The importance of an aggressive approach, the appeal of working on a global stage, and what you need to flourish.

Mr. Ooyama is a company veteran of more than 20 years.
After working as head of the sales department at our main office,
he was appointed in 2014 as representative of our local Thai subsidiary ITO (THAILAND) LTD.
Mr. Iwaki, representative of our local Chinese subsidiary ITO Corporation (Shanghai),
is a veteran of global business whose previous experience includes work in Malaysia and Shanghai.
We asked these two, who are both in charge of foreign corporations,
about the appeal and experience of working in a foreign environment.

The "Three A's" are important in working overseas

Many years ago, a senior colleague taught me that when working overseas, the "Three A's" are important. They are "absorb, adjust, adapt." It's important to learn and absorb the local culture and customs, adjust, and then adapt yourself to them. For example, even a simple phrase is okay, so greet people in the local language. If you do so, people will get a good impression and think, "this person is trying to adapt to our culture."

I really get that. When I do my best in Thailand to speak with them in their own language, the locals are always delighted.

Actually, when it comes to the "absorb" part, there was a time when I failed miserably. Once, immediately after sealing a big deal in a far-off location, we received an invitation from the other party to go drinking. China is a country where work is closely connected with alcohol. But because I had little time before my return flight, I turned down the invitation. Then the next day I was told, "We cannot do business with people who do not understand our culture."

That must have been a surprise.

I was really surprised. But there are many people in China who defer to such a culture and think highly of it. Looking back, that event taught me that I didn't have enough understanding of different cultures.

Yes, it's true that in China or Southeast Asia, personal ties between people are considered important in business. Regarding the point about "adapting," golf is currently booming in Thailand, and so I also play with business partners and their acquaintances on the weekends. We have birthday parties for the employees, we all go on company trips, and everyone seems delighted by my participation. That kind of closeness is probably something different from Japan.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained

Mr. Ooyama, you've worked more than 20 years in Japan. When you went abroad, did you feel anything or notice any change?

The first thing I felt about doing business overseas was the importance of taking an aggressive approach. In particular, when we launched the local business in Thailand, we started from scratch without a single customer. As they say, "nothing ventured, nothing gained," so I was always thinking about new business developments and other strategies we could pursue to always be proactive.

I've also been involved in the business of setting up factories, and starting a business from scratch is one of the big appeals of working overseas for me as well. I like Japanese professional wrestling, and rather than the stable success of someone like Giant Baba, I'm more attracted to the repeated failures and new challenges taken on by Antonio Inoki (haha). I'm always thinking about the types of challenge that create something out of nothing, or a 1 out of a 0.

From your perspective of having a lot of experience overseas, Mr. Iwaki, how do you view businesses in Japan?

There are many good points about Japanese businesses, but I feel that decision making is too slow. To make even one decision, it can involve a long process and take a long time. That trend is even stronger in big businesses, and they tend to take a defensive approach.

When you are thinking of expanding a business overseas, if you don't act with a sense of speed, you will lose work in no time. If you have an idea, just do it. I'm committed to that approach.

On that point, I think the decision making process is quick at ITO Corporation. Because things are left to on-site discretion, you can move flexibly. In expanding the business globally, I think that will be a major strength moving forward.

That's right. Having gone overseas and been in a position as the person in charge who makes the decisions and carries them out, I can feel the weight of responsibility. Having that stimulus day after day is something that you don't often get in Japan.

What are the qualities needed to be a global player?

ITO Corporation has set its sights on increasing overseas sales to the same level as domestic sales. In order to achieve that, it's necessary to further increase the number of overseas bases. But there is still not enough manpower to do that. So, of course, what's needed is people with the desire to work hard overseas!

People who have that desire are already equipped with the necessary "aggressive approach" you mentioned earlier, aren't they?

That's exactly right. Because the most important thing for working overseas isn't language ability, it's having fearless optimism. When you experience a complete change of culture, there are stresses that you will have never felt in Japan. Even when just shopping, it can be complicated to receive change, or you might be given something different to what you asked for, and so on. At times like these, you need to be brazen, in a good sense, and not forget to smile.

Yes. I'd also add, do not forget to also be attentive and friendly to the people of that country. When you have the humility to respect their culture, you can be light on your feet, and you can even cut loose from time to time. If you're the kind of person who has that kind of moderate sense of balance, I'll be delighted if we are able to work together in future.


Mr. Ooyama
Assignment: ITO (THAILAND) LTD.
Position: Managing Director
Joined: 1992, immediately after graduating college
Mr. Iwaki
Assignment: ITO Corporation (Shanghai)
Position: Director
Joined: 2013, mid-career


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In order to protect individual privacy, the names of people in the interviews and discussions on this recruitment website have been changed.