This month we focus on an entrepreneur in the intercultural realm – Rochelle Kopp, leader of Japan Intercultural Consulting. Her consulting firm bridges business culture between Japan and the US. Rochelle’s energy for making Japanese companies globally successful is inspiring.
This is an interesting time as the weak dollar and strong yen have encouraged Japanese tech companies to establish bases here recently like GREE, Cyber Agent and others yet to come. We recently caught up with her, in between her country hopping, and asked her about her company and the present/future of Japanese companies globally.
What areas does your company focus on?
Our company focuses in two main areas- Cultural Consulting and HR Consulting.
Cultural consulting – “we do this for both Japanese and U.S. clients. For Japanese employees coming to the U.S. to understand the culture and for Americans who have been acquired by a Japanese company or are starting work for Japanese company and need understand the Japanese corporate culture.” We also “work with Japanese parent companies, and help with team building activities or acquisition integration.”
HR consulting – “Japanese firms who have a small operation abroad of less than 80 people usually do not have an HR manager in-house.. We help those Japanese firms to understand how HR is done here and help them put procedures and processes in place to handle the existing structure and also plan for the future.”
“We have 50 people around the world. with branches in Europe, Mexico, the U.S. and Japan.”
What has changed in Japan since you started the business?
“In 1994, Japanese needed to be more aware of the global business culture and landscape. Now, they are a lot more aware. Japanese staff now need to operate globally.”
“However, certain basics have not changed. If you are presenting your firm to a Japanese company or selling to Japan customers, you will be more successful if you conform to Japanese norms. For example, Japanese like organized information and care about the way you lay things out. This very important to the Japanese.”
How has the workplace changed for women in Japan?
“I published a new book, Business Etiquette Japan, and this is one of the things I discuss in it. Japan passed its Equal Opportunities laws in mid 80s , so the first women in that group are now getting to be influential managers.” Japan is “more like the U.S. in the 70′s to 80′s but going the same direction.” “Today, there are a lot more women in business than there were in the past.” In Japan, “ for more progress to be made, opportunities for women to balance a Career and having children must get better.”
“People often ask me what the situation is for foreign women doing business with Japanese.. Actually I have always felt that, if anything, it was an advantage…(The Japanese) assume that you have to be special if you have made it to an influential position…also the communication style of American women is more like the Japanese style – down play accomplishments etc.”
What are the challenges facing Japanese companies today?
“A big thing they have realized is that they can’t everything just with Japanese employees. They need people from other countries who understand their culture, their corporate cultures.” In the past, “they didn’t really have structured ways of dealing with these foreign employees.”
“Traditionally, Japanese companies had a slow promotion route, giving young employees a taste of different parts of the organization so they had exposure to different aspects of the business and became more of a generalist… companies thought they could do this because they had assumed that employees will be there a long time.”
“Most high-potential, non-Japanese will not be satisfied with that kind of pace. You can’t take graduates of Harvard Business School and not promote them for years, because their peers will have already been promoted …”
What do you recommend to the Japanese companies moving forward?
“I think Japanese firms need two things – local level HR and global level HR.” At the local level area, they need to be conducting HR properly…this means being diligent about both HR and cultural issues…like capturing talented people in the local area. For example, Are you getting the brightest people in Silicon Valley?”
“At the global level, every multinational corporation should have a global talent strategy… most companies only considered Japanese as their future leadership cohorts, if they want to operate globally, they need more diverse talent at the corporate level.”
Something that you probably didn’t know about Rochelle – She studied Taiko (Japanese Drums) for a year.
Where can you catch Rochelle next?
She’s speaking at the Japan Society coming up April 6, 2011, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM (http://www.japanintercultural.com/en/events/default.aspx?eventid=97)
Who is Rochelle Kopp?
Rochelle Kopp is a recognized authority on Japanese culture and business practices. She works frequently with American firms that have Japanese customers, joint venture partners, and suppliers, and with the global operations of Japanese firms.
Rochelle got interested in Japanese culture in high school with her artwork hobby and was fascinated by the work of Ukiyo-e. In college, Japanese firms were rapidly expanding and with a career in business in mind, she found her interest in Japanese culture to be a good fit.
Rochelle gained firsthand experience of Japanese corporate culture when she lived in Japan and worked at the Tokyo headquarters of a major Japanese financial institution.
She holds a B.A. in History from Yale University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business.