Staying in the Limelight
In conservative Japan, senior managers love doing deals and wielding power, but only if they can do so without fanfare or attention of the press. To garner press attention in the business world is setting yourself up for others to take potshots at you if you fail, and for professional jealously to sour personal and business relationships. Truly the mark of a made man is when he can walk into a room and everyone knows who he is and what he has done, without a word of praise or congratulations having to be said.
I would like to take a contrary view, however, and say that I strongly recommend senior managers who want to move into a foreign CEO role to do the exact opposite of convention.
It goes without saying that it is the role of a CEO to be the face of the company. Indeed, this very column and my photo next to it are less an ego play than a simple case of my promoting my company in a way that will encourage people to remember us. Some Japanese CEO's who are really good at being the front person for their company and thus give the company a huge level of differentiation in the marketplace include Shinsei Bank's Yashiro-san, Orix Capital's Miyauchi-san, and NEC's Nishigaki-san. All of these people have somehow transcended being labeled publicity-seekers and have become truly powerful and important public faces for their company.
How did they do this? Partly through sheer hard work, for example doing multiple public appearances a week and easily more than would be needed to simply stroke one's ego. Partly through their intelligence and contribution to the public debate of how to change Japan, thus establishing themselves as true opinion leaders in Japan. And partly through their demeanor - always supporting the company and the people around them and thus being very, very Japanese in building their own stature.
So why do I recommend this to senior managers, people who are not yet CEOs and who are trying to discover how to transition to that most risky yet exalted of business roles? The simple reason is positive exposure and image building. If headhunters are good, they can go into companies and identify the key players and present them to CEO-seeking companies. But finding a CEO is more than just finding someone with a good resume. The pressures of being a successful CEO are unique and often not something that being a senior manager can prepare you for. Especially in a foreign company which is just getting started in Japan or which is trying to restructure itself. The hirer of a CEO will often be the foreign company's own CEO, who will somehow meet the various candidates and in doing so make a decision 50% based on experience and 50% based on gut feel.
Public speaking and exposure does something to a person - it helps you develop the charisma and leadership qualities that other CEOs look for in their executive candidates. Speaking to an audience where your comments are being recorded and where your thoughts are being taken seriously has a maturing effect that strengthens your confidence and forces you to clearly think through your values. This kind of preparation is perfect for interviewing well and for making a lasting impression on people. Clearly, for those who have ambitions of becoming CEO of a foreign company, this public exposure needs to be in conducted in English as well as Japanese, and to both the foreign and Japanese press. The trick is to make sure that such exposure is well balanced so that you don't come across as an Uncle Tom to others in the very conservative and quick-to-criticize Japanese business world.Terrie Lloyd writes a business e-mail magazine every week called "Terrie's Take". You can sign up at www.terrie.com, or by sending Terrie an email directly to firstname.lastname@example.org