“What do the Japanese think of non-Japanese CEOs of Japanese companies?” – (One Answer)

by Hide Izumi

I have had the honor of working directly with a few, and I think they bring something to the table that is badly lacking right now in this country.

It is a mean but common joke that “world’s strongest army would be run by American generals, German officers and Japanese soldiers.” For me, it really isn’t funny, because it points to a fundamental problem in this country that has been a constant – lack of competent high level leadership.

One unspoken assumption of Japanese corporate life is that people have this deep rooted belief that officers are super soldiers and generals are super officers. Therefore, they will immediately react negatively to young leaders. Yes, maturity is important, and it does correlate with age. But while the world is content with 50% correlation, Japan assumes 90%.

The problem with that is, the people in position of leadership are often outright senile rather than mature. While “keep doing things the way it had been” is one possible strategy, in this day and age, that is more an abdication of duty than anything else. You can’t powerfully drive strategic change without energy, and you need exceptional character to retain energy into your 70s.

Foreign executives are often appointed when a major strategic change is required. Since foreign leaders are groomed as leaders from a relatively young age they tend to have far more energy by the time they get there.

That’s not to say that foreign leadership is all good. Far from it. It is no secret that international assignments are the end of many careers and it is no exception at that level. Successful leaders are quite aware of the culture surrounding them. Whether to play along with the cultural norm or taking a sledgehammer to it is a matter of style – I don’t think there is a right or wrong to it. Suffice to say that blowing things up and controlled demolition are two different things. Unfortunately to untrained eyes they look similar sometimes.

by Hide Izumi


  1. Hi Hide Izumi

    Your observation of “….that officers are super soldiers and generals are super officers” is an Asian cultural issue but not limited to Japanese.

    At the same time Japanese Corporate Management Style is equally respected for its extreme discipline and focussed, which lacks in the American and Europeans styles of Management.

    Best of Luck!

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