Doing Business with Japanese Companies Panel

Doing Business with Japanese Companies Panel

It’s one of many questions, actually, that executives face when doing business with the increasing number of Japanese companies that have established headquarters or operations in North Texas. That number has climbed 64 percent in the last four years, resulting in billions of dollars of investment in the area, and the Japan/DFW wave is just getting started, economic development officials tell me.

Japanese companies like North Texas’ central U.S. location, relatively low cost of living and housing costs, its lack of a state income tax, availability of direct flights to Tokyo, and strength of the talent pool, Shinsuke Takahashi, president and CEO of NEC Corp. of America, said in a panel discussion Thursday put on by the Greater Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

Takahashi and other panelists offered a host of advice in the discussion called “Doing Business with Japanese companies.”

A few of the tips:

Don’t point with your chopsticks. Never cold call. Present your business card with respect, and treat others’ cards the same. Always carry a handkerchief or two when you’re in Japan.

“The Japan culture is very formal, compared to the United States,” said Wes Hargrove, senior vice president of development for Irving-based 7-Eleven. The convenience store giant’s parent company, Seven & I Holdings, is based in Tokyo.

“It’s important when having meetings with people from Japan or Japanese companies that you always try to know the person that you are talking with, and they should be at the same level as you,” Hargrove said. “Having the same title, or comparable, makes it easier to have a conversation.”

While U.S. business meetings often are one-on-one, Japanese companies prefer larger group meetings, Hargrove said.

Americans tend to talk too much and monopolize meetings, he added.

“The Japanese are very polite and do not want to interrupt,” Hargrove said. “You must be aware and provide the other person the opportunity to talk and share information.”

Jeff Horn Jr., co-founder of Dallas-based international law firm Ohashi & Horn LLP, stressed the importance of interpersonal relationships.

U.S. business executives tend to be more animated in during negotiations, while Japanese executives tend to be more guarded, Horn said.

That makes finger-pointing a no-no.

“You have to make sure that you are respecting your counterpart and showing them the right esteem for their position and for the relationship as a whole,” Horn said.

On the decision about whether to bow or shake hands, the trick is to take your cues from the other person, Takahashi said. Also, don’t feel the need to fill gaps in a conversation with chatter, he said.

When you exchange business cards, do so with respect, and when holding the other person’s card, don’t tap on the table or otherwise fiddle with it, he said. The business card is an extension of the person.

Putting your hands in your pockets, especially while giving a presentation, is considered too casual when dealing with Japanese companies, he said.

At the table, don’t point at anything or anyone with chopsticks, and leave a sip or two of your alcoholic beverage in your glass when you’ve had your fill, Takahashi advised.

“When they see an empty glass, they have to pour,” he said. “If you want to stop (drinking) right there, leave a little something inside.”

Conservative dress — a dark suit and tie — are the norm for business professionals in Japan, Takahashi said. Businessmen in Japan definitely wear ties in the winter, but sometimes go open-collar in the summer. The dates when mandatory tie season starts and stops, however, are hard and fast, so pay attention, Takahashi said.

“It’s very distinct,” he said. “From this day to this day you can stop wearing a tie. Please be careful.”

It’s considered rude in Japan to cold call, or approach someone with a business proposal without first having a proper introduction, Horn said.

“Whatever industry you’re in, try to find a Japanese counterpart, understand the business model, then try to find somebody in your contact list that knows somebody at the company,” he said. “It’s seen as wasting their time if you don’t have an introduction, because then they have to figure out who you are.”

As for handkerchiefs, Hargrove shared a story from his first trip to Japan, when he found himself elbow to elbow at the restroom sink with the chairman of the board of Seven & I Holdings.

“He finishes, reaches into his pocket, takes out a handkerchief and dries his hands,” Hargrove said. “I go to look for a towel, but there was no towel in the restroom. Of course, I didn’t have a handkerchief, so my pants (served the purpose).”

Presented by Dallas Business Journal

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