Saturday, September 8, 2012

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Meeting a very important person

me and the boss!
Today I was quite lucky to meet a very important person not only in the Shizuoka area but someone who is well known through Japan and even internationally! If I were not working at this company, I definitely wouldn't have any chance of meeting a person in such a high position. He is an old friend of my boss and they rose in the ranks of their respective companies together and eventually both became "erai" or people at (or very close to) the top. Today proved that business really is all about people, people and people.

I wasn't sure what to expect when my suddenly boss said, "Come on, Seb!" and took me along to meet a guest who had just turned up. We went to the meeting room and I introduced myself, talking briefly about why I’m at the company, what I’m doing exactly and where I’m from (which inevitably involved the drivel about the London Olympics after mentioning anything about the UK). After that, my boss said it was time for lunch, but it wasn't really what I had in mind! With such an important guest, we ate at a swanky restaurant the company cafeteria. I suppose I didn't really mind either way because I was content with the opportunity to have lunch with such an important person.

As you'll see from my other blog that highlights the funny and often weird aspects of Japan, I like to joke around so I took the opportunity to pull out all the stops and really impress. I couldn't write the jokes here because they were mostly contextual puns and in Japanese, but I tried my best!

absolutely delicious!
After finishing lunch, we made our way back to the meeting room. On the way, my boss kept saying, "Oh, we have something really important to talk about, Seb…" and I began to think that I might have to wait outside for the remainder of the session. However, upon reaching the meeting room, my boss ordered a tray of tea and coffee, and everybody suddenly seemed very relaxed. Before I knew it, our guest whipped out a plastic bag containing manju, which is a popular traditional Japanese confection (not to be confused with men who say things like "Shalom" and tend to visit Israel a lot!). The best way to describe it would be a sweet red bean paste filling contained inside a mixture of flour, rice powder and buckwheat. Do you want to know how to make manju?

The person who provided such a delicious snack was none other than Mr Setsuo Iida, the president of Suzuyo Marine Japan; a company within a large business group containing 100 affiliated companies. Suzuyo focuses mainly on logistics and with over 1000 employees and £640,000,000 in sales, it's safe to say that the group is fairly big time! Mr Iida also manages Vine Oak Consulting Japan and chairs the Board of Ningbo Port Suzuyo Logistics Company, so he is a man with considerable power and responsibility. With that power, he was clearly able to get the best manju money can buy!

although it's going on sale soon they haven't even decided on a name haha!
Following a long conversation about the hardships of international business and the troubles of export companies in Japan while the yen is so strong, we finally moved to the showroom. Marutaka Techno is launching (not literally) a new massage chair on the 10th of September, so my boss wanted to show it to Mr Iida. He seemed to like it and I imagine that he will be getting one for free (despite these things costing well over £3000 each) because that's what happens when you're old friends with the boss of a company producing massage machines!

That leads nicely onto what I wanted to say about what I've learned from meeting Mr Iida. Firstly, it's clear that making and maintaining a strong network of contacts is extremely important in the business world. When someone rises in the ranks, there are more and more people fighting for their time and attention so it's vital that you have that advantage over the others, especially when you need to ask for a favour. My Boss even said to me, "If you weren't working with me in this company, there is absolutely no way that you would have been able to meet Mr Iida in this lifetime". Although I wouldn't exactly say lifetime, he is basically right. As a student from a bog-standard family with no friends in high places, I have no contacts; nobody to "hook me up".

Participating in the Shizuoka Business Internship Programme has exposed me to a lot of important people, especially within the prefectural government. I've already met the majority of the senior staff within the Department of Economic Development (including the chief) and I've seen myself in the Shizuoka Newspaper twice! I mentioned in my post about the benefits to doing an internship that it's fine to come out of the experience without a job, because you will meet at least one senior individual who can put in a good word for you when push comes to shove. I knew Suzuyo Japan because they sponsor Shimizu S Pulse (a football team in the J-League Division 1), but I would imagine a lot of people outside of Japan not knowing the company or Mr Iida at all. Having said that, it's important to maintain a good relationship with every contact, even the ones who seem wholly insignificant.

You might end up forgetting about someone who turned out to be good friends with the boss of a company you were hoping to work for!

So that's it! It's often said that landing a good job is often down to whom you know, not than what you know. That sounds a bit unfair but there's nothing you can do about that. One of the key pillars of the business world is not going to fall down over night just for you and me. You know what I say?

If you can't fight them, join them!

Armed with the knowledge that building a solid contact base is important, you should make sure that the first impression is good if not spot-on! Yesterday I thought that I'd made a mistake by using polite Japanese (teineigo丁寧語) rather than super-polite Japanese (keigo敬語), but our guest turned out to be a very funny and down-to-earth fellow. Looking back, I don't think we could have had such a relaxed conversation had I been uptight and over-polite the whole time. That's not to say that I skimped on the manners at all. Manners are important anywhere but Japan takes it one step further! I'll endeavour to post something about Japanese business manners in due course.

Until then,

thanks for reading and see you next time!


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