Crossing US-Japan Boundaries: A Tech Exec’s Guide to Thriving in a Global Economy

By Madison Weinman, Finance, Class of 2019

On April 18th, 2019, the Foster School of Business had the pleasure of hearing from tech executive Eugene Saburi, co-founder of GeoFusion, former President of Adobe Japan, and the Tateuchi Asian Business Distinguished Speaker for 2019. He spoke about five concepts that he always keeps in mind when doing business internationally: bench marking, product, go-to market, legal & regulatory, and people & operations.

The Importance of Localization

When describing the Product concept, Eugene gave many examples of companies that failed in Japan: eBay, Wendy’s, Citibank, and Walmart. Why did these huge corporations (that are successful in the US) have such a hard time transitioning into the Japanese market? Their one commonality is that they failed to implement an effective localization strategy. eBay had a bad payment structure for the market and Wendy’s had too many competitors. On the other hand, US based company Coca-Cola had huge success in Japan because of their careful and detailed localization strategy. They invested in local research & development, put out 49 coffee brands and 22 tea brands in Japan, and put their product in tons of vending machines all over the country. They now have the highest market share in their industry, which is very rare for a US company in Japan.

Staying on Top of Regulations

Cloud computing has recently become the best way to deliver enterprise applications, and two of the top players in the industry are Amazon and Microsoft. Amazon has a bigger market share, but over the past year Microsoft’s division has grown at a much faster rate. Why is this? The answer goes back to one of Saburi’s five concepts, Legal & Regulatory. Microsoft has been very diligent about meeting international regulations and certifications all over the world. Although it may not be the most exciting of the five concepts, it is absolutely necessary and helps speed up any internal processes, thereby expediting company growth.

Empathy and Understanding

At the heart of every company, there are people and operations. Saburi’s fifth concept taught us how to effectively build a global corporate culture through empathy and understanding. He pointed out that corporate motivators are starkly different in Japan than in the US. In the US, we consider the shareholder to be the most important and we always ask whether a decision will increase or decrease shareholder value. In Japan, the customer is the most important, then the employee, the suppliers, community, country, and then finally the shareholder. There is a cultural impact on the corporate mindset in Japan that US companies have to take into account when doing business in Japan.

Eugene Saburi gave us such great insight into the inner workings of a successful multinational company during the 2019 Tateuchi Lecture. His five concepts taught us how important it is to know your target customer and strategize while keeping them in mind. The impact that culture has on business is huge and paying attention to all of the details will determine how successful your company can be in a foreign market.

Eugene Saburi is one of the Global Business Center’s Asian Business Distinguished Speakers, a series funded by the Tateuchi Foundation. The Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation seeks to promote and improve international understanding, knowledge and the quality of relations between Japan and the United States.