U.S. companies must work to promote exports, Japanese businessman says

March 13, 1992|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

American businesses should complain less and do more to promote their exports, according to a Japanese steel executive speaking in Baltimore yesterday.

"Americans, once you have your mind set, you have a greater capacity than Japanese, I believe," said Kiichi Mochizuki, executive counselor of Nisshin Steel Co. Ltd. and chairman of the Pacific Institute Inc., a non-profit group that deals with issues involving Pacific Rim nations. "But you don't have your minds set."

U.S.-Japanese relations are strained now, he said, but are far better than they were 50 years ago.

The two countries' relationship and how U.S. companies can break into the Japanese market were the topics at a seminar held yesterday at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore.

The session, "Doing Business in Japan," was sponsored by the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore.

The goal of the meeting has become increasingly timely, participants at the seminar said.

Indeed, the recent verbal warfare between Japan and the United States has subtly dampened business for U.S. companies in Japan, said the head of a Baltimore business with major Japanese contracts.

"Things are moving a bit slower," said Harold L. Adams, chairman of RTKL Associates Inc., a Baltimore-based architectural and engineering

firm. "So it can come home very quickly."

Despite the current spate of Japan-bashing, Mr. Adams said, RTKL has found its Japanese business lucrative. The company has more than 100 employees stationed there.

RTKL entered the Japanese market when the Japanese conglomerate Seibu, now called the Saison Group, approached RTKL about five years ago.

RTKL's success came, he said, because the company reacted quickly to Seibu's inquiry and did high-quality work at home.

Mr. Adams urged companies considering doing business in Japan to learn Japanese manners and customs, and to be patient. "Doing projects in Japan does take a lot of time," he said. "It takes a lot of consensus building."

It is also important to choose partners carefully, said James Albrecht, vice president and managing director of the international division of McCormick & Co.

That company learned the hard way by picking two unsuitable partners -- one that had only a small interest in the food business and another that was literally a "silent" partner.

"A lot of the blame is on our shoulders," Mr. Albrecht said about the reasons for McCormick's "underwhelming" results in Japan.

However, McCormick is hopeful now that one of the joint ventures has been reorganized.

Another obstacle to working in Japan is the food-distribution system, Mr. Albrecht said after the conference.

"It's as complex as any I know in the world," he said.

The system includes a large number of middlemen who do little more than shuffle paper, Mr. Albrecht said. There is also the geography and the road system to contend with.

"Our traffic jams are child's play compared to theirs," Mr. Albrecht said.

Despite the rhetoric, Mr. Mochizuki said, the two nations would not go to the "point of stupid explosions."

He said one possible reason for the strained relations is the demise of the Cold War, which has left the United States without a clearly defined goal.

"If you treat Japan as an enemy, that is too small a goal. The American national goal should be larger than that," he said, suggesting that the country turn its attention to restructuring itself.

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