The Japanese Striker - the right effort


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The Japanese soccer player

In the 1990s the author was playing soccer on a field at the University of South Carolina. An exceptionally good player there was a Japanese man in his early thirties. They wound up having a long friendly conversation. In Japan the family had a business as a supplier to the Japanese automobile companies.

The firm had received several requests from U.S. companies, mostly out of California (where many Japanese cars are sold), seeking to buy that part directly. The family held a meeting.  Someone should take a business trip to the U.S. to research the market and explore the opportunities in that vast and foreign land. The culture was strange and bizarre -- and highly dangerous. People had guns! They shot one another over there.  

Also, the language was impossibly difficult. If one wished to learn Chinese, at least learning to read and write it was relatively easy. The writing used the same system. But in the U.S. the writing was totally different, based on a strange system called  "alphabet." Who in the family should go?

The patriarch reached a decision. His youngest son, then 29, had been quite good in English at high school and had also had some exposure to English while earning his university degree. As he knew some English, he should therefore undertake the perilous voyage. One letter of inquiry had come from South Carolina. Going there would be better. Then the son would not be tempted to waste time associating with other Japanese, of whom they were too many in California. The son's task was to come back with the answer to the question: "With whom should we do business in the U.S.?"

One hoped the Japanese man was enjoying his business trip, and complemented him on his excellent, fluent English. How long was his business trip? Now an American counterpart might try to fly to Tokyo and accomplish the equivalent task in two weeks. If the choice of business partner did not work out, well, at least a start had been made. One would just fly back next year for another two weeks and try again. 

However the Japanese are known for taking decisions differently. They spend a lot of time making sure a decision is correct and on reaching consensus.  Then when they finally come to action, they are swift and decisive. Perhaps therefore the business trip of the Japanese man was for five or six weeks, and possibly for the entire summer.  Was that correct? 

The Japanese said no. His business trip was for four years, during which he continued to receive his normal salary. His father had instructed him, as a 29 year, to go to the University of South Carolina and start a BA program there with the 18 year old freshmen in any subject he liked. He was instructed to complete the BA. He was not to live with or associate with Japanese, just with the young Americans. He was not allowed to return home during that time, so that he could better understand American holidays, such as Christmas. He was an excellent soccer player, and Americans liked sports. Therefore he should continue playing soccer in order to learn more about Americans. After his English was satisfactory, say, in a year, he should, during the university holidays, visit trade shows and companies. 

He was to tell managers he met there of the company's interest in finding a partner in the U.S. He should advise them that the family would have a meeting to make the selection in three years (two, one) upon the son's return. The Japanese said this was his last year in South Carolina.  He felt the business trip had been too short to learn the English language properly. Although he spoke fluently and received good grades at the university, he was still not satisfied with his ability to write.

However he felt fortunate in that he would be able to fulfill his assignment. He had the business card of the owner of a medium sized company. That company was the one he had encountered which would best be able to satisfy his father's criteria, from the dozens of companies he had examined carefully.

So when was the last time your company sent a 29 or 30 year old "high potential" at full salary to a Japanese or Chinese university for an uninterrupted four years at full pay, expecting him to earn a degree there, with the assignment being to return with a  solid business contact for a joint venture?