How to Become a CEO of a MNC in Japan Part Four : Back Door

How to Become a CEO of a MNC in Japan Part Four : Back Door

In the last part of our "How to Become a CEO" series I cover a means of getting yourself selected as the CEO of a foreign company based on your personal merits and not whether you have an MBA or went to an Ivy League school.

That method consists of targeting firms which are just getting established in Japan and being on the original team.

Companies setting up in Japan come in all shapes and sizes. In some smaller firms the head office CEO controls all aspects of the start-up and personally appoints key managers into the new operation. In other larger ones there is an Asia-Pacific VP who has received a board mandate to expand into Japan, and with a certain budget allocated is left to his or her own devices to get the job done - usually turning to recruiters and other professionals to assist.

Clearly both extremes, plus the many companies that fall in between need different strategies to enter. To help you navigate the pitfalls and seize the opportunities, I've created a short menu of market entry company types that I have personally witnessed and followed through their start-up phase.

1. Ultra-small companies with great technology and no cash. Hmmm, you may ask yourself why you'd even bother with this type of firm. Will they even be around to pay your salary in 6 months time? Clearly there is risk here. But, in your capacity as a professional in the field ask yourself, it this technology so good that I could find investors and sell to customers? If the answer is "yes" then in being the enabler to both find the money and get the business up and running in Japan, you'll be able to write your own ticket for that CEO job. Finding money is not easy, but with the right "gee whiz" technology, it is not impossible. Also, it goes without saying that if you're success with the first market entry, you will certainly establish a reputation for yourself for future appointments.

2. Small, CEO-driven companies. In this type of start-up, getting to know the head office CEO is all important. I find that individuals who like hands-on control are typically self-made leaders and want to put their mark on any new territory the company occupies. They typically are motivated by trust and performance, and warm well to people who have earned that trust. The way to develop a relationship with such CEOs is to of course get to meet them - through your friendly market entry company or management consultants, and on meeting, offer to work as a sales or business development manager so that the CEO can "test the market before committing," then deliver the goods. Although this is a high-risk strategy for a candidate, it is a sure fire way of letting the head office CEO make a decision based on merit, and thus an easy one for him or her to commit to.

3. Small, bureaucratic companies like to do things by the book. If you are Japanese, bilingual, and have appropriate industry experience, then you fit the profile of what this type of company is looking for - even without a strong track record. The key is that you need to get in there early because such companies usually want to move quickly and will hire someone if it is the easiest option. Further, if you approach them directly and save them having to work through a headhunter, then they are happy to make the savings. Clearly then, your job is to be able to meet the Asia Pacific VP on an early trip to Japan and offer your interest in the company, along with a follow-up resume over several weeks and some emails later. That said, don't be too pushy, or you may find that you come across as being desperate and raise suspicions. The right speed and tempo is to meet frequently for dinners/lunch, and offer the AP VP insights and contacts that they can use early on. Also, get to know the person on a first name basis.

4. Large companies embarking on organic-growth expansion. Many companies are put off by the intensity and sophistication of competition in Japan and thus leave it until last in their Asia roll-out. This is especially so for services companies. For such firms, performance means everything and hiring senior people at high cost from other companies is not a popular move. Instead, they prefer to parachute in a foreign executive from head office. These people usually have little or no Japan experience and thus are very receptive to quality assistance to get the business started. Thus, consider joining such firms as a sales or admin manager, based on your existing experience, and get it in writing that you will be evaluated for the lead role in the firm within 24 months, on achievement of defined goals. Why go to the trouble of getting it in writing? Because one thing I've found is that the regional managers of such companies change frequently, and a new person on the block usually wants to scrap arrangements made by his/her predecessor.

5. Large companies making a strategic expansion. This is the standard high-end recruiting consultant's dream client. I would suggest there is little that the individual can do to get a job directly here, so I rate them low on the "back door" entry scale. If you're not plugged in to a high-end recruiter, consider looking for another company to target.

Lastly, if a company you think should be in Japan isn't here yet, so long as they are not too large, have some guts and propose to set up a subsidiary for them (you'll actually need to prepare a proper business plan). If the company has been prevaricating about Japan or the Far East in general, perhaps your proposal will prompt them into taking action.