiors and colleagues. Today, we can still take pride in the caliber of the staff at this bank. They are the tops in Japan. Simply by working among them I've been given the opportunity to learn and improve.

As the largest and most experienced foreign bank in the United States, the Bank of Tokyo has maintained a distinguished presence here for decades. The bank was started in 1880 as the semi-governmental Yokohama Specie Bank, and still has a special relationship with the Ministry of Finance, enabling it to be Japan's top foreign exchange bank worldwide. Here, Kenji Yoshizawa, head of the Bank of Tokyo's operations in the Western Hemisphere, discusses the current tension between the Japanese and U.S. business communities with Management Review's senior editor Donna Brown.

Q: Japan and the United States have made some progress in trade negotiations, notably through the Structural Impediments Initiative (SII) talks in Washington in early April. Will these talks help to redress the trade imbalance?

A: The results of the SII talks will affect the Japanese trade pattern in two conflicting ways, so I am not sure if they will bring Japan's surplus down in the long run. For example, reform of the large scale retail store law could increase imports, but a stricter enforcement of the fair trade law might push up exports by making Japanese industry more efficient and competitive.

Q: All 10 of the world's largest banks are now Japanese. A decade ago, most of them were American. What happened?

A: Technically, the answer lies in the rapid appreciation of the yen. The yen's value in the world market has doubled in the past four years, so that when you translate yen into dollars the change in exchange rates has amplified growth.

There's another important factor. For years, the Japanese government has fostered the growth of individual banks. In the United States, however, there has been a tendency to curb the growth of banks. For example, until recently banks have had limited freedom in expanding over state lines. In addition, in certain states you still have a unit banking system. Under Illinois law, even in the big city of Chicago, any bank can have only one branch.

But what I would like to emphasize is that although Japanese banks are growing in size, their size is not necessarily reflected in their strength. If you take strength into account, then there is much to be said for American banks. Citicorp, Morgan Guaranty, and Bankers Trust all have innovative management; they are aggressive in their way of doing business; and their influence over Wall Street, the world's largest financial market, gives them a far stronger international presence than that of Japanese banks.

Q: Are keiretsu [industrial trading groups] also a factor in the growth of the Japanese banks?

A: No. Although there are banks with strong, keiretsu relationships with their clients, other banks are independent. For instance, Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, the world's largest bank, has no affiliation with any special industrial group. Our bank also takes pride in being neutral.

Q: In The Japan That Can Say No, Akio Morita and Shintaro Ishihara charge that Americans look ahead 10 minutes while the Japanese look ahead 10 years. …

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