Hopelessly, Helplessly Falling Part Four: Not So Helpless After All

Hopelessly, Helplessly Falling Part Four: Not So Helpless After All

Completing this group of articles, I'd like to offer some advice to foreign CEOs in Japan, who suspect that the terms of their employment are about to come to an end and who don't want to leave Japan. By "suspect", I mean that the head office is starting to make noises about personnel costs and how the Japan office needs to become more Japanese. It doesn't take a mind-reader to realize that what they are talking about is your job.

I once worked with a foreign manager of a major foreign multinational who told me that the cost to his firm of keeping an expat boss in Tokyo was about US$300,000 a year, over the top of the cost of his salary - which was typically about another US$300,000. This high level of cost represented a variety of perks and crutches which are quite common for foreign CEOs here. In the case of this firm, which is just an example of benefits received, they included an executive apartment, international school for two kids, a driver and car, membership to several prestigious clubs, and an expensive bilingual secretary. No wonder the head office was talking about cutting costs...

The advice I give such CEOs is to think ahead. Since you are not a prime-time bilingual Japanese executive, your best shot at hopping into another position here in Japan on a similar package is to do it while you are gainfully employed and you're still "sexy" (read, desirable) to the boards of other firms. You need to make sure that you still have at least 6 months tenure left in your current firm, in which to conduct your negotiations. If you think Head Office wants you out quicker than that, stall for time.

The fact is that once you are out on the street, your bargaining power pretty much dries up, and as I've commented in previous columns, your personal cachet can quickly change from being a desirable executive able to cope with a bilingual/bicultural environment, to becoming someone who "must have a problem." You certainly don't want to be labeled and put into that basket, as the chances are that you will wind up staying there.

The most common backgrounds for non-bilingual CEOs being offered new positions are those with strong local sales and reorganization track records. So if you've been seconded to Japan and now find yourself wanting to stay here, you definitely need to start assembling this kind of record. Numbers speak for themselves, so focus on getting the best results you can, as ammunition for future interviews.

One thing I've found is that Foreign CEOs switching jobs often don't know what kind of compensation to ask for, especially since there are not a lot of colleagues around willing to discuss the subject. This is where a visit to at least 2-3 friendly recruiters (including Daijob Consulting of course) is important. These consultants will discuss with you at no charge what your likely market rate is.

What ever they say you're worth, if the new company's board of directors is prevaricating about the hire, I generally find that it is better if the candidate offers to take a package consisting of both base and bonus/commissions, so that you can let your performance justify the income. Of course, this may mean you have to take an initial hit in savings or lifestyle, but if a riskier salary mix is the difference between landing on your feet or not landing at all - you may need to consider your end goals rather than the journey between.

Lastly, there is the question of repatriation. If your company is offering to send you back to your home country at the end of your Japan stint, do you take it? Will you be able to parachute into another job here in Japan AND do the round trip home? My response is always, "Don't push your luck". If you have been able to find another job to parachute into here in Japan, you should consciously try to NOT put any additional obstacles in front of the hiring party. Going back home for 3-6 weeks, might give them pause to consider finding someone else for the position.

Remember, you are probably a less-the-perfect job candidate (in the language, nationality, and costs sense), therefore, you are probably getting the job because the board has a tight deadline for finding someone, or they are particularly anxious about some problem that they need a trustworthy person to solve. Make use of these emotional levers and present yourself as the right solution, not an inflexible and costly one.

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