es Networks actively recruits and utilizes highly-skilled foreign talent (MBA holders) mainly in Asia. On this occasion, we talked about the efforts taken up by Hitotsubashi University Business School, School of International Corporate Strategy (Hitotsubashi ICS) in training and turning out large numbers of highly-skilled foreign talent to help us to become a role model for future Japanese companies. Continuing from the first half, please read on for the conclusion to a special dialogue between Professor Ken Kusunoki of Hitotsubashi ICS and Shintaro Suhara and Yoshinori Takabatake of our company.
Does something change within the company as a result of hiring skilled foreign talent?
This is an interesting question.
Earlier I talked a bit about the Nagoya office, but it’s true that the Japanese members are already globalizing, and there is a recognition that domestic demand is shrinking, but still there is a resistance to learning English. I think that perhaps they were thinking they could somehow get away with going on just as they have been up to now. However, the foreign workers who come to us are usually at least trilingual, and now its normal for example to have a highly-skilled foreign talent sitting next to you. In addition to that, they also have expert knowledge and can get the job done. From the perspective of the Japanese members, though they have an advantage in Japanese language ability, they understand that they will soon be surpassed. So in this way it created a big change, with everyone beginning to think that they need to put in more effort.
“This looks bad!”
To put it into words, yeah, “this looks bad!”
So it isn’t just about acquiring highly-skilled foreign talent, but it also becomes a very effective stimulus for Japanese people in the company as well. It changes motivation, consciousness, and the overall landscape of the organization. Countless birds with one stone.
Yes, that’s right. Another interesting thing, there is a doctoral course at Tohoku University, and one of our highly-skilled foreign talent is enrolled. She is from Thailand, and one day she told everyone at our morning meeting that whenever she saw an airplane in the sky in Thailand, it made her sad. Why did it make her sad? Because she thought in her life she’d never fly in an airplane. “Someday I want to fly in an airplane.” That made her put everything she had into studying, coming to Japan and entering grad school, and because of that now she can get on a plane as a normal part of life. She told us this story so passionately. For those of us who fly in airplanes normally, she shared something with us that made us feel, “wow, that’s a feeling that I’d forgotten.”
People like her invoke a vitality that we forget about living in an affluent society. They call to mind something that is like a fundamental human motivation.
Yes, that’s true.
That’s interesting. I think that you will continue to recruit more and more of this kind of highly skilled foreign talent, are there any challenges you can see in the future, and if so how will you overcome them?
Yes, of course there are challenges. Returning to the topic of Japanese language education, there are rankings, N1-N5, that have been established, but as a system it hasn’t been set up to where you could for example say how long you need to study at a language school to get to level N1, or things like that. So, first of all I think that the system needs to be revised. Another point is what you mentioned before about pattern C in the ABC examples. Talent comes inbound to Japan from abroad, and we consider whether to have them return to their home countries to work or manage projects in Japan, we’re currently doing this, but from here on out if we continue to do this on a large scale, it will become unclear just what the company es Networks really is. Are we a Japanese consulting firm that is positioned to guide Japanese companies into Asia, or are things like Japan and Asia nothing more than geographical problems, and we are a company that develops management talent regardless of nationality? I think we have to define for whom it is that we exist. Honestly, there are powerful elements at play now, such as demand going out to Asia as you mentioned at the beginning, but regardless we have to think and thoroughly extract our company concept, something like our reason for being, and succinctly convey it. I think this is our biggest issue.
That means that skilled foreign talent entering your company are having an impact all the way to the redefinition of the company itself. Up until now there has been a distinction made as ‘foreigners,’ that is to say non-Japanese people, but perhaps in the near future that kind of distinction will lose all meaning.
I think you’re right.
Thinking about this story, in an industry like consulting that depends upon language and tends towards the domestic, it seems that es Networks may become an exceedingly globalized company in the near future.
That could be. Our concept there is not clear yet to be honest, so, “What is going to happen from here? What do you think, Suhara-san?”, I’ll be asked by our foreign employees. I don’t think this is really an answer for them yet, but I don’t think of this mechanistically, but rather perceive it as a romantic idea. Certainly, there is a real demand in Asia for Japanese companies, and it is a great help to have highly skilled foreign talent come, that reason can’t be denied, but among us, we have an Asian cooperative organization, something like an Asian sense of community. Perhaps this is something close to finance and consulting. Of course consulting is in the center, but isn’t finance a set of rules created by Anglo Saxons who took up the territory? We’ve just taken these rules on and follow them. Consulting firms like McKinsey & Company, Inc. and Boston Consulting Group are European and American leaders who are highly-ranked in job popularity rankings. So, with a perfect administration of finance and consulting in Asia, we will become a global consulting firm originated in Asia. This is some kind of romantic adventure...anyway, I think it’s pretty cool. That’s why rather than speaking of the mechanism as like this or like that, I feel more emotional about it.
That’s wonderful. What you’re saying really resonates with me. First of all, as an objective truth on the macro level, Asia is set to be the engine of world growth for quite a while to come, and the fact that Japan just happens to be in Asia is, even if the Japanese domestic economy has reached maturity, a huge advantage, I think. And no matter how different the cultures or languages may be, from my long experience teaching people from many countries at Hitotsubashi ICS, even from the sense that Japanese people have, I feel that Asian people are more closely related to us than Westerners, and they naturally mingle; coming together is easier. Even though objectively these kinds of fair winds or favorable conditions exist, the majority of Japanese companies aren’t making good use of these conditions at all, and through trying to adopt new talent, a completely new romance or vision that you couldn’t have imagined opens up, and this has a really huge impact on management.
Yes. But for us, we don’t really have that kind of “go for it!” feeling, we just generally want to head in this direction, and this kind of conversation with you naturally comes from that.
It seems that inside a company, as you work together every day, that kind of path or way of thinking comes about naturally, without being forced.
I think so. In terms of the number of companies putting great efforts into dealing with this in today’s world, I think that by no means is it very many.
That’s right. That’s why we’re hoping that many more companies like es Networks will come onto the scene. Well, there may be an initial disinclination, a tendency to feel reluctant on account of the initial trouble. Big companies have a lot of rules and regulations, so it may be difficult to prepare Japanese language education like Takabatake-san talked about, or make time within the company for training to help people adapt. For example, I think that if es Networks can continue to show results and create achievements and practical examples, everyone will learn from that early success, and the numbers will increase considerably.
That means we’ll be exposed to more competition in recruiting.
Still, at that time you’ll have the know-how that comes with being an early adopter, so you’ll certainly be a more skillful company. Maybe in the job market for highly-skilled foreign talent in Japan, es Networks will be a brand name. It would be amazing if people come to feel that “they are very good at drawing out the power of foreigners, so if you go there your career path will open up.”
In terms of recruiting highly-skilled foreign talent, this is the kind of talent that I want to find. I think it can be said in many different ways, but please let me know if you have any ideas.
Takabatake and I together decided that we should hire at least 1 person from every country in Asia. Thailand and Vietnam may be the main destinations for Japanese companies at the moment, but Myanmar, India, and Bangladesh are sure to increase in the future, and we’ve been talking about recruiting talent from each Asian country to meet clients’ needs for each country. Also, not only for high-level foreign talent, but I think that mentality is a good way of describing it, as we have clients in various types of industries. And there are various vendors like us, we aren’t the only company out there. Everyone chooses from among them, and as they interview, with as many as 5 or 10 choices, thinking about which is good, of course there are people who score and compare them. But when I feel a candidate is thinking like this, I steer away from hiring them. It’s fundamentally impossible to go through life without missing some of your options, so I try to find and recruit as much as possible people who, after making a choice, intend to make their choices into a better fit through their own efforts. This is completely the same for both Japanese people and skilled foreign talent.
Most of your customers are venture companies and local SMEs, and es Networks itself is a venture company, so I think that kind of mind set is extremely important.
I think so. As you said, you won’t know until you try whether it is better to go to a big company or a venture company, so I honestly think that people who continue on with a split mind after making a choice are a bit difficult.
This really is a very important condition for es Networks, regardless of whether you’re referring to Japanese people or skilled foreign talent.
We think so.
I pray that in this era where the significance of nationality is disappearing, you can realize the romantic vision of being a global firm originated in Asia, based on an Asian cooperative community. Thank you very much for today.
Thank you very much.