Steven's Blog

Growth is a State of Mind, Not a Market

Return on investment of overseas acquisitions made by Japanese companies, with some exceptions, is feeble by large and at times disastrous.

Some notorious failures include Toshiba’s acquisition of Westinghouse, Japan Post’s acquisition of Toll in Australia, and Kirin Holding’s acquisition of Brazilian brewer Schincariol. Failure of company culture integration is at times said to be the culprit. However, it is more often the success of integration that is to blame. It is just that the wrong culture supplants the right one.

For example, a top executive of a Japanese tech company who manages businesses acquired overseas told me that his greatest challenge is integrating the acquired companies into the global business without destroying the capabilities that made the acquired companies successful. He explained that, for example, needless bureaucracy in the head office in Tokyo frustrates leaders of subsidiaries and limits their agility. Disaffected employees at one such Silicon Valley subsidiary complain that much local autonomy has been replaced with opaque decision-making in Tokyo, and that salaryman-like low remuneration and excessive overtime have taken hold. It is unlikely this acquisition will meet original expectations of the return on investment.

Head office executives remain largely deaf to concerns, if they are aware of them at all. Few can speak English and even fewer have ever had overseas assignments. The prevailing view is that the subsidiaries must adapt to the ways of the parent company. The executive in charge of managing the overseas businesses, however, ponders whether the reverse might not be what is really best. That is to say, if the head office ought to be imbued with the subsidiary’s culture rather than the other way round. After all, is it not the stolid company culture of the head office that is in part to blame for stymied growth at home, which prompted growth through acquisition overseas in the first place?

Fast Retailing CEO, Tadashi Yanai, built such a culture at home before his company acquired businesses overseas. Yanai clearly stated his intention to build a great culture in acquired companies based on the successful culture at Fast Retailing in Japan. A growth-oriented culture does not mean that your business must be growing at home. Rather, at a minimum, you as the leader, and your people, must be willing and able to learn and change in order to achieve growth.

Successful growth is contingent upon the company culture that the leader builds at home, not upon the soundness of businesses acquired overseas. Click To Tweet

If you lead a business, that means that success starts with you. Otherwise, no matter how attractive an overseas acquisition looks on paper, the investment will at best underperform.

At worst, you will kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

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