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Japanese business in the United States: the view of 25 C-suite leaders

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Michael Burak Tax, Partner, PwC US

I recently had the privilege of hosting a gathering of over 20 C-suite executives from Japanese multinational companies at PwC's inaugural Japan Business Roundtable. We kicked off the roundtable with a dinner, where we had the pleasure of hearing from the Ambassador and Consul General of Japan in New York, Mr. Kanji Yamanouchi, followed by a day of roundtable discussion with a strong focus upon current challenges and opportunities these leaders are observing in the United States, Japan and abroad.

This is a key event for our Japan Business Network, which specializes in supporting Japanese companies investing in the United States.

The presentations and discussions were very informative for me, and I hope for the other attendees as well. Here are some of the big ideas that won a strong consensus among participants.

The US-Japan relationship is strong and deep

The dinner and meeting were off the record, but I can say that many participants, including the Ambassador, spoke movingly about the friendship between Japan and the United States, and how that friendship has deepened over the last 30 years of his career.

That friendship is based not just on decades of political partnership and cultural exchange, but also on shared economic benefits. To take just one example, Japan is a gigantic source of foreign direct investment into the United States, adding up to a stock of nearly $500 billion, which directly supports over 860,000 American jobs.

Embracing tech

Japanese companies have long been famous for their technological prowess, and as the world advances with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they intend to stay at the forefront. Whether it’s AI, blockchain or robotics, Japanese companies and their US subsidiaries are innovating at full speed.

Yet the most important variable here, participants agreed, often isn’t the tech itself. It’s the talent to use it, and here we had a rich discussion on the different workforce challenges and opportunities in each country.

For example, many companies in Japan, with their tradition of lifetime employment and their often mature workforce, are taking innovative steps, with the Japanese government’s support, to better enable veteran employees to take full advantage of the latest tech. The US workforce may on average be a little younger, but many US companies (including PwC) are also investing heavily so that today’s workforce can use tomorrow’s technology.

Strategizing for a future-ready workforce

Many leaders in attendance are looking at what we at PwC call upskilling 2.0. It’s far more than offering training courses to employees. Upskilling 2.0 starts with a look at strategy: Where and how does a company want to compete in the future, and which skills will the workforce need to win the future?

The next step is to build that workforce through strategic development of key skills, while reinforcing through "real world" experience. The idea is for employees to learn by doing and to be empowered to take the lead on innovating, building and iterating new solutions.

Another key part of this strategic approach is embedding tools to measure the return on these workforce investments.

Compliance is a growing burden — and an absolute necessity

One of the many things I admire about the leaders of Japanese companies is their attitude toward regulatory compliance: full compliance is a necessity, not an option.

Yet our roundtable noted how the burden is growing. For example, in the United States, federal and state regulations are continually evolving on emerging technologies, data privacy, cybersecurity and anti-money laundering measures, among others.

The response to regulatory compliance must not only be rigorous but it must also be agile so as to keep up with these fast-changing demands.

Putting the best together

As leaders of Japanese companies in the United States, the participants in our Japan Business Roundtable are well placed to learn and apply best practices they observe and experience both here in the United States and in Japan. And from what I experienced at this roundtable, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

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Michael Burak

Tax, Partner, PwC US

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