Reputation in business is critical. Being honest, law-abiding and treating business partners in a fair manner is the best policy for enhancing our reputation. Japan is a hard place in which to get into trouble, but that doesn’t stop some from trying.
The obvious thing to avoid is crime. You are probably thinking this is not an issue, and hopefully you are correct. Surprising things happen though. I had met a fellow Aussie businessman socially when I was Consul General in Osaka and the next time I saw him, he was in the pokey. As a word of caution, those unfamiliar with how consulates work might imagine that their government is somehow going to get their loved one out of jail. Sadly, the consular vehicle won’t be backed up to the compound wall to spring their national. All embassies will do is make sure you are treated equally under the law and inquire whether you would like them to let your family know you are now a jailbird in Japan.
In this case, my Aussie compatriot did not want his family informed that he had been nabbed by the store security for shoplifting a small value item from a major retailer. Nor that in his bag the police found a substantial wad of cash and a smorgasbord of illegal pharmaceuticals.
After conducting many prison visits to incarcerated Aussies, let me assure you, don’t wind up in jail in Japan. The sheer fear in the eyes of all those I visited was seriously scary. One drug mule, a hulking deck worker on prawn trawlers, was so obviously terrified of his guard, it still lingers in my mind’s eye. I don’t know what the prison guards do to their charges inside the walls of the prison, but the terror it induced was palpable and unforgettable. Jail time in Japan is not aimed at redemption by the way - the purpose of the entire experience is punishment and that is a big difference from many Western countries.
No jail time for me, you say. But you might be juiced up having a big night on the town celebrating in Roppongi and a fight suddenly erupts with some fellow muscular revelers sporting crew cuts. You jump in to help your mate, things rapidly go south and the cops arrive to clean it up. Binge drinking Brits and alcohol and testosterone fueled Aussies with short tempers, in particular, be careful!
It might be social media that brings you undone. Your good name can be trashed all over the Internet very easily and quickly. Recently, I received a broadcast Facebook query looking for help in locating a bad debtor. “Amazed” didn’t even begin to describe my reaction, as I knew both small business parties. Wow, this is going everywhere, I thought and how damaging that was for the named business partner’s reputation.
Another cautionary tale came about from a false website. The Facebook posting looked like it was real, had an intriguing tag line and took me to the fake site, where the dirt was piled high. This site was bursting with this person’s alleged business skullduggery and their reputation was being shredded on the spot. It took me a moment to work out it was a fake posting, because it was so well done, but the damage to reputation must have been enormous.
Paying your way is always a critical thing in business but some people are too clever by half. They have worked out that when you owe a substantial sum of money, the problem is now the other guy’s. Collecting the amount owed is costly and time consuming. Knowing this they offer pennies on the dollar. The immediate issue around cash flow may be removed, but the long-term damage to reputation is not so easily unwound.
Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) is always a popular policy in choosing business partners and due diligence is a compliance must these days. It may take years to recover from a blow to one’s reputation and the Internet leaves a trail for all future business partners to see. A heavy price will be paid at some point.
Sticking smaller suppliers with 60 – 90-day payment terms is a favorite for some of the larger players. The irony is that the people who need free credit the least, extract it from those who need prompt payment the most. Might may be right, but it does take the sheen off the brand and the firm’s reputation. As a small business owner, I find this happens way too often. Basically your choices are few but it does leave a bitter taste in your mouth and a negative view of these brand name companies' ethics.
Fortunately, Japan is pretty "amae" (indulgent) with foreigners. However, let’s not get sucked into a false sense of security. Jailbird time here is no joke, so just don’t take the risk. Social media is an instant killer of reputations, the stain is semi-permanent and very hard to erase.
So let’s always do the right thing.
As the saying goes, “the radius of the circle of karma is shorter than you think.”© Japan Today