What Abe can learn from Japan Inc.'s mavericks
Bloomberg -- Jul 06

There's no shortage of pundits eager to tell Shinzo Abe how to shake up Japan's economy. Instead of looking to academics for advice, though, the prime minister should get into the trenches with some of the nation's more unconventional corporate heads.

Abe talks, for example, about wanting to make Japanese companies worldlier. For pointers, he should study what Tadashi Yanai has already accomplished at Fast Retailing Co., home of the Uniqlo brand. Yanai has become Japan's richest man -- and the only Japanese on Time magazine's latest 100 most-influential list -- largely because of his success at expanding abroad.

At home, low-cost clothier Uniqlo smartly recognized that deflation was a secular, not cyclical, phenomenon. But going global, Yanai discovered, required two skills at which Japan Inc. has traditionally failed to excel: taking risks and speaking English. Yanai shook up the company's ranks by promoting on merit rather than seniority, and revamped its marketing with edgy ad campaigns. Equally important have been Uniqlo's efforts to tap foreign talent and to hold staff meetings in English, so that executives can perform better overseas.

Abe has nodded toward some of these ideas, promising to bolster English education. But then, so have the last 10 prime ministers. Will Abe actually address what researcher C.H. Kwan dubbed the "Economics of Engrish" back in 2002? Abe could start by challenging Finance Minister Taro Aso, who has suggested that corporate Japan's poor language skills are actually an asset. Japan escaped the worst of the 2008 financial meltdown, Aso has claimed, because its bankers were mystified by subprime loans: "Managers of Japanese banks hardly understood English, that's why they didn't buy."

News source: Bloomberg

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