For Eric Gan, chief financial officer of broadband service firm eAccess Ltd., keeping up with the latest telecom technology terms in Japanese is not difficult. Coping with business customs here is.
The 40-year-old ethnic Chinese, for example, gets a bit uneasy as the end of the year draws nearer, when business partners pay courtesy visits to his office to express customary greetings. Just a few weeks later, the same people visit him again to express their best wishes for the new year.
“It’s not standing chatting for a few minutes, but I have to sit at a table with them and talk for 10 to 15 minutes,” said Gan, who was born in Hong Kong, brought up in Britain and has lived in Japan since 1990.
“I don’t know what to talk about because I’ve never experienced this custom (in other countries),” he said.
He has learned that if he is going to do business here, he has no choice but to accept Japan’s traditional corporate customs, he said.
But Gan has no difficulty explaining to investors about the state of his firm’s finances or discussing its financial strategies with colleagues — all in Japanese.
In 1999, Gan founded eAccess with Sachio Senmoto, a former executive vice president of telecom giant KDDI Corp. who now serves as chief executive officer of eAccess. The firm wholesales asymmetrical digital subscriber lines to Internet service providers.
To set up and run the firm, Gan said he studied everything he needed to know — from ADSL technology to Japanese corporate structures, human resources management and salary systems — by reading books and talking to people.
The company made its debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s Mothers market for venture companies in October, supported by the rapid spread of flat-rate, high-speed ADSL services in recent years.
He first became involved in the telecom industry in the early 1990s. As an analyst at a foreign-affiliated securities house in Tokyo, Gan learned that the telecom market, which had long been monopolized by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., would be further liberated and that mobile phones would become a global business, he said.
He felt he needed to brush up on his Japanese to further his career and went about achieving that by singing karaoke songs — from slow ballads from the 1970s to more popular songs, including “Try Me — Watashi wo shinjite” (“Believe me”) by pop idol Namie Amuro.
Back then, Gan said, “I learned most of my Japanese from karaoke because you can learn all those kanji and pronunciations very quickly.”
He later worked at Goldman Sachs (Japan) Ltd., playing a key role in handling the sale of new NTT DoCoMo Inc. shares. The mobile phone giant went public on the TSE’s first section in 1998.
For a foreign securities house, coordinating Japanese firms’ initial public offerings was seen as “a mission impossible” in the early 1990s, because they usually asked Japanese securities firms to do the job, he said.
Gan still occasionally comes up against small snags in communicating in Japanese. Recently, he has had problems understanding the dialect spoken by Kyoto-native Haruo Taneno, who became chief operating officer of eAccess last year.
“When he gets excited, he starts speaking a Kansai dialect. I get the feeling, but I can’t understand the words of his Kansai dialect,” Gan said, saying Taneno uses “ikan” instead of “ikenai,” a phrase used to mean not good.
For Gan, the learning never ends.
“I’m learning every day. Not only the language, even technology and financial (knowledge),” he said. “If you don’t understand them, you should continue to learn.”
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