Thursday, January 26, 2012

Be Professional! Working at a Japanese Company - Any Company - Filled With Low Quality, Dysfunctional People and Management - Don't Do That to Yourself!

In one of my jobs, I give advice to major corporations on marketing and promotions. I work with some great folks. Usually, these big companies ask me for advice (or how to get tickets to sold-out concerts - yep. I can even do that!) Sometimes, in order to create new business, I put on my sales hat and approach companies that are in serious need of help. Today's post is about that kind of company; I mean a company in serious need of help. There's lots of companies like that. Here's an example.

The following is a true story. In the last two days, I've had some experiences that are just hilarious and just go to show how dysfunctional the people are who are in the employ of this one particular well known to be hereinafter called, "the Inertia Company" in Tokyo.  Everyone in Japan knows this company but it is not very respected. It used to be. But not today. It once was rich and profitable but, over these last 15 years, due to the Internet and not being able to adapt to the times (think Bronotosaurus), this company has fallen into serious financial troubles and disrepair. After hearing this story as just one microcosm of the whole problem, you'll see why.

It is all I can do to keep from laughing out loud at just how incompetent the employees as well as the upper management are at Inertia. This story would make a funny TV comedy show but, it is so ridiculous that, well, it might be too hard to believe. Here is what happened:

Over the past few months, I have met with the new director of Inertia. The guy before this new director didn't last 3 years. The guy before that one was gone after one year. When companies lose millions of dollars, that tends to create a high turnover rate in manglement... Er, I spelled that wrong, I mean, "management." In spite of the high turnover, like a good trooper, I've been trying to help them all with sales. And why not? Even if I think they are not good management people, if I can help them sell and make money, then I make money. Everyone's happy, right? 

But, with corporations like today's example of Inertia, I think God makes me do this sort of thing as a kind of "purgatory on earth" or, perhaps, to make me a better person and teach me patience. 

The Inertia Company has been losing more than one million dollars a year for the last 3 years. The new director and I met to discuss new ways to create new business revenue streams. In our last meeting, he told me that he, "Totally and completely agreed with my ideas..." and he added that he wanted me to give him "a few months to reorganize the company so that we could move forward with this new way." He also told me to contact him after that time.

Artist's rendition of Inertia Company Tokyo

As an aside, I go to that company sometimes and know that nothing has been reorganized by him since our meeting three months ago. Nevertheless I have been contacting him and trying to arrange a follow up meeting to discuss organization and operational implementation of this new plan.

By the way, I have already sold this new plan that I shared with the new director of Inertia to a few of Japan's most successful and profitable companies. In June of last year I presented it to one of Japan's most respected and profitable corporations and by August 1st, they had fully adopted the plan and now use it to boost sales - which they have done quite successfully - thank you!

Anyhow, over these past few weeks, I have been contacting this gentleman as he asked me to do. I repeatedly sent him very polite and professional business letters discussing items like CRM "Customer Relations Management," and very cost effective digital systems on how to use this new plan to obtain customers. With these notes, I have been asking for follow up meetings.

Finally, I offered him a lunch meeting whereby I could bring one of my top salesmen. This salesman is responsible for bringing this new CRM system to some of Japan's top sports teams whereby they use the system. Actually, using the system to give clients what they want is a no-brainer. I expected the director of this company to set a firm date soon.

That is, until yesterday. Yesterday he sent me a mail that just shocked me. I'd expect a mail like the one he sent me from a junior staff or a newbie or a junior high school student, but from a 50+ year old man who is a director at a company?! Extraordinary!

Here's a flow of the mails so you can get a feeling for the conversation. My mails (a total of four in four weeks) said something like this:

Dear Mr. Director,

How are you today, sir?

As you know, some of the biggest and most influential companies in Japan have just started using the CRM tool I mentioned to you at our first meeting. I'd like to continue that conversation. I know you are terribly busy so perhaps I could meet you over lunch to discuss implementation on how you can use a CRM marketing tool (at no cost) in order to provide your potential clients with the data they need on their users and thereby gain a mutually beneficial business relationship with those potential clients? Won't you please arrange a suitable time so that we can discuss over lunch? I will arrange my schedule to fit yours at any time. Please advise.

Mike Rogers

The director of Inertia dropped my jaw yesterday with his mail. He answered me something along these lines:

Mr. Rojers (sic)

We like you but cannot work with your company. 

We cannot work with you as there is a person at your company who used to work together with us at our parent company. When he worked here, he hurt the feelings of people at that parent company in the past. As you know, people are animals and their feelings do not heal so quickly. Therefore, even though your idea is good, we have no intention of working with your company because of him.

Mr. Director

I was flabbergasted. Here I am writing professional business correspondence, talking about increasing sales for a company that is losing over a million dollars a year, and this guy writes back to me talking about his internal family problems and squabbles! (No big deal, but he even spelled my name wrong!) I mean I talk about money and he starts telling me about his squabbles with brothers who were fighting.

I have no problem with them not working with us. But I'd expect some sort of reply like, "We have decided on another avenue to increase our sales. Thank you for time. Let's stay in touch and perhaps we can work together in the very near future." You know? This is what I'd expect from a professional.... But I am not dealing with professionals. This is like dealing with a room full of kids!

I have never worked at that company and have no idea what he is talking about. I don't really care. The above example is in English, but his original letter was in Japanese. At first I thought I was misreading it. To double check, I showed it to my Japanese wife and she was so surprised too. I mean, really, this is a business letter from the director (president) of a company!? My wife said, "I've never seen anything like that before. Do you think he wrote this letter when he was drunk? He sounds drunk."

I checked the time stamp on the email. I suppose it's possible that he was drunk. I mean, perhaps he was drinking at 11:30 in the morning on a Tuesday. Hell, I could see it. If I were running a company that was losing a million dollars a year, I'd be drinking all the time too!

Like I said, I was so surprised to see this letter. No. "Surprised" is not the word. "Totally and completely dumbfounded and floored" is more like it. I have never seen anything like that before. I'm the kind of guy who doesn't need to like people to work with them. All we need is professionalism and that's fine with me. We don't need to be bosom buddies to make money with them. Isn't that a part of professionalism?

I wrote back and decided that I should ignore his comments about hurt feelings and events that happened years ago. I wrote:

Dear Mr. Director,

Thank you so very much for your honest feelings.

Anyway, in order to implement a CRM system that can help boost your sales (as your competitors are doing and your former sales partners are now doing also) then let me introduce another company that has a similar system to mine. It is not as advanced, but can still do the job better than nothing. This system too, can allow your sales department to sell what the customers need and gain clients.

I am quite sure that there is no one at your company who understands this sort of new system so I can, at anytime, and for absolutely no charge, come down to your company and help tutor your sales folks on how to use this system effectively. Please let me know.

Mike Rogers

And that was that. He didn't answer my mail. I'd imagine that if I had written such a silly letter and then received back a professional "adult" attitude letter, I might be ashamed or embarrassed. But shaming or embarrassing this guy is not my intention at all. My entire intention was to help his company increase sales. I am not interested in his "family affairs" and they are none of my business! I can't believe he'd tell me about them!

Does anyone wonder why the Inertia Company is losing so much money? What a mess! Their president basically said to me, "I don't like you so I don't want to make money with you!" Laughable. How did this guy get to be president? 

Well, maybe I don't like someone like Bill Gates either but I don't have any problem using his stuff to make money for me! (Actually, I am a Apple guy, but you get my point).

And now, after that incredible story, what's the point of all this? How does something like this apply to you? Folks, life is short. If you are in a company like this, get out. After that experience and this absurd correspondence from a company director with the emotional baggage of a 12-year-old I don't want to help them. I hope they don't ask me ever again (they have asked many times!) But fear that they will.

There's lots of companies run by nincompoops like this example above. Companies that are struggling along, barely making ends meet; the yearly sales targets are never met and the mood of the company and the employees goes down. The quality of management sinks and an ever lower standard, and dare I say, IQ? comes in and begins taking the ship to even lower depths. Of course it does. Why? Because the good, talented people see the writing on the wall and get out of these sorts of companies while they can and take better jobs somewhere else. The people who are left over? They are the low quality ones who have no where to go. They have nowhere to go because they are left without gumption, drive, motivation and, sadly, without a clue. They can't go anywhere even if hey wanted to!

When a company is left with low quality people like that where is there to go but down?

People look at a companies like Apple Computer, Softbank or Google and think, "Oh! But they had a good idea and a good product or service!" Sure, that's true. But even more than that, they have good people. They know what it takes to make a good company. After all, what is a good company but a gathering of good people?

A company like Apple is filled with such good high-quality people that even if they didn't sell killer products, even if they sold chopsticks, they could make a profit and a good company. Apple people are like that. Apple could even make ice seem cool! Apple could rebrand ice and sell it to Eskimos!

A bad company like the one above I mentioned? A bad company could take great products like Apple has and they'd soon find some way to turn them into a loser and quickly be bordering on bankruptcy. That's what a bad company is.

Like I said, I work at several different places during the week. I get to see up close and inside of some of the finest companies in Japan and in the world. I've been to Apple Japan, Google Japan, All Nippon Airways, Softbank, Air New Zealand and Recruit, just to name a few, more times than I can count. I've worked with them and organized many promotions with them. I am doing so now.

I've also worked at some of the most dysfunctional and incompetent companies in all of Japan too; like the Inertia Company. I won't bother to mention their real names. Why? It pains me to do so. Why name them? Bashing these poor people is like kicking a mangy disease ridden one legged dog; it's not necessary or desirable at all. I don't even want to touch or get close to them.

That's what this blog post is about; not touching or getting too close to sick companies. Like a diseased animal, you need to stay away from them or you will become like them. For people who are young; for people who want to have a future; for people who want to give their children the best that they can; for people who want to escape and live their life to the fullest, this blog post is for you (and me). Don't take a job with a bad company. If you find that you are with a bad company, then get out as fast as you can.

As a multi-millionaire friend once told me, "Sometimes the jobs you reject are just as important as the jobs you accept."

Of course a job and food on the table is important. But, while you work at that poorly run company, you must make the effort to learn all you can and use your connections to get out and get a better job.

Remember birds of a feather flock together. If you are always working with poor quality and incompetent people you will probably become that way or, at least, be perceived by others as being that way.

So, if you work at a place like the one I described above; get out as quickly as you can. A life is too short having to work in a place where you cannot dream and be your best. Don't do that to yourself.

Find a good company with good people. Have a dream aspire to be the best you can be...

And above all be professional.


Anonymous said...

I worked at a company that was semi-dysfunctional.

Where it was functional is the administration process for filing, data input, receipt of timely customer payments by implementing the tools to make sure it ran well.

Where it was dysfunctional was the structure for promotion. How? The guys (Unfortunately seldomly women) that went up their corporate ladder were "Yes men". They were the ones that were Gamman (Patient) over the years of doing what they were told and then they got their promotion.
The company itself was a manufacturer and a pioneer for a lot of new and innovative products. The problem with some of those new products is that they got out way too early in some cases. Some other products they had the right timing to stop but as per what you write you wanted to increase their potential to sell.
The sales staff at this company tried various techniques to improve the sales. In one such case one who I personally know got a potential major contract in India as that was his given task only to go back to the head office and then be told that because the product he was given to promote has only been sold in Japan and it uses Japanese language software that doing this product with English or Hindi as the language format was too much of a difficult task for the engineers to grasp so he had to shelve it.
He got his first order which was around about US$10 million for a product that will explode in India as it is still in the very infancy stage.
The other issue with this company is that like you have written in your article the real talent of the company throughout the years simply left and got better offers and opportunity elsewhere.

Another friend of mine who was part of that exodus had the following type of history through his career there.
At a young age he was sent to their Taiwan office for 5 years and learnt Chinese and became fluent. As a result he was promoted to manager. He came back to Japan and continued on the promotion and growth of China with the company. He also was fluent in English but his core strength and asset to the company was not just his ability to speak Chinese but the understanding of the culture. He was then transferred to Hong Kong as the office Manager then to start up their new Shanghai operation became the Managing Director for the whole of their Chinese operation. After his 5 year stint was done there and being now so fluent as well as having some serious contacts on various levels in China they bring him back to Japan and he goes to the head office and is downgraded to Kacho (manager) and then is newly responsible for developing business in the U.S for a product that had lost 97% in sales over an 8 year period because that product was and had mostly moved offshore anyway.
Without a doubt this was a waste to the talent he had built up over the years but more often than not many Japanese companies have a tendency (Although not 100% of the time) to send staff that are not Yes men overseas that they don't fully get only with only to belittle them upon their return thereby bullying them into quitting.
(My neighbor being one example. He was sent to Brazil for 10 years because he wasn't liked so they sent him as far away as possible)
When that happens they are more likely to go to join a Non Japanese company or if it is a Japanese company it is one that is full of people with the same background.
Change for a lot of these older companies is something they want but it's something that when faced to having to move forward they build their own brick wall and find how NOT TO rather than trying to figure out HOW TO.

Anonymous said...

I've been in many meetings where ideas have been presented. A key question almost always asked by someone or other is "Whose idea is this?"

Apparently, this is key info. Not whether the idea is a good one or not.

Jeffrey said...

It's tales like this that make we wonder whether Japan will make it through another century.

Doesn't surprise me though. When I worked many moons ago at a semmon gakko run by Kawaijuku, the advertising people would ask us to proof read copy. We'd point out errors or, not so infrequently, explain that whatever they'd produced made no sense whatsoever; it needs to be changed thus and thus. Oh, too late, it's already at the printers.

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