Japanese brands

When it was first suggested to me that I join Mitsubishi Corporation in the UK, I have to admit I thought it was the car manufacturer, Mitsubishi Motors, despite the fact that I should have known better, having been brought up in Japan and spent a year at a Japanese university.

After a couple of years exporting British chinaware and shoes to Japan for the trading house, I was transferred to Tokyo to work in the building materials sales team. The apartment that my employer found for me had no furniture, as is normal in Japan. So I decided I would buy what I needed at Marui department store, as I had heard they offered credit cards and I did not have enough savings to pay for the necessary bed, sofa and refrigerator.

When I approached the credit card application desk, a look of panic flitted across the clerk’s face – a young, foreign, female was presumably not going to be a good credit risk. I reassured him I could speak Japanese, but he was very concerned whether I could write well enough to fill in the application form.

I took out my Mitsubishi Corporation business card in order to copy down the address, and as soon as he spotted the distinctive three diamond logo, his face lit up. “Mitsubishi Corporation! Can I phone your team leader to check your employment details?” He returned from the call with a huge smile on his face, and tried to make me buy two televisions and a better refrigerator.

The Mitsubishi name worked magic for me once more in my career there. I had stupidly forgotten my passport on a trip to Frankfurt from London. The German border police were not impressed, particularly as I had no other form of ID, not even a driving license or credit card. I suddenly remembered my Mitsubishi security pass.

Again, the atmosphere improved dramatically, and one policeman even tried to make a joke of it – “we will let you through, if you can get us a Shogun!” (as the Pajero sport utility vehicle was known in Europe at the time).

I decided this was not a good moment to explain that Mitsubishi Corporation was not the same company as Mitsubishi Motors, and ruefully remembered how I had made the same mistake myself a few years previously in the job interview. In retrospect, it is intriguing that the Mitsubishi brand instantly evoked trust, even for a German policeman who did not really know what it stood for.

This was twenty years ago, but I suspect this paradox persists for Japanese companies when it comes to recruiting in Europe. There is a generally favourable view of Japanese companies, but nobody is quite sure what they do, and therefore there is a doubt as to whether becoming an employee of a Japanese company is a good career move.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that recently the larger Japanese employers in Europe are indeed putting more effort into broader corporate communications, rather than just product advertising. This is presumably in order to attract the best quality employees.

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