EMBA Learning Expedition to Tokyo - 7 Key Insights

Following the EMBA Global Business Trip to Tokyo last month, Denis Dauchy, EMBA Programme Director and Professor of Strategy, digs deeper into the fascinating world of Japanese business culture and…

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25 Feb 2020

Following the EMBA Global Business Trip to Tokyo last month, Denis Dauchy, EMBA Programme Director and Professor of Strategy, digs deeper into the fascinating world of Japanese business culture and identifies the 7 vital learnings that the participants brought back to their seminar rooms in Paris and Lille.

The faculty-led learning expedition to Japan which is one of 2 global business trips on the EMBA programme, brought together the current cohort of sixty EMBA candidates from the Lille and Paris campuses, on an intensive trip full of fascinating insights into Japanese business culture, economy evolution and shifting patterns in consumer behaviour.

Japan is a fascinating mix of contrasts and paradoxes in terms of society, macroeconomics, corporate strategies and business models which is why it is an ideal destination for the Executive MBA. By the end of the trip, participants all agreed that it was an immersive and transformative experience, with highlights including visits to R&D facilities at Mitsubishi, Olympus and L’Oréal, a retail-focused day which zoned-in on Japanese e-commerce, and an afternoon of strategy pitches by members of the innovative start-up platform EDGEof.

Tradition and Modernity

This is of course, the first contrast that comes to mind for any visitor to Japan, especially in Tokyo, between Japanese women in traditional dress facing the Senso-ji Temple, and the colourful crowd crossing Hachiko Gate. Tradition and modernity also exist in harmonious contrast in the workplace, where inter-generational relationships are still always conducted with respect, even though the younger ‘millennial’ generation is in search of meaning and change.

Deficit and Savings

Faced with flagging economic growth, the substantial revitalisations initiated at the beginning of the previous decade are well known (Abenomics). However, the situation now is incongruous: public debt today exceeds 200% of GDP, yet the financial assets of Japanese households represent more than 300% GDP!

Identity and Conquest

The singularity and deeply-rooted identity of Japanese culture are directly linked to the concentration of population in urban environments, and the inherent insularity of Japanese culture in general. Winning companies in the Japanese economy show particularly effective international strategies, whether we think of Toyota, Sony, Panasonic, or more recent successes such as Softbank, and B2B2C online retailer Rakuten.

Keiretsu and Start-ups

The historical business dynamic has been marked by the role of the Keiretsu (groups with a conglomerate logic) in the corporate ecosystem, and the Sogo shosha trading companies, both of which have been in existence for generations, such as Mitsubishi, Sumitomo and Mitsui. The complexity and influence of these networks are still notable; however, a new dynamic is emerging through the action of incubators such as EDGEof and entrepreneurial success stories such as Mercari, and iStyle.

Innovation and Pragmatism

Japan remains a melting pot of innovation and ideas. Following the example of L'Oréal, many international groups are showing an interest in locating R&D departments in Japan to obtain both Asian and global influence. Japanese companies take the long view and therefore setting long-term goals provides them with an inherent sense of resilience in a volatile global market.

Technology and Services

The ability of Japanese industry to integrate technology into daily life cannot be underestimated, and as such the logical development of smart homes into smart cities is inevitable. These are not just conceptual ideas: the impact of 5G; the so-called ‘5.0 society’ is now a reality in everyday life in Japan. The ‘human touch’ and incredible attention to customer service, however, are far from disappearing.

The Silver Economy and Gaming

29% of the population is over 65! A new ‘silver economy’ is flourishing for sectors such as tourism, insurance and fitness (see the success of Curves, the women-only fitness club chain). At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is still money to be made (by companies such as Square Enix Ltd.) in digital entertainment catering to the needs of Japanese youth.

All in all, diving into the Japanese ecosystem continues to impress with its sense of excellence, technology, and professionalism. It also reminds us of the challenges we have in common; seniors indeed embody purchasing power and political voting power, but as a necessity, every society must invest in its youth, in societal openness, and in the right to make mistakes and learn from them.

Curious to find out where else previous EMBA cohorts have travelled? Read about previous trips to Vietnam and Silicon Valley, or for more information about EDHEC Executive MBA in Lille and Paris, feel free to contact us.

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