business

Merging U.S., Japan work cultures a challenge for Beam Suntory

28 Comments
By KEN MORITSUGU

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I can surely imagine the comments in the Japanese HQ,,, "those lazy amerikans,,," "why go home before midnight?!!!"

9 ( +12 / -3 )

Niinami said that while Japanese employees generally don’t leave a company, Americans have a three-to-five-year horizon, and will leave if they can’t find a better job within the company after that.

That might be true for executives, but believe me, production workers will stay put if the pay and retirement benefits are good.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

The head of Japanese whiskey maker Suntory said Friday that merging work cultures remains a major challenge,

Hence the reason why so many Japanese acquisitions of foreign companies fail -- YOU DON'T TRY TO MERGE THEM. You let the American culture flourish as well as the Japanese one. And if this guy, or the other senior management at Suntory, is not capable of managing diverse cultures, then they are in the wrong jobs. It's called glablization -- think globally but act locally. Carlos Ghosn did not try to make Renault be like Nissan.

2 ( +7 / -5 )

Niinami... said integration is difficult because Japanese and American employees have differing career aspirations and compensation systems.

This AP story is essentially a verbatim report of what Niinami spoon fed journalists at his press conference, and all very vague. I wish the journalist here had extended beyond that a bit in terms of a measure of investigation more specifically what difficulties have emerged that Niinami might not want the world to know about?

Are they losing employees from the Beam end? Are Suntory managers from Japan sent over from Japan butting heads with executives and employees of Beam HQ in Illinois and its distilleries in Kentucky?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Are they losing employees from the Beam end? Are Suntory managers from Japan sent over from Japan butting heads with executives and employees of Beam HQ in Illinois and its distilleries in Kentucky?

Great observation. As a international business consultant working with Japanese firms throughout Japan, my assumption is you are correct. Japanese execs and managers are likely trying to enforce the Japanese business culture of group think on highly individualistic Americans who are having none of it.

Americans prize freedom of thought, expression and innovation. Japanese do not. American favor bold risk-takers. Japanese do not. Americans encourage mid and lower level employees to make on the spot decisions. Japanese are locked up tate shake, which makes decision making extremely slow and frustrating to outsiders who don't understand the concept.

A clash is inevitable.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

OK RickDH,

Why aren't you teaching these things to your clients........or do you just tell them what they wanna hear.......

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Innovation from a Japanese company haha Jim beam is a global brand and epitomized American branding I can't wait to see how long it takes for suntory to run it into the ground.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Why aren't you teaching these things to your clients........or do you just tell them what they wanna hear.......

Why do you assume I'm not teaching these concepts to my clients?

Is there a point hidden behind that negativity?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

GW,

I can tell you, I've been teaching these concepts for going on 9 years now. I can't speak for Rick, but here what I've encountered.

Me: "American and Japanese business culture are different. Here is what the Americans will value."

J-student: "So ka? Ah....." Student states he understands.

Two weeks later J-student: "I don't understand....."

Me: Repeat lessons from before.

J-student: "So desu ka? Ah... wakata....."

Repeat parts 1 and 2 ad infinitum.

The other result is that the student only listens when I state the area that J-culture is better, or wants a sycophantic ear that just agrees with every statement the J-student makes. When I disagree, student gets surly and pouty, only to end lessons/fire me later because "I just don't understand."

No, the problem is YOU brought me in to teach you American culture, and now are refusing to understand or even listen to what I'm trying to teach you, and insist that things can only be done one way.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

I've been to Suntory a few times now and have yet to see any foreigners working there though I know certain sections of the company are pushing to learn English..

4 ( +4 / -0 )

J-student: "So ka? Ah....." Student states he understands.

I think he meant "I understand what you are saying"

Two weeks later J-student: "I don't understand....."

I think he meant "I don't understand what you mean" "I have many other factors to take into consideration."

-6 ( +3 / -9 )

The Suntory acquisition of Jim Beam is certainly good for bourbon drinkers in Japan. At the local Seiyu, a bottle of JB is about 900 yen!!

3 ( +3 / -0 )

OK RickDH

My earlier point was perhaps too directed towards you, sorry...........

But the points in the article & what you also point out are SO BLANTANTLY OBVIOUS for about 3 decades at least now it seems rather pathetic for Suntory etc to be trotting this out as Japan this, the world that, seems pretty pathetic & if Suntory is trying to push J-mgnt they are seriously messed up, but hey hardly surprising

0 ( +2 / -2 )

"I don’t have solution yet in my hand..." Don't worry, it'll come to you. Just be imperious and turgid. That's a start.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

My US employees don't prize freedom of though and expression, they prize doing as little as possible while blowing smoke about how smart and clever they are at throwing around meaningless phrases and jargon. They are like children when I'm away.

My Japanee employees are diligent and focused on their work. They work just as much when I'm not there.

Those are my experiences and no amount of voting down will change that...

-4 ( +6 / -10 )

His comments show his lack of international experience. It is laughable. Even in Japan the current generation of people change jobs for better opportunity. This guy is destined to fail because of his lack of cultural knowledge.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Come on people. You can click that Bad link much more than that; all you people who prize freedom of thought and expression.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

@ Trouble

If you're having trouble with your employees, perhaps attitude reflects leadership.

No one is arguing that Japanese don't have tremendous work ethic and discipline. They certainly do. Japanese possess many wonderful attributes, as do Americans. Some of us are just pointing out the differences in corporate culture, which help to explain the clashes that occur when Japanese and Americans firms merge or form partnerships. Calm down, champ.

Besides, Japan's economy has been flat for decades its companies are getting hammered in the global marketplace. There most be a reason.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

The other result is that the student only listens when I state the area that J-culture is better, or wants a sycophantic ear that just agrees with every statement the J-student makes. When I disagree, student gets surly and pouty, only to end lessons/fire me later because "I just don't understand."

No, the problem is YOU brought me in to teach you American culture, and now are refusing to understand or even listen to what I'm trying to teach you, and insist that things can only be done one way.

Are you a business consultant? A professor? What qualifications do you have? I'm just a bit confused since you make it sound like its a one on one "teaching" similar to an eikaiwa class.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The other result is that the student only listens when I state the area that J-culture is better, or wants a sycophantic ear that just agrees with every statement the J-student makes. When I disagree, student gets surly and pouty, only to end lessons/fire me later because "I just don't understand."

One mistake I've seen foreigners make a lot in Japan, is to express a concept to a Japanese person that is new, and entirely out of their cultural reference, and expect them to 'get it' after being told this one time. People, Japanese or otherwise, don't work this way. When something is entirely out of their reference of things they know about and/or have seen, being told once is almost never enough to really get a concept. They need to see it in action, and see examples, and even then will likely take multiple experiences before they can really bring it on board beyond an intellectual level, and see it a reality, rather than an abstract concept.

The quote above makes me think the teacher isn't getting the student, as much as the student isn't getting the teacher. To the teacher it appears as if the student only takes on concepts that make Japan look good, when in fact it may be that said concepts are understandable to the student, being in a frame that they have a reference for. Other concepts that may not make Japan look good, may be a lot more difficult for the student to grasp, having not had the frame by which they have reference for the given concepts. The teacher looks to be misdiagnosing the students ability to understand as being separated by whether or not Japan looks good, but it's equally possible that the difference is that the student has a frame of reference for the one, and not for the other, and therefore needs more time and examples to be able to bring the concept on board.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Japan is not even close to the levels of productivity achieved in the United States. The UK languishes in the doldrums as a comparison too . Worst still is the 'dead man's shoes' ethic at senior managerial levels, this approach smothers any incentive to improve output. Another detrimental effect of Abenomics missing third arrow Level of GDP per capita and productivity

http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=PDB_LV

U.S. Productivity Increased at Fastest Pace Since 2013...

http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-productivity-increases-at-3-3-pace-in-second-quarter-1441197343

Japan's Productivity Puzzle

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2015-06-29/japan-s-productivity-puzzle

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Besides, Japan's economy has been flat for decades its companies are getting hammered in the global marketplace. There most be a reason.

such as Japan's yen has been made up from 360 yen/$ to less than 80 yen/$? which means that the value of US Gbonds Japan had vanished and that the price competitiveness of Japan's export dissapeared?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Americans prize freedom of thought, expression and innovation.

Well, so they constantly chorus to the rest of us.

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Well, so they constantly chorus to the rest of us.

It's a cultural trait. No one is preaching it's superior. It just is what it is. Why are you all so sensitive?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

J Corp will not change by force, righteous outside influence, sound bites, or even political will. Japan as a workforce has a cultural willpower all of it own. Many traits can inspire, others at the same time frustrate. I wish as much as I criticize I could come up with at least some of the answers.

One overriding advantage J corps has is a almost endless supply of innovative next generation technologists. What is lacking is the confidence to give them free reign to advance effectively to senior positions. Hence President and Chief Executive Officer Takeshi Niinami failure to comprehend or integrate synergies. I am afraid Takeshi Niinami is by his own admission part of the problem. His recognition is another matter altogether.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Maybe the customs and tariff restrictions will afford Takeshi Niinami another 20 months of head scratching to figure out a solution....

3105 Importation of Alcoholic Beverages(FAQ)....

http://www.customs.go.jp/english/c-answer_e/kojin/3105_e.htm

0 ( +1 / -1 )

"Because I find the idea of people parroting over and over again about being innovative and valuing freedom of thought... "

Oh really? The truth is lots of smart people around the world, particularly Asia, look at businesses like Apple or Google places like Silicon Valley and come to that conclusion on their own...before they file their work permit application at the nearest US embassy. I meet people do have done just that from time to time in my work.

When it comes to an entire population "parroting" platitudes ("we have 4 seasons" etc) that trait is overwhelming a Japanese forte.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

just speaking personally, if I worked for Beam USA and they handed it over to a japanese company, Id resign the next day because I know what is to follow.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

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