In the era of Occupy Wall Street, people are wondering: what happened to corporate accountability?
For the answers to those questions, we look to Japan, where corporate culture reflects Japanese society as a whole.
Japanese CEOs strive to achieve harmony and compromise. While their deferential attitude can lead to disaster (see: Toyota), Japanese CEOs may also hold the key to resetting America’s corporate paradigm.
In bad economic times, it’s common for CEOs to give themselves a salary reduction
Besides Haruka NIshimatsu of JAL, other notable CEOs across Japan have announced that they would be sharing the brunt of the economic collapse. Satoru Iwata of video game giant Nintendo said he accepted a reduction in pay, as did the management of Toyota, who reduced their salaries and refused bonuses two years in a row.
In all, the heads of more than 200 listed Japanese firms have cut their own pay since 2009.
They normally earn one-sixth as much as American CEOs
In 2010, Japanese executives were ordered to disclose their pay if they made over US $1.1 million a year. Fewer than 300 CEOs (out of over 3,000 companies) had to reveal their salaries, and when they did it was found that they made on average about one-sixth as much American CEOs.
For comparison purposes: American CEOs make 319 times as much as the average American worker. In Japan, they make just 16 times as much.
To show solidarity with their employees, many take public transportation to work
Haruka Nishimatsu, CEO of Japan Air Lines, says in this video that an organization has no one person on the top or on the bottom. He walks the walk by taking a public bus to work — and he cut every one of his executive perks when he had to lay off staff. Other CEOs have taken his example to heart.
Rather than hiring outside the company, CEOs like to keep it in the family
Though a couple of high-profile foreign CEOs have emerged in Japan in recent years, the trend is generally to hire from within. When it comes to succession, Japanese companies like to hire those who will carry on tradition, rewarding loyal team players.
Japanese CEOs know when to call it quits
Japanese CEOs saw a turnover rate of 18 percent in 2010, which included planned successions — a Japanese tradition. Still, that’s the highest turnover rate in the world.
Japanese CEOs get more rest
A substantial amount of time, in fact: on average, Japanese CEOs get an hour and 15 minutes more sleep per night than their American counterparts. Add an extra hour of general private time to that as well.
They stress a work-life balance for employees
In an attempt to decrease “karoshi” (death by overwork), the term “work-life balance” is gaining traction, according to Japan Today. Work Life Balance Co Ltd in Tokyo, with female CEO Yoshie Komuro, provides consultations on maintaining a healthy balance.
CEOs should take note that “productivity per hour among Japanese white collar workers is extremely low,” according to Komuro. “Work-life balance is essential for white collar workers to foster their creativity.”
They often get drunk with employees to foster team spirit
As hard economic times begin to ease up in Japan, so too do the self-imposed restrictions on going out with your co-workers and getting smashed.
Years of trying to incorporate Western business values into the traditional Japanese model led to worker dissatisfaction, so CEOs are encouraging “soshikiryoku,” or team spirit and togetherness, to bring morale up. One of the best ways to do this, it seems, is by partying together.
Noboru Koyama, the 60-year-old CEO of Musashino, brought out his employees and put together a night like this: “We’ll do hotel bar, sushi, drag-queen show, hostess club, in that order.”
When it comes to leadership, they stress group harmony and compromise over debate
Debra Hazelton, the General Manager Mizuho Corporate Bank, has worked for years in Japan, giving her an insight into the management styles of Japanese CEOs.
Not surprisingly, she notes that Japanese leadership is reflective of the culture at large: managers want to harmonize the ideas of their stakeholders, compromising until a universally accepted decision is made. This contrasts greatly with Western-style decision-making, which demands debate until the “best” solution is found. The result in Japan is usually less politicking between peers, and more agreement as well.
On the other hand, they may not feel directly affected by how well business is going
Japanese CEOs may have concern for their employees and their company as a whole, but they may feel a “diminished sense of responsibility” for how their company performs, according to executive compensation experts.
This is mostly due to making less overall base salary, having less of their income tied up in stock-option grants, and less of a reward for generating profits.
“Japanese presidents aren’t rewarded for improving shareholder value. Our data show that U.S. CEOs get paid about 100 times more for raising shareholder value than Japanese presidents,” says Waseda University professor Katsuyuki Kubo.
HOWEVER: The tendency to defer and protect ones superiors may also have been the cause of company and country wide issues.
Problems with quality control at Toyota, and even the Fukushima nuclear disaster, have been blamed on Japan’s deferential style. There is rarely a person who steps up — before an accident occurs — to take control. Consensus building may make for good company morale, but when one clear answer is needed, sometimes the company, and the whole society, suffers.
But they take any accidents that happen at the company to heart, and apologize for it
In Japan, apologies are important. It is, as this blog on Japanese learning and culture states, non-negotiable when it comes to maintaining harmony.
An example for CEOs: If “two factory workers die on the job because of company negligence, the CEO is expected to go to the home of deceased family and apologize profusely by bowing and appearing very contrite; and the event will be covered on TV and done in a very public way.”
This is a concept that CEOs of some American banks and corporations may want to take note of.