The international role of Japan has been hampered by its loss of World War II. It is only now that Prime Minister Abe has taken steps to integrate Japan into the international political arena. The third arrow of Abenomics remains its main challenge.
Japan was the first Asian country I started working with in the late seventies. It also is the first Asian country I visited. Having been warned by business people not to trust the Japanese, I did exactly the reverse. What I found is a deep level of insecurity that made them, at the time, act in an opaque way. The fear of losing face –the worst thing that can happen in Japan- and a rigid hierarchic structure makes the building of trust a long-term process. When confidence is granted, it is for life –until one betrays it. I like dealing with Japanese people and executives and have real Japanese friends.
- My current involvement with Avant Corporation where I sit on the Board of Directors (a very unusual situation in Japan) has given me a glance of the formalism of corporate governance. Japan is moving in the right direction. If the leadership of a company is open-minded, governance can be enhanced and transformed.
- The listing of Sony on the Brussels Stock Exchange in the late seventies was my first contact with Japan Inc. Those were the years of Akio Morita, the legendary leader that internationalized Sony and Japan. How did the company lose its unquestionably leadership to Korean companies?
- The Japan Stock Exchange is probably the closest company I worked with at the time of the internationalization of stock markets, led by the NYSE. Its integration and modernization make it a very effective exchange at the service of Japanese companies. Will it expand beyond its borders?
I had twice the opportunity to spearhead the opening of a foreign office in japan: the first one, for Societe general de Banque, did not survive the need for profitability. The second one, for the New York Stock exchange, remains a powerful presence to assist NYSE listed Japanese companies and maintain a collaborative relationship with its Japanese counterparts. The lesson I drew from those experiences, is that the strategic rationale is critical and can be fruitful in the long term.