Archives for posts with tag: Japan

Trawling through the Internet, I came across a report on McKinsey Insights that spoke about the gender diversity still gaining ground in Latin America as well as our advancing society. I wondered whether it is a good idea to have a good women boss around or some incompetent person with his qualification being simply male. Am I turning metrosexual raising this question? No, not really – just trying to convey a point, as growing up in all boys’ school in Delhi, relationships with girls and women were an aspiration in my all-male cohort.


In that school we had women teachers, and mine were excellent. Later I had male teachers and they too were excellent. That Indian school was rather hierarchical – teachers gave orders and students obeyed, and certainly submitted homework or else… I think that early training to follow women as well as men made me rather open to learning from, taking orders from and reporting to women, just as comfortably as to men. I have never visited Latin America and cannot comment on their situation, but I suspect early exposure to some kind of gender diversity in positions of power could help overcome resistance to taking orders from women.

Women As Managers:

I have had women teachers and have worked under a woman manager only once. My personal experience is that they can be very good managers. Additionally, they are just as susceptible to bias as any other human, just as managers of either gender may be susceptible to bias based on other factors, such as race, sports group, club membership etc. My own feeling is that a good manager minimizes biases in favour of good management, and therefore a logical extension is that since women can be good managers, they can work with unbiased attitudes to the extent human. Similarly, in a biased environment, such as an otherwise all-male environment women are just as likely to succeed as  I suppose any other biased situation.


Do Management Rules Differ Based On Gender?

Most of my work experience since the late eighties has been in or with Japan-owned companies. In my early days in Japan, women recruits from the same university as a male counterpart were assigned very different nature of tasks, and it bothered me. Gradually over the last 25 years I have seen this gender discrimination reduce, but fellow male Japanese workers who are in their forties still speak openly about gender-based roles.


In Hitachi however, I notice that younger managers in their twenties are less discriminatory in their mindset about gender based assignment allocation. So, I think these things take time. Certainly Hitachi benefits by accessing a greater proportion of a declining Japanese population for their managerial cadre. I think in Hitachi’s case the Human Resources Department made conscious efforts to promote gender equality to opportunity. Such forward looking HR Departments can help others improve over time. The Indian situation is better than Japan’s with visible role models, for example in finance industry, heading leading banks such as State Bank of India, ICICI Bank or Axis Bank. If these banks found it prudent to place the best person for the job at their help, surely others should too!

I think the gradually increasing visibility of women in positions of senior management is successful in propelling more in the same direction. The snowball effect is encouraging. It is even more encouraging that in the realm of business this has been entirely based on merit, rather than reservation. Perhaps development programs across the world that rely on reservation need to be reconsidered in the light of this success case. Something to study about!


The last few days saw onions touch a price of INR 80/kg, which actually brought tears to the eyes of commoners and added enough oniony spice to the jokes spreading on all social media platforms. The most common of all commodities went out of bounds for the common man against the backdrop of a sudden plunge last month by the India Rupee (INR) to the US Dollar (USD) to about INR 69 per USD. Here, our old friend Japan became a Good Samaritan and decided to more than triple the existing bilateral currency swap agreement to USD 50 billion.


The intent of the entire proposal was to bring stability to financial markets, and it seems somewhat successful in contributing towards the same.  India was in need, and Japan came to its rescue like a good friend. The next important task though is to tackle the underlying causes for the rupee depreciation and one of them is the current account deficit. The Economist stated in one its articles on August 24, 2013 that “the longer-term solution to the balance-of-payments problem may be to ramp up India’s manufacturing sector, and thus its industrial exports. But that will take a big improvement in the business climate, not just a cheap currency. Despite the rupee’s 27% tumble in the past three years there is scant sign of global manufacturers shifting production to India.”

The Government of India desires to increase the share of manufacturing in GDP from the current 15% to 25% by 2022. However, we have certain well recognized factors that are limiting manufacturing, viz; infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, high cost of capital, land and labor, which are pushing even our local businessmen to go abroad rather than strengthen a manufacturing base at home.

Here again our old friend Japan is quite keen to address our infrastructure issues, where it’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Infrastructure (METI) has adopted infrastructure systems exports as a thrust area with the help of Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi, which are leading world class machinery manufacturers. The capital hurdle could also be resolved provided an acceptable Public Private Partnership policy is brought in. the Japanese banks are looking for promising projects to finance.


I believe, India’s excessive bureaucracy and the labor issue are quite interlinked but the point is that the centuries old caste system has ingrained a preference for thinking rather than doing. Those who can, “think”, prefer not to get their hands dirty with implementation because their belief lies in the fact that getting hands dirty is for the lower castes.

Thus, the brainiest of engineers eschew production and manufacturing related work, preferring jobs in finance, consulting or even software development – work that can be done from comfortable environs. Those who can’t – get stuck in labor but because there is no pride in being at the bottom of society, the labor is just not willing. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is trying to bring in pride to India’s manufacturing and is supporting a leading management program at India’s premier Indian Institute of Management Calcutta called VLFM (Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing).

Alas, Japan cannot yet offer solutions to our land ownership and transfer complexities that perplex even the longest serving businesses such as the Tatas. Neither do they have a solution to our British inherited legacy of excessive bureaucracy. The politician and the bureaucrats – the two pillars of government need to address these. Centuries old problems cannot be swapped in a jiffy; hopefully they won’t take a century to resolve.

Provoked by Justice Sotomoyer’s observation of dealing with her atypical “imposter syndrome”, in a recent Business Standard Op-Ed piece, Shyamal Majumdar writes, “The ‘imposter syndrome’ – Even high achievers often dismiss their success as some fluke or luck, and not the result of their own competence.”

This got me thinking. Internet based research revealed that, “The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”


Analyzing this wiki definition, I feel that at least partial description of “imposter syndrome” in the West is simply being realistic. After all, in my case I am sure what I am today is also a function of the bosses, colleagues and subordinates in the teams that I have worked in, as well as suppliers, customers and well-wishers in the extended environment. Thus, it is difficult to find a purely self-made individual. Hence, I believe that my success can be attributed to luck, fortune and timing.

I remember my days in Toyota, when our domestic market share in Japan in the segments we operated was increasing from 40 to 44 %, while Nissan’s was in decline. Sitting in the smoking corner during lunch, one of my colleagues made the observation that“managers and executives at Nissan are just like us, from the same classrooms of the same universities”.  In many cases, the choice between the two companies was made purely on geographical reasons, while choosing their office locations in Japan. Yet, one company is rising and the other is declining. Certainly, decisions taken by our seniors were instrumental in the current success and failure, rise or decline, but the fruits that WE were enjoying (or not, as in Nissan’s case) were more a matter of providence”.

Back then, my Toyota colleagues and I shared the perception that we were part of destiny.


I remember another instance of a junior, call him Taro for now, who joined us from one of the leading private universities in Japan, Keio. Being assigned to an operations group that was very busy with re-structuring, his seniors could not mentor him sufficiently. They just did not have enough time. His development as an executive dragged, until he was transferred to an administrative job. There, under appropriate mentorship he became like a fish taking to water. He was admired for his attention to detail, his confidence grew and he started commanding respect. Different circumstances, different results, same person. Taro would not internalize failure changing to success purely to his competence.

I dedicate my own competency development to being a function of luck, timing and hard work. What about you?

Earlier today, I had a chance to meet with a senior manager of a leading human resources consulting firm. During our course of discussion, we spoke about how training for my staff went by. Thereafter, once again I read the McKinsey’s recent report Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works.  The epiphany for me is that foreign companies that succeed in India shall be the ones that engage with the best Indian education institutions. Why epiphany? It should be so axiomatically obvious. It is to me now, but obviously, it is not to a vast majority of people. That is why I have chosen to write about this now.

Many multinational companies (MNCs) including Japanese firms complain about finding right-skilled employees. One finding from McKinsey is that employers, employees and education providers live in parallel universe, that is in complete disconnect with each other. This seems to make a lot of sense as an underlying cause to the problem of right-skilling. Some of the best hires for my previous company, Hitachi were people that we employed as interns while they were still students. This led to a convergence of expectations on all sides and the problem of right skilling so often talked about in the press was resolved. This is in harmony with what employees say abouton-the-job training (OJT) and hands-on learning being the most effective instructional techniques.  The Hitachi interns were from leading institutes like Indian Institute of Management (IIM) or Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Excellent employees facilitate excellent organization building.


According to the McKinsey survey, only 31% of companies actually engage regularly with education providers and youth, offering them time, skills and money. I suspect this separates the more successful from the less successful. As was pointed out, in the best-case scenario – education providers and employers actively step into each other’s worlds, and additionally they both engage potential employees, the students on an early basis. This mirrors how Hitachi achieved its excellent hiring.

Education providers in India are beginning to understand the importance of getting industry exposure for their students. While in the past professors of premium institutes like IIT used to contact me for OJT opportunities, in recent times, the lesser-known institutes are also initiating the contact. This is a good first step. It would be even more effective if education providers made practical training integral to the classroom, rather than an off-campus event. Indian companies being home-grown would not know how to go about it. However, foreign companies can. When at Hitachi, the then Chief Executive Officer (CEO)for Asia, Mr. ShunsukeOhtsu donated a set of power tools to IIT, and the use of power tools became incorporated in undergraduate practical training curriculum for the first time in India, as recently as in 2009!


Yes, that is right but, the important thing is this that there are two sides to the equation:

  • the willing giver
  • the willing recipient

You can learn from Hitachi, or you can struggle and then learn from Hitachi. The choice is now yours.

Last week I was invited to the Embassy of Japan in Delhi for the pre-launch reception of Suraj – The Rising Star. What is that? Exactly the question I asked my wife when she told me we were invited. Now I know the answer – it is the title of a cricket based cartoon, inspired by the Japanese baseball anime hit Kyojin no Hoshi (Star of the Giants) of yesteryears.


Many years ago when I was in Toyota, I was asked to review the Japanese program Oshin for possible sponsorship to telecast in India. Ambassador Sakutaro Tanino had been approached, because it seems that Oshin was run once, to popular acclaim, but could not finish as a series for lack of funds. Sponsorship for Oshin was never revived, but since my review work I have been convinced that quality Japanese programming could be well received by Indian audiences.

In my previous entrepreneurial business promoting Indo-Japanese cultural and business relations, I often shared opinion that it would be people to people contact that would get the two nations closer. There was talk even then, about 10 years ago of translating Japanese Manga (comics) to the vernacular. Now Kodansha, the Japanese publisher has made the localization happen, a fantastic leap for international business – who said you can’t make money out of culture.

Sarbjit Singh Chadha

Indian enka singer, Sarbjit Singh Chadha who was at the embassy reception told me, “Ashok, I used to follow the original Japanese cartoon when I lived in Japan. Believe me this will have wonderful lessons for Indian youth on the importance grit when facing life’s challenges. According to Colors, which will air the program, the series will present viewers an inspiring story of a young boy who dares to chase his cricketing dream.

Newly appointed Ambassador, Takeshi Yagi, was excited about this development in cultural exchange. Talking to Itochu’s honcho in Delhi, Mr. Ichiro Shimizu, I learnt that the original series featuring the Giants was popular in his days. He is in his 50’s. Alas, contemporary Japanese youth that has moved from TV to smartphones for entertainment does not get that some education he complained. Fortunately, a vast majority of Indian youth still access television. Moreover, since it is a remake, I hope that they have additionally adapted it for smartphone viewing.


Actress Karishma Kapoor who was at the reception said she will make sure that her son who is a budding two and a half year old cricketer shall watch from 10 AM every Sunday. I, too, plan to be in front of the box on 23rd December when it debuts. Time will tell if I am able to sacrifice my golf every Sunday. 10 AM also clashes with my son’s karate class – perhaps its time to invest in a recording device.

アショク アシタ

Most of my writings to date have recommended a course of action on a general basis that challenges the status quo of International business in the current scenario. However, earlier today, when I read The Economist’s recent article on Hitachi, I was gladdened to see that President Hiroaki Nakanishi is following my prescriptions, points that I made repeatedly to my then boss Mr. Yasunori Taga, the Chief Executive for Asia (CEA).

When I had joined Hitachi India, the sub-continent subsidiary was controlled by Hitachi Asia in Singapore. Despite my strong desire to relocate to Singapore, I remember telling Mr. Taga (against my personal interest) that it would be difficult to control an emerging economy like India from a developed city-state Singapore. President Nakanishi, finally upgraded Hitachi India to a regional Head Office in 2011.

I also agree with Nakanishi’s reported goal of attracting the best talent and allowing them the freedom to move around across business units. Other MNCs would do well to adopt this strategy. I often see foreign companies preferring to do things “their original global way”.  It takes some longer than others but eventually they have to adapt to local ways. It is either adapt or accept losses.

What can be true about human talent is also true about products. International business giant McDonald’s is good at this. It adopted vegetarian menu for India right from the start, and additionally was quick to give up the mutton offerings, substituting them by the more popular chicken. It has taken longer for America’s Kentucky Fried Chicken, or more lovingly known as KFC, to abandon its “original recipe”; they now serve only “Indianized” versions: spicy chicken or fiery grill chicken. The choice is between “hot” and “very hot”.  Hitachi’s appliances business unit has its own development center outside Ahmedabad, in the rapidly industrializing state of Gujarat. GE, Denso, Bosch etc. are leading global companies that are going native and understanding India better.

As European, especially German, companies look to Asia to grow business they would do well to heed these points about local talent and local products. Remember Brand India is noted for affordable products and superior global managers. Hitachi took over 50 years to learn such important lessons for doing business in India. Fortunately for European followers, they have a visible short-cut.

It was interesting to read recently that Honda is planning to review its product strategies for the Indian market. Though third-placed in the Japanese car market, as a global player it is actually second to Toyota in the Japanese manufacturers rankings. However, in India Honda as a brand has been at a distant seventh, despite being here for nearly 17 years.

Even as of now, Honda is considering only a revamp of its product line-up, which does not seem enough as a survival/winning strategy in the Indian context. A recent McKinsey Quarterly reports that to succeed in the complete Indian market and not merely its niches, international companies will have to learn to do business the Indian way, rather than simply imposing global business models and practices on the local market. The scorecard suggesting techniques to win in India, gives out seven pointers that need to be taken care of. Alas, Honda as a brand has failed to live up to the scorecard.

In international business, Brand India is associated with affordable products and good global managers. According to the newspaper report, Honda is just now delving into affordable products in the form of the smaller diesel options, but what they really need to address is the “scaled down in terms of function but even more aggressively lower priced” cars. Honda requires an understanding of the needs of Indian consumers and should customize itself accordingly.

Many multinational companies have hired Indians visibly into their executive board, not only to gain goodwill among the Indian market but also have understanding of natives and the exact market pulse. They are the people who have grown up in India and have better experience about the market. In the auto industry, market leader Suzuki of Japan has Indian R C Bhargava as its Chairman. Japanese giant Toyota has hired veteran Sandeep Singh and others on their board. Deputy Managing Director Sandeep has been with Toyota for years leaving briefly for stints with Mahindra and later JCB. He has helped the company get a better insight of the market and has helped Toyota place them better in the market. Newer vehicles will have only a limited impact on Honda’s business here, until the company manages to get a grip on the consumer pulse.

My own limited experience about Honda leads me to believe they are arrogant. There are two types of foreign companies that try and win in India. The Honda-type believe that they can conquer using their global strategies and global experience by “teaching the natives”, while the others are companies that try and learn from the natives and address the needs of the natives. They get the idea that Brand India (or any market different from the highly developed countries) has to be dealt in a separate way than the global market. Again contrast with Toyota: While Honda is severing relations with the local partners it entered the market with, Toyota have retained Vikram Kirloskar as Vice Chairman even though Kirloskar group has now only about one per cent share in Toyota Kirloskar Motor. While Honda is keen to remove vestiges of its local flavor, Toyota chooses to accentuate its belonging to society. What a contrast!

Arrogant companies will not succeed in India. Adaptation to the Indian consumer’s demand for innovative, low-cost delivery systems and high value for money products is a “must”. Invading companies learn this over time – some sooner than others. Of course, some just remain unsuccessful and have good basis to complain about corruption and difficulty of doing business in India 🙂

While going through my daily dose of news, I came across this article “Japan keen on nuclear cooperation with India: Montek Ahluwalia”that talked about the ongoing talks on civil nuclear cooperation. There are a lot of nitty-gritty’s involved in the whole of nuclear power cooperation, however my main concern is simple – “Is Nuclear Energy as important for India as it is portrayed to be?”

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, Japan got about 30% of its electric power from nuclear sources. However, since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan has not been able to avail energy from all its reactors till date and earlier this year it survived well with even zero nuclear power. If a developed and advanced nation like Japan can survive without nuclear power, certainly it becomes very apparent that nuclear power is not “essential” for India.

Recently, the Japanese government has made a proposal for demonstrating alternative energy solutions such as solar power for industrial parks in India. This government-to-government technical aid offer has been approved by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), yet it lies mired in bureaucracy at Department of Economic Affairs of Ministry of Finance. In my opinion, the current need of the hour is to take the alternative route rather than simply taking what corporate Japan is offering us in a platter. I believe the alternatives to nuclear power should be investigated first lest we invite disasters such as the Bhopal gas tragedy or Chernobyl in our country. Our track record with road and railroad safety is ample indication of the low priority assigned to safety in our country. India has even started wearing the “jugaad” mentality as a symbol of pride!

Japanese government’s Energy and Environment Council has set a 28-year target for a nuclear-free Japan. Not only Japan, even Germany is also getting rid of nuclear and is venturing into the realms of wind and solar energy without even having sunshine like India.

It’s very similar to the scenario of Europe’s Airbus trying to convince us to buy airplanes because that is what they make. There is nothing wrong with the seller’s attitude. Is Japan trying to sell us its nuclear technology or is it merely their business lobby pressurizing our leaders to go ahead with it? The onus right now lies on the purchasing side to make the right decision. Indian leaders have been questioned a lot too many times for their weak decisions, be it the Bofors scandal,the Air Force land scam or even recently the Coalgate scandal.

Taking cue from countries like Germany and Japan itself, Government of India (GoI) must avoid rushing to accept big business’s proposals. They should well research all the available options or else there will be strong suspicion of a corruption once again. Irrespective of the money involved in the deal, we should consider alternatives of renewable energy in a better way rather than simply rushing into something that the whole world is getting rid of.

A recent Times of India strategy piece “Why Ghana is ideal destination for Indian IT companies” caught my attention, because of my own personal experience of visiting Ghana five years ago. It was a time when Ghana celebrated its golden jubilee of nationhood, it was hosting the African Union Summit and also its currency got re-denominated.

The Times article was a timely reminder. As Chinese historical anger towards Japan inflamed recently, many Japanese are now turning to India, not only for the market potential here, but also as the base to springboard into Africa. For early adopters of a See Africa policy in international business, India and Africa are a close link. The step into Africa could be through Kenya, where my cousin is enjoying the wonderful weather of Nairobi, but based on my own experience I think Ghana is just as good, if not better.

The Ghana I saw even five years ago was a nation with the potential to lead its continent out of the developing world into the developed. Ghana has already been a leader by virtue of being the first sub-Saharan country in colonial Africa to gain independence. Even at that midnight hour in 1957, leader Dr. Kawame Nkrumah declared, “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of the African continent“. Ghana was instrumental in helping to found the Organization for African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa in 1963.

Ghana has demonstrated a commitment to education, a touchstone for transitioning to a service economy. Literacy level of 75% in the 15+ age group is continuously rising, with almost 100% school enrollment achieved. It enjoys one of the highest per capita GDP in Western Africa and with unemployment at over 10% there is sufficient slack for finding educated labor for growing business.

Except for the pioneering Chinese, I suspect international businessmen will still not rush into Africa. Many highly educated businessmen still harbor such stereotypical fears as – “Africa is no place for a woman to do business”. Memories of kidnappings in Nigeria persist. The point I want to make is that Ghana is not like the rest of Africa. Accra’s lively beaches, casinos and nightlife tell a different story. Ghana is relatively safe, full of the self-described “friendliest Africans.” Nevertheless, Ghanaians again need to lead Africa in reassuring the international world that there is a respect for human rights and rule of law.

Five years ago I went, saw and concluded that Ghana can be a valuable investment destination for international business, with its increasing political stability, educated workforce and budding will to establish rule of law. It can pave the way for Africa’s long road to economic independence. International businesses can help strategically to create role models for Africa. By doing so, international business will share in the benefits reaped by such progress.

As I landed at Phnom Penh airport last week, there was a certain déjà vu feeling. The smallness and atmosphere at the airport, even as seen from the runway, was so much like Accra in Ghana that I had experienced a few years ago. The efficiency inside and the traffic situation on the way to the hotel also reminded me about my trip to Ghana.

In terms of poor countries, Cambodia seems to be worse off with per capita GDP in PPP terms at 2,727 USD compared to India’s 3,751 USD. However, unlike Ghana that is shackled by its African location, Cambodia exists in a geographical location central in Southeast Asia, the engine for global growth. In my first email from Phnom Penh to a friend I wrote, “Cambodia will overtake India within 5 years”.

Why do I say this? Well, the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans are already pouring money in, not only as aid but also part of international business investments. The streets and basic infrastructure of Phnom Penh is neat and tidy compared to Delhi. The first thing my Japanese colleague asked me to notice as we drove from the airport to the hotel downtown was the lack of traffic noise, the honking and weaving in and out that is experienced on India’s chaotic roads.

One of the basic start points for Kaizen (=improvement) at any worksite is 4S. 4S is a production management concept referring to a state of sifting, sorting, sweeping and cleaning and the resulting spic and span condition that forms the basis for productivity growth. Based on my experience with worksite Kaizen I am convinced that Cambodia with 4S in place is ready to improve productivity; India lacks 4S in its cities and countryside and is therefore going to be left behind.

The second thing I noticed was the right pricing of services. Though, I stayed only at the Sofitel Hotel, its superior facilities and excellent services that out performed most Indian hotels were priced at about half of what top class branded hotels in Delhi charge. In that sense too, Cambodia will be more attractive.

Of course, with the national population that is about one per cent of India’s, or roughly the size of Delhi’s, Cambodia’s economic size has its natural limitations. This means that Delhi will be further lulled by a false sense of security in its market size and shall continue to slumber. My expectation is that international business shall continue to clamor for this sleeping giant India to wake up; meanwhile Cambodian people will get better off. They just talk less and do more, while Indian politicians are easily massaged by reference to the country as a tiger oblivious to the adjective “sleeping” being used in description.

%d bloggers like this: