Doing Business in the U.S. and Japan

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  • Wednesday, 25 December 2013 13:30
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CEO in Focus

Clarion Corporation of America

Paul Lachner, President

TJ: Have you noticed any difference in the corporate cultures or management styles between Japanese- and American-owned companies?
LACHNER: Definitely. But I think it’s dangerous to classify all Japanese companies as the same. I think they are as diverse as American companies are. I spent five years at Sony before coming to Clarion. Of course, working for Sony I thought I was working for a Japanese company. Then I came to Clarion and I realized that Sony was a very different experience than it is at Clarion. Sony is a very Western Japanese company in their management, thinking and strategic planning, whereas Clarion is a more traditional Japanese company. Having only worked at two, I can’t generalize. But I can say that Clarion, as big as it is with 10,000 employees and $2 billion in sales, has a real family feel. It helps that almost all of the senior management in Japan have come through Clarion Corporation of America at some point in their career, so a lot of the folks in Clarion are well-known and liked here and do understand the American model.

TJ: Some companies in Japan like Rakuten and Uniqlo have made English the official language of their headquarters. Do you think more companies should do that?
LACHNER: Absolutely. I think the demographics and economics are going to force that. Growth in the Japanese domestic market is stagnating in a number of different segments and in order to grow as a company you have to focus outside of Japan. Our largest client globally is Nissan and Nissan has made that same distinction globally. But language is only part of it. There is the thinking part as well. Those are the challenges that can be addressed only through strong communication.

TJ: Can you share any interesting stories regarding intercultural differences?
LACHNER: An American vice president at Sony shared with me that in the Japanese language there are 28 different words for “yes”.... and 18 of them mean no! (laughs)

TJ: Why do you think Tokyo will be a good host for the Olympics?
LACHNER: Well, if I had to rate the cultures of the world in terms of hospitality and politeness, Japan would be at the top! You won’t find a better host in the world than Japan. They are very accommodating, very kind, and I think that will become very apparent to the world during the Olympics.

TJ: What aspects of Japanese management styles should U.S. companies implement?
LACHNER: The Japanese have a longerterm view of things than American businesses that are much more focused on the quarterly results. As a culture and in their corporate philosophies, they look longer down the road and they think longer term when they make their decisions. That Japanese long-term view can be very frustrating to an American because of that “Do it now!” mentality. However, it requires a certain degree of patience that many people are not well suited for. tj

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