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Leading business executives and scholars gathered Friday in Tokyo to discuss what constitutes a “globally useful Japanese,” and how individuals of this kind may be nurtured at businesses.

In terms of key qualities that should be possessed by successful global managers, forum panelists cited agility and flexibility in responding appropriately to fast-changing and varied environments, as well as a good command of foreign languages, especially English.

Yoshikazu Hanawa, honorary chairman of Nissan Motor Co., said in his keynote speech that Nissan became a “global company” in the true sense of the word when it became an affiliate of French automaker Renault SA in 1999.

According to Hanawa, Nissan currently selects some 400 “high-potential persons” from among its employee ranks, mostly in their early 40s, as prospective top managerial candidates.

One of the qualities that sets these candidates apart is the ability to communicate fully with foreigners in their respective mother tongues, he said, adding that Nissan’s official language in routine in-house meetings is now English.

Meanwhile, Glen Fukushima, former president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan and the current chief executive officer of Cadence Design Systems, Japan, said that Japanese companies have finally realized the importance of nurturing global managers — who could be women, returnees from overseas and non-Japanese — as the globalization of the Japanese economy advances.

“Globally useful managers will be a major asset for Japanese businesses to retain their international competitiveness,” Fukushima, one of four panelists, told an audience of some 250 people at the forum.

The forum was hosted by the Ogasawara Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Engineering, with the backing of The Japan Times.

Wolfgang Lux, general manager for the Asia-Pacific region of the American Management Association International, voiced regret that Japanese are still inclined to take an “outsider-insider” approach when dealing with foreigners, apparently believing that the Japanese are different.

“For international businessmen, it is imperative to build up person-to-person relations with non-Japanese people.”

Yoshio Terasawa, a board director at Tokyo Star Bank, said that eloquence is not necessarily an advantage for people in Japanese organizations, whereas the reverse is true in America or Europe.

He added that it is more important for Japan to become a globally useful country, which would make it better understood by foreign countries, before discussing the necessary qualities of globally useful Japanese.

Ayako Sato, a professor at Jissen Women’s University, for her part insisted that Japanese should be more assertive and develop the capability of self-expression to survive and succeed in the current era of globalization.

The four panelists all shared the view, however, that like it or not, successful global managers need to be “dual-natured” in actual business scenarios.

This is because they must be able to change their approach when dealing with different people from different corporate or national cultures, they said.

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