“Japanese working philosophy is about persistence, consistency and perfection” Dr Indranil Nath, Board Member, Global Vice President, Japan Expert

Having spent 20 years working in Japan in senior and board level roles, Dr Indranil Nath has been inspired by the country’s unique culture and approach to work. Now as an IoD Fellow and chair of the IoD’s Japan Business special interest group, he is applying his insight to help other members build stronger trade connections with Japan.

I had an international upbringing travelling the world because my dad worked for the Indian Government. Maybe this global exposure brought out my entrepreneurial spirit. Originally I trained as an engineer, but after I moved into studying Linguistics, Japanese and Computing, I made the decision to look east towards Japan, rather than west like so many of my contemporaries.

Moving to Japan was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. Everything there runs as a system from start to finish and everyone adheres to their rules. The working philosophy is intense and can be a challenge for westerners. It’s about persistence, consistency and perfection. It can feel like you live to work compared to the west, where you work to live. Your colleagues become your family and managers take responsibility for staff, mentoring them from the very beginning. There is an emphasis on process and planning which can take time, but it makes execution fast and efficient. In the UK managers drive decisions, but in Japan it is not the manager but the organisation as a whole that makes the decision. In the west it can take a long time to sell the decision to the whole business, but this is not necessary in Japan as everyone made the collective decision in the first place.

There is a Japanese saying that if you have spent five years there you won’t want to leave as everything is so perfect and structured. In business, understanding the culture is so important and it’s useful to understand how people communicate. I spent four years learning the language, but communication in Japan is nuanced and indirect. There is emphasis on harmony and people leave enough room in how they speak to be able to change course if necessary.

Being a board director in Japan is very different. In the UK, boards focus on finding a solution to a problem, but in Japan they would spend the time focused on what the question is and whether it is worth making a decision about. It’s a much deeper approach which takes account of the long-term and I think we can learn from this way of thinking.

I am Certified Independent Director and the Certified Corporate Director. In the UK anyone can become director, but I think it should be a basic requirement for board members to have qualifications or some kind of proficiency assessment to certify. When it comes to demonstrating competence there is no one size fits all. Many directors come from accounting or M&A or audit/risk backgrounds. We need people with lots of different experiences on boards, including technology. A qualification which levels everyone up would improve board performances.

I am proud to be an IoD Fellow and Chair of the UK-wide IoD Japan Business special interest group (SIG). We set up the SIG two years ago and membership is thriving. Our goal is to connect SME’s in the UK with Japan by creating hubs around sectors such as life sciences, financial services, digital technology and others. In April we hosted an event at the Embassy of Japan in London with support from Department of Business and Trade, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Gov.UK and the Embassy of Japan with a view to building connections ahead of the World Trade Expo in Osaka in 2025.

I am back working in the UK now, but I loved the time I spent in Japan and am delighted to be able to share my expertise and understanding with IoD members. If I had to give my younger self advice I would say don’t be unsure of your purpose, keep learning, take risks and surround yourself with supporters. I would also encourage any younger person starting out to dream big, stay focussed and make a difference – be a voice for the next generation.

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