Traverse City Record-Eagle


August 27, 2013

Startups gain appeal as some Japan Inc. names fade


A few years ago, all he could hire were what Japan categorized as the losers, those who had no hopes of getting hired at an established company. As Sony Corp. and other mainstream brands lose their luster, Terra is gaining a chance to shine.

Tokushige’s 15 employees now hail from top-name companies, and the interns are enrolled in Hitotsubashi, one of Japan’s top universities.

He acknowledges that plans for his tiny company to break into global markets still sound a little crazy by mainstream Japanese standards. But he believes his way of doing business is superior to bigger companies, where decision-making tends to be bureaucratic, slow and oriented toward avoiding risks.

“Mainstream companies started out as ventures. That means old-time Japanese did it,” he said of the humble beginnings of Honda, Sony, Panasonic and All Nippon Airways. “We can do it, too.”

At their former employers, Tokushige’s workers felt stifled, although they were promised stability, status and money. They knew what they could contribute was limited, while at Terra, they can hope to make a crucial and tangible contribution.

“What we want to do is create another Sony or another Honda,” said Kazuaki Konno, 35, an engineer who worked previously at Nissan Motor Co. and Boston Consulting before joining Terra.

At a shareholders’ meeting in June, Sony President Kazuo Hirai was asked by an investor about an alleged exodus of talent from the company. The investor expressed worries about continued creativity at Sony. Hirai reiterated he would do all he could to keep innovation going, but he did not deny the allegation.

Such defectors are setting a trend, said author Ryuichi Kino, who has written books about the Japanese auto and nuclear industries, and is working on a book about the advent of career switches and job-hopping in Japan.

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