How to select the right country manager for your subsidiary in Japan?

country manager japan

selecting the right country manager for your subsidiary in Japan is the most critical decision

Your success in Japan will depends on the choice of the right country manager for your subsidiary.
I could see several patterns in Japan. I will not over-simplify it but will discuss in general the pros and cons of each pattern.

The expat from the headquarter:

generally following a rotation in his expat tours (maybe after Dubai or New-York). Will generally stay 3 years and move on.
  • knows the headquarter, the peoples, knows how to make things happen back home
  • does not understanding Japan nor its culture
  • will have to rely on mid-management (which might have different agenda and will wait that he finishes his posting in Japan)

The Japanese president, brought from outside (and who has of course all the connections)

  • coming from outside, does not know the company and how it works in the headquarter
  • as most probably senior, might not have the will or interest to learn it and might just wait retirement

the long term foreign resident in Japan

we see more and more such pattern. Many companies are reducing on expatriates and the large costs involved with their relocation + the perks.
More companies are trying to invest on peoples who know Japan, the language, the culture and who still have something in common, being European or from the West in general.
  • as mentioned before they know the culture, the language and will be able to be a very good link between the headquarter and the subsidiary
  • coming from outside they don’t know the company. But still if young enough they will be able to catch quite quickly and learn quickly the insights of the company.
  • there are few of them.

Yes it is true that compared to 20 years ago you have much more foreign professionals in Japan knowing the language.

But still knowing the language only is not enough to run a company.

I would estimate to less than 200, the number of foreign national in Japan mastering completely Japanese AND having experience of running a company.

the long term manager in the gaishikei

often when the current country manager retires you have either choice to bring someone from outside or from inside.
Sometimes you will chose someone who has been long enough in the company and promote him to this position of country manager.
  • know the company and the peoples
  • might not be an agent of change (if not would have done it already)
  • it might generate conflict in the organization (jealousy)

As a conclusion the right choice depends on a lot of factors, but most important is to make it match to the situation of your company.

If you need to turnaround your company, the choice might not be the same as if you just want to have a stable and growing organization. All is not that simple in a foreign company or Gaishikei.

About gaishikeiman 33 Articles
French citizen in his forties living in Japan. Almost 20 years working for foreign companies in Japan. I have an engineering background with an extensive sales experience in highly regulated industries. I am currently the representative director and managing director for an European company's subsidiary in Japan. I have seen all the lows and highs of foreign companies in Japan since late 90ties. Feel free to contact me wether you are looking for opportunities in Japan.

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