In Search of Japanese Executives

By Smith, Bob | Personnel, October 1991 | Go to article overview

In Search of Japanese Executives


Smith, Bob, Personnel


Rhe Japanese work culture has gained quite a reputation among American and Western corporations, particularly companies that operate in the Pacific island nation. Many efforts by foreign competitors to recruit Japanese executives have failed in the past. Strong company loyalty among workers and employment-for-life business policies helped to stonewall many executive searches.

Japan is a different story today, said Roger Marshall, managing director of the Tokyo office of executive recruiter Paul Ray & Carre Orban International. "Employment for life, as a policy in Japan, has gone out the window a long time ago, but the myth lives on. "

Marshall, who has recruited Japanese executives for Western corporations for 15 years, is no stranger to the culture and business environment. He suggested that American and European employers can recruit executives to their Japanese subsidiaries if they understand the "selling points. "

Cultural differences still present a barrier to successful recruitment. And company loyalty remains strong. "It's still much more difficult to break someone away," Marshall said, but certainly not impossible. Aggressive retention Part of that difficulty stems from the fact that Japanese firms have become more aggressive in retaining their top executives. One employer flew an executive's aging mother to Tokyo to convince her son that leaving the company would bring humiliation to the family. A member of the board of directors at another firm personally visited an executive's wife to enlist her help in trying to stop her husband from moving to a foreign competitor.

More important is the fact that Japanese professionals have different priorities when they consider making a career move. "Japanese executives are very concerned about the perceived risk to going to the company," Marshall said. "I usually see compensation as the last thing on their list for being attracted to a company, although compensation can be a real deal killer."

Position and responsibility rank as leading priorities, according to Marshall. Japanese executives want to know that they will play a major role in the company's mission. And these executives seek assurances that the employer will provide autonomy and not try to micro-manage across the Pacific.

In addition, Japanese executives look for a commitment from prospective employers. Marshall said that these professionals take a more emotional approach to employment, to being part of a family and devoting their lives to its members. "Japanese executives want to make sure that the company is making an equal long-term commitment," he added. …

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