I happened to see a news article that said the president of Nippon Sheet Glass, an American, was leaving the company due to fundamental disagreements with the Japanese board of directors, and this was being compared to the exits of other foreign CEOs including Michael Woodford of Olympus and Howard Stringer of Sony. I wondered for a moment what it’d be like to be the president of a Japanese company, before sheepishly remembering that I am one. While I happily don’t have to deal with a sprawling organization that resists me at every step, I sometimes wonder what it’s like for Japanese employees who come to work at J-List and suddenly find themselves with a “foreign barbarian” for a boss. There are, of course, potential communication issues, since all foreigners are bound to be a little KY, Japanese for kuuki yomenai or “cannot read the air,” e.g. someone who’s on a different wavelength or who isn’t good at understanding social nuances. One challenge for our Japanese employees is learning to see Japan through the eyes of foreigners so they can buy the products our customers will be interested in, so I work with each employee to help them see Japan as I see it. I remember my staff being surprised that anyone would be interested in buying such boring products as an Evangelion-style Japanese eye patch or traditional dagashi candy that’s been around since the Showa Period, since they take these products for granted. Eventually they come to appreciate what aspects of Japan we foreigners find kakko ii (cool) and are able to find cool products for the site. (Image credit.)
I’m much happier being the president of J-List than of Sony.