U.S. managerial styles appeal to Japanese executives

March 08, 1992|By Ronald E. Yates | Ronald E. Yates,Chicago Tribune

It's a surprising twist, but many Japanese managers in the United States say they are increasingly adopting U.S. management styles and methods and would even like to take many back to Japan when they return.

These conclusions are contained in a recent survey of more than 400 senior Japanese executives in the United States. It was conducted by the Japan America Society and the public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee.

According to the survey, 94 percent of the Japanese executives said they had "Americanized" their management styles, and 82 percent said they would like to see some of the newly learned American approaches implemented in the home offices back in Japan.

"I see a lot of things that I have learned in America that could be exported to Japan," said Masayuki Kohama, head of Hitachi Corp.'s U.S. liaison office in Los Angeles.

For example, Mr. Kohama said he would like to see the U.S. approach to certain issues such as equal opportunity for women and minorities adopted by Japanese companies that still lag behind the United States.

"Today more and more women are working in Japan, but they don't have enough opportunity there to climb the corporate ladder," said Mr. Kohama, who has spent the past five years in the United States. "Japanese corporations have a lot to learn in this area."

At the same time, Mr. Kohama and other executives said they would like to see the American characteristic of assertiveness and individuality emphasized in Japanese corporations, which still tend to be group oriented.

"I like the U.S. system of a more decentralized form of management," said Jiro Ishizaka, chairman of the Union Bank in Los Angeles. "I like the idea of giving more power to individuals to make key decisions, rather than making those decisions in a group, which is the way it is done in Japan."

According to Mr. Ishizaka, who has spent 15 of the past 20 years as an executive in the United States, giving mid-level managers more authority in Japanese corporations would increase their efficiency.

Contrary to common belief, recent figures released by the Labor Department showed Japanese workers are actually only about 76 percent as productive as American workers.

Where Japanese workers surpass American workers is in the number of hours spent on the job -- about 2,150 per year for Japanese, in contrast to about 1,900 for American workers.

"We Japanese may work longer, but maybe we don't work smarter," said Kenji Moriyama, vice president of a Japanese trading company based in New York.

"This is what I have learned from my five years in this country. Contrary to common belief, Americans work very hard, but they don't waste time trying to look like they are working. When they finish they go home. I'd like to see that idea adopted in Japan."

The Japanese executives interviewed for the survey said they would also like to see Japanese corporations follow America's lead in areas of community service and in placing a greater emphasis on making work fun and enjoyable.

"In an Americanized business approach, personal enjoyment, freedom of expression, outspokenness and non-conformity are just as important as getting the job done," said Kathy S. Rand, managing director of Manning Selvage & Lee's Chicago office. "This study suggests that Japanese would like to see more of these traits in their own workers in Japan."

While most of the Japanese agreed that adopting American management methods would be beneficial for Japanese corporations, they tended to disagree on the state of relations between the two nations.

According to the survey, 37 percent said relations between Japan and the United States were good, while another 37 percent said relations were bad.

The average Japanese executive taking part in the survey was a 45-year-old male.

One-third carried the title of chairman or president of their companies, and the average executive had 16.5 years of management experience in Japan before coming to the United States.

"What I have learned since coming to the United States is that there is no good way to transplant 100 percent Japanese management methods from Japan to the United States," said Mr. Kohama.

"The most successful Japanese companies operating in the U.S. are those that have learned how to mix Japanese and American styles of management."

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