YKK Group CEO speaks of the qualities needed to succeed overseas

YKK is the top global brand for manufacturing fasteners (or zippers) and has expanded its business to over 71 countries and regions over the world. In one of Professor Mami Taniguchi’s class, she invited the CEO of YKK to talk to her students about qualities one needs in order to succeed in overseas countries.

YKK Group

Founded in 1934, YKK Corporation is the largest manufacturer in the world that produces and sells fasteners. Together with YKK AP which manufactures aluminum and architectural products, the two formed the main pillars of the YKK Group. YKK Group currently operates in more than 71 countries around the world and plans to expand its business in construction in Asia.

CEO of YKK Group, Tadahiro Yoshida. He attained his MBA in the U.S before joining the company in 1972, and was assigned to work in a overseas branches since his second year working with the company. He started serving in the managerial role of the headquarters in 1993 and became the CEO of the company in 2011.

Overcoming adversity by expanding business overseas

Professor Mami Taniguchi from Faculty of Commerce. She obtained her PhD in 1996 at Kobe University and  first taught as an assistant professor at Hiroshima University before joining Waseda University in 2003.

Students who asked questions during Mr Yoshida’s visit to Professor Taniguchi’s class

Q: YKK started venturing its business overseas in 1959. For a Japanese company, this is often considered early. What were the reasons and motivations behind YKK’s overseas venture?

Back in the day, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (current Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) categorized fasteners as miscellaneous goods, and fastener manufacturing was not recognized as a key industry by the country. Even though goods imported from overseas enjoyed low custom tax, goods exported from Japan were heavily taxed. As we were in an unfair situation, we decided that there was a need to venture our business overseas. Thankfully, fasteners are essentials for the textile industry and see a regular demand regardless of economic vibrancy.

By expanding our business overseas, we were able to overcome adversity. Starting from the U.S and European countries in the early stage, we have now expanded our business to 71 different countries and regions in the world.

Q: Many employees in your company seem to have very rich overseas experiences. Could you share with us the roles of these employees who were assigned to work in overseas branches?

Our company believes in entrusting overseas business to the locals. Many top leaders in overseas corporate branches are in fact talented people educated and groomed in these local countries. Of course, there is always a need to maintain communication between overseas corporate branches and the headquarters in Japan. As such, staff from Japan who are being assigned to these overseas branches play a major role in serving as a bridge for communication.

The importance of culture assimilation
Q: What attributes do you think is needed to succeed overseas?

When we send staff from Japan to overseas branches we always remind them the importance of assimilating into the local culture as if they were born and grew up in the country. If one is not capable of doing that, he or she will not succeed overseas. By assimilating into the local culture, you are showing that you respect the culture and customs of the country, and this is an important attitude one should have to be successful on a global stage. Many Japanese complain that food in Japan tastes better and food in the country they are working in tastes bad. This will not happen if they were to think of the country they are working in as their home country. In fact, they are more likely to be pro-active and be willing to learn about manners and values of the country.

It is natural that the way things are done or understood will be different in overseas countries. Things may not even work out or turn out well. Nevertheless, by experiencing these obstacles, one will grow to become more determined and persistent which are important qualities to succeed in life.

Q: What advice do you have for people who are working with others that hold different values and cultures?

I have no definite answer for it because the world is very complex. Sometimes there might be values that might seem difficult to accept on the surface. But as you look deeper, you might unexpectedly find that these values are actually what you share mutually on a personal level. I think people who want to succeed on the global stage need to learn to look at things from various perspectives.


*This article was originally written in Japanese by Professor Taniguchi in 2016. The information of this article is based on when it was written.

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