Japanese Language School Directory

Global Japanese firm nurtures foreign staff

Michiru Mekata
Special to The Japan Times

Global Japanese firm nurtures foreign staff: Japanese Language School Directory
Kentaro Kakihana, manager of Global Recruiting Team, Corporate Recruiting Center, Panasonic

The company now known as Panasonic was founded in 1918 by Konosuke Matsushita with a staff of three. Today, the company has become one of the world's largest electronics companies with more than 380,000 employees, of which around 230,000 work outside Japan.

"Naturally, the key to our corporate activities around the world lie in our people," said Kentaro Kakihana, manager of Panasonic's Global Recruiting Team, Corporate Recruiting Center.

For fiscal 2011, the company plans to employ 1,390 people for its professional jobs, such as engineering and marketing, on a global basis, out of which 1,100 would be hired overseas and 290 domestically, which would also include non-Japanese students seeking to work in Japan.

"There are two major directions in how we hire non-Japanese," Kakihana said. "Those hired in Japan would be involved in the development or sale of high value-added, advanced technology products and services, for which the demanded functions are basically the same throughout the world. These people serve as an invaluable bridge between the respective non-Japanese country or region and Japan. They also contribute by offering multifaceted perspectives and by inputting innovative ideas that contribute to the development of products we had never thought of before.

"Meanwhile, for products such as white goods that are directly linked to the culture and life of the people in each locality, we hire locally. We then can better listen to the voices of the people who would be the actual buyers and users of our products and reflect their requests in more of what we produce," Kakihana said.

Kakihana cited the example of air conditioners in India, where it is generally hot throughout the year. Machines sold there should have simpler functions than those in Japan, where the temperature and humidity fluctuates seasonally.

"Simplifying functions in such reasonable ways can help cut the product's price," he added.

Panasonic's business spans a wide range of areas, from audiovisual to home appliances, to industrial solutions and office and professional products.

Kakihana said that those seeking to work for Panasonic in Japan need language proficiency "of at least the second level (of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test), but usually the first level is necessary."

Global Japanese firm nurtures foreign staff: Japanese Language School Directory
Get-together: As part of Panasonic's "Irimajiro" meeting, international staff discuss and share problems in small groups.   PANASONIC

"Otherwise, you cannot collect all the information around you. If you don't know what's happening real-time, you are narrowing your world. Then, you wouldn't be able to create products that really grasp the hearts and needs of the consumers," he said. "The same also goes for an engineer because you don't make a product all by yourself. You have to explain your ideas to the production line. You must be able to convince the salespeople. You must also be able to appeal to the customers."

Shifting the balance

Panasonic's sales by region show a roughly 50-50 balance between Japan and the rest of the world.

However, as Japan's population shrinks together with the decreasing number of children, Panasonic wants to reduce its dependence on the Japanese market and tip the balance further to foreign markets. Specifically, the company wants to create a 40-60 balance for Japan against the rest of world in the near future, with the operating profit reaching more than 5 percent of net sales.

In fiscal 2009, the company recorded net sales of ¥7.418 trillion and an operating profit of ¥190.5 billion, accounting for 2.6 percent of its net sales.

For Panasonic to achieve its targets, securing the most appropriate staff on a global basis becomes even more necessary, together with the nurturing of manpower that can become true global leaders.

Global Japanese firm nurtures foreign staff: Japanese Language School Directory
Global basis: Multinational employees help Panasonic domestically and overseas.   PANASONIC

According to the company, the first focus is in the technological area so that it can become the No. 1 electronics maker in environmental innovation by the year 2018.

Another area the company focuses on is seeking to acquire manpower that reinforces its global marketing capability not only in Europe and the U.S. but also in the BRIC+V (Brazil, Russia, India and China plus Vietnam), as well as the MINTS+B (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey and Saudi Arabia plus the Balkan countries). Concurrently, Panasonic will continue training future executive candidates through its Global Challenge Trainee System.

The company also focuses on accelerating diversity, respecting individuality and creating new values by continuing to employ more women and foreigners.

Starting point

"We have our doors open to outstanding students regardless of sex or nationality, so far as they agree to our management philosophy of devoting to the progress and development of society and the well-being of people through our business activities," Kakihana said.

"Asking a person to join our company is merely a starting point," Kakihana added, "and we strain to keep and nurture our own people."

Such determination to retain talent derives from the bitter past of losing capable foreign staff in Japan as they sought better pay and positions after several years.

"We try to make our foreign staff happy and determined to go on working for Panasonic with confidence and pride, even if their position and salary don't go up in leaps and bounds," Kakihana said.

One way Panasonic does this is through its "Irimajiro" (let's blend in) meeting, a one-day get-together and mingling session, launched in 2006.

"During the Irimajiro meeting, the young foreign staff share and discuss topics and problems they are facing. The mentors are our foreign workers, too, but they would have more experience. As the session proceeds, the peers and seniors encourage the younger staff on facing or solving their issues. Eventually, they find out that they are not alone. They discover that many, including their seniors, have encountered and overcome similar situations and problems. It is an extremely effective way of nurturing the foreign employees' pride and confidence in working for Panasonic," Kakihana said.