Advice to foreign biz leaders: ‘Dive full in’

Macromill was founded by Tetsuya Sugimoto in 2000 and has grown into a major online research firm. Scott Ernst became CEO of Macromill in October 2015, giving him the chance to lead a Japanese company for the first time. The Japan Times asked Ernst to describe his experience being the foreign leader of a Japanese business.

Has it been hard getting Macromill to adopt your management philosophy?

My approach has been to bring a client-orientation and focus on vision to Macromill. It’s not been terribly different to build and grow a Japanese company than my experience in the U.S. I generally have a strong opinion about just about everything but not an exclusive right to the good ideas.

What that means is that I need to be patient and let our team present their points of view before I offer my opinion.

What I really tried to do, in the first two years of my career at Macromill, is to embrace the uniqueness of Japanese culture but also maintain my style and my approach because it’s important for me to be genuine. So far so good, I think.

Do you have any advice for other foreign execs who might find themselves in a position like yours?

My advice to new CEOs coming into a Japanese company would be dive full in, embrace all of the elements of the culture that are really unique and special and recognize that we are all similar at the base level.

We are motivated by quality of life, a successful career or making an impact on the market. My observation, as a person who’s been experiencing both cultures, is that it’s incredibly exhilarating, challenging and absolutely worthwhile.

What are some of the unique things about Japanese companies and their culture?

What I love about Japanese business culture is the emphasis on long-term relationships and the sense of loyalty built on trusted partnerships.

I don’t think Japanese executives truly appreciate how special this is and how envious Western leaders are of the strength of the personal connections that are created here in Japan.

(Kazuaki Nagata)

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