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Home > Interviews > Special Interviews Last Updated: 15:05 07/18/2007
Special Interviews

Gary Bremermann (Senior Consultant, Robert Leonard Consulting)
The famed devotion to company that was once a pillar of Japanese corporate life has dwindled in the past few years as the reverberations from bankruptcies and layoffs shook-up and shook-out large sectors of the Japanese economy.

Gary Bremermann, a senior consultant with executive search firm Robert Leonard Consulting, says that even longtime Japanese company employees are more willing now to consider being "headhunted" away to another firm. Mr. Bremermann specializes in placing such Japanese bi-lingual professionals with international firms.

While the term "headhunter" has negative connotations for some, Mr. Bremermann says he doesn't mind it. He says a good headhunter can do much more than just fill a job. According to his website,, where he gives advice for both candidates and client companies, he consults his candidates throughout their entire career change process.

While attitudes towards work in Japan are changing, some things are not. The open-space layout of Japanese offices, Mr. Bremermann says, requires a subtle touch to keep a good candidate's co-workers and bosses from knowing he or she is considering other options.

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Dave Mori (Co-Founder and President, English OK!)
Bad experiences are often the seeds for new businesses. Dave Mori's brother-in-law had his experience when he was trying to rent an apartment in Tokyo. The agents didn't speak English, Mr. Mori's brother-in-law grew frustrated and left, and business was left undone.

"And we thought this happens all over the place, at all service businesses," said Dave Mori, who along with his brother-in-law co-founded English OK to provide custom English-language training for the service industry. They also provide client companies with the "English OK" logo to attract English speaking clients, and a web directory of English-friendly companies, complete with coupons. The timing is right given the official campaign to increase tourist inflow to Japan.
While planning English OK, Mr. Mori and his brother-in-law, Marc Beardsley, also established the Entrepreneur Association of Tokyo in the Spring of 2003 to serve budding entrepreneurs in Tokyo. "We realized that the market in Japan really, really wanted an association where they could interact with other entrepreneurs and get advice on how to start businesses," said Mr. Mori. EA-Tokyo has grown rapidly through its monthly seminars and networking opportunities, the lifeblood of starting a new business. "We've had a lot of success stories," said Mr. Mori.

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Dr. Anthony D'Costa (Professor of Comparative International Development, University of Washington)
After interviewing 70 Indian IT companies doing business with Japan, Dr. Anthony D'Costa, an Abe Fellow and Professor of Comparative International Development at the University of Washington, Tacoma, found lots of frustration on the part of the Indians. "The frustration lay mainly because of long delays, the long decision making process, not quite being sure what the clients wanted," said Mr. D'Costa, who has written about the globalization of the steel industry, and has a book coming out this fall on India's industrial transformation. "You'd have so many meetings and there are no results."

Given those problems, compounded by a language gap, and the fact that there seems to be plenty of demand for Indian IT talent elsewhere in the world, Mr. D'Costa says Indian companies can't afford to overlook the Japanese market. Some Indian companies "are investing quite a bit of money in training their engineers in Japanese language and Japanese culture. In fact they have their own in-house training institutions. That means they're in it for the long haul."

Dr. D'Costa says these companies have an uphill struggle, but that success is possible. In this interview, he explains what the problems are, and lays out several potential solutions. (2005/5/18)

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C. Jeffrey Char (President, J-SEED)
When Jeff Char decided to open a new business in Japan, he had $700,000 in the bank, and a string of successful startups to his name, two of which he had sold, respectively, to Lucent Technologies and Suzuki Manufacturing. He had 10 years of legal experience at a well-known law firm, and a top shelf legal education. It didn't matter. In Japan, he couldn't even rent an office.

"The deck is stacked against you", said Mr. Char, the President of J-Seed Ventures, a technology-focused incubator, and self-described serial entrepreneur, who eventually talked his way in to his third choice office. Before coming to Japan, Mr. Char spent several years in Silicon Valley, where if you screw up, it's better to screw up big. "That notoriety will bring you your next round of financing," said Mr. Char. "If you screw up in Japan, you don't get a second chance."

That, in essence, is the crucial difference between the start-up markets in the US and Japan. Nevertheless, entrepreneurial ventures in Japan are increasing, as evidenced by the growing list on Mothers, the small venture stock exchange. Mr. Char says that the ventures that have succeeded in Japan have done so despite the handicaps, and have successfully opened new markets. That may be reason enough for hope. (2005/12/21)

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