How to Become a CEO of a MNC in Japan Part Three : Examples
I would like to present some unnamed examples of people I've known who have started their careers as regular employees in companies here in Tokyo and have aspired for more and risen accordingly.
Let's start close to home. As an entrepreneur, I start companies on a regular basis - certainly too many for me to run personally. So sooner or later I have to look for a CEO. Generally I like to find my candidates from my own employee base, and indeed during the hiring process I clearly outline what a new hire can expect and how high they can go if they're able to produce.
I've had people in their twenties, essentially fresh to Japan, ferociously stick to the sales and business growth program and become CEO of a group company within 3 years. Often these people will ask themselves if it is all worth it. Running and growing small companies is a painful business and requires a large amount of personal time and family sacrifice. It isn't for everybody. But for those who do rise to the occasion, after 3-5 years in a position in one of my firms, I can pretty much guarantee that they are getting offers both from competitors and customers to move into a larger company and thus begin their stairway to a CEO-ship of a major foreign multinational. Of course, if I'm paying them enough (they already have the freedom), then they may well stay.
The career development to CEO of a major firm is all about reputation, trust, and earning both. I have a foreign friend who moved from Business Development manager of a major IT firm here in Tokyo, to take on the CEO role for the Japan branch of a small, relatively unknown, but aggressive US software company. The company had not been doing well in Japan and although the founders had tried several times to put a Japanese CEO in, they just didn't seem to be able to find someone able to trail blaze the business. Rather, most of their candidates were older gentlemen from large Japanese companies who wanted to parachute in and care take a well-running business, or younger guys wanting to run a company with a strong brand - so as to increase their chances of success. Neither type fitted well in this firm.
My friend took on the job and was paid lower and had to work longer hours than the position he left. But his rationale is that at least he was CEO. Over the 6-7 years that he ran the business he personally got involved in sales and recruiting, and made the business his own. He successfully pulled in a number of major accounts, and until last year made Japan one of the biggest markets for the company in Asia. Head office was pleased, and knowing that he was starting to get approaches from Headhunters to run other larger firms, they decided to promote him to Asia-Pacific Manager of Sales. He was delighted and now runs the entire region.
Another friend some years ago went through a very similar process - taking on a job at a small software company's Japan office, and turning on the sales spigot for them. He did so well over a period of 3-4 years that he was offered a job with a larger networking company running their Asian business. Again, he produced results, largely thanks to a personal network he'd laid down while Sales Manager for a major Japanese firm years before. Although he enjoyed the success and prestige of his second CEO job, eventually, he realized that building companies was something he had figured out, and he now runs his own successful trans-Asia consulting business.
I have many more examples of people who have created successful CEO careers here in Japan for themselves, based on hard work and intelligent progressive job step-ups. There are supposedly more than 5,000 foreign capital affiliated companies in Japan and each one needs a CEO. I think there is sufficient room at the top if you are willing to earn it.