Seminar Review: "Leveraging Diversity"

With a seminar on Cross-cultural Intelligence coming up Friday, May 26 at GLOBIS, we are posting this review of a seminar given by Takashi Hata, SVP of Nissan in 2015. He clearly states the business case for diversity, including the short-term costs associated with “going global.” We hope this article will be helpful for Friday’s seminar.

“Diversity is Inefficient”

This wasn’t what I expected to hear, especially at a talk about leveraging diversity. But with closer scrutiny, the words of Takashi Hata, Senior Vice President of Nissan, made perfect sense. 

In a Professional Seminar titled “Leveraging Diversity (to stay fit in a fast-changing world)” held on April 24 at GLOBIS, Hata revealed his candid thoughts on the topic after years of experience in a range of companies with operations around the world.

“Change is happening around us all the time. Are you ready for the next wave of change?” he asked.

Hata himself went through several geographic, cultural, and industry shifts in his professional career. 

Some notable examples include moving from an almost bankrupt Japanese trading company to an American conglomerate’s plastics division and subsequently to a Saudi Arabian petrochemical firm. 

Shortly after, he was cherry-picked by Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn to lead JATCO, an automotive transmission company, despite having no knowledge of the industry. He then served as Nissan chairman for Africa, Middle East & India (AMI) region. This eventually led to his current leadership role as Senior Vice President.

So, how does he cope with all the changes he has seen? 

In response he quotes Charles Darwin: “The one who survives is he who is the most adaptable to change.”

Are you prepared to deal with mega-changes?

To illustrate his point, he challenged the audience to think about some examples of “mega-changes”—changes on a grand scale that happen at a remarkable speed. 

Perhaps the most relevant example Hata touched upon is the demographic shift underway in world population which, the United Nations say, will hit 9.6 billion people by 2050. 

As the world’s population continues to grow and Japan’s continues to age, how will a country like Japan survive? What are the challenges people will face and conversely what are the opportunities?

Another example is the expected leap in the inequality gap between the rich and the poor come 2050. He cited Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which predicts that the world’s combined economic growth rate (closely related to an ordinary laborer’s income) will dip to below two percent, while the pure rate of return to capital (closely related to a rich person’s income) will rise to above four percent. Today, this gap sits at only 0.5 percent.

Mega-changes such as these present immense difficulties—as well as numerous opportunities—for those ready to adapt.

Diversity’s role in business?

So, how does diversity come into play at work? For Mr. Hata, the answer is simple: diversity is an indispensable source of competitiveness. 

“It is there to create greater value,” he said. 

He emphasizes that in order to manage diverse teams, the key leadership skill to develop is the ability to understand and accept different ideas while maintaining your own opinions.

Referring to his experience in Nissan, he added: “Diversity exists to create a positive conflict from people with different values.” 

In Nissan’s case, diversity was sustainably managed with great help from the Nissan Way, which paved the way in unifying a very globalized company.

Nissan has over 37 nationalities represented at its headquarters in Yokohama. The company opened a “Diversity Development Office” as well as a “Diversity Steering Committee” to oversee the entire organization.

For the second year running it was named one of DiversityInc’s “25 Noteworthy Companies.” 

There is a growing body of research to support this strategy. McKinsey & Company found that “companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians.” 

In order to be most successful, Hata suggests that leaders need to bridge the gap between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy allows a leader to support the organization by “standing on the other side.” Whereas, empathy takes it a step further by creating opportunities to “be in the other person’s shoes.” This increases the leader’s ability to accept and harness differences between people. 

“Start with sympathy—then lead with empathy,” he stresses. 

Diversity is no panacea

In today’s world where “diversity” has become a huge corporate buzzword, Hata cautions that it is not a panacea, and by its very nature can be cumbersome, even inefficient. 

Organizations should always be able to answer the question: “How much is diversity worth to you?”

If you can answer this honestly, making decisions regarding diversity becomes a whole lot easier. To illustrate this point further, he cited the differences between monocultural teams and multicultural teams in terms of effectiveness. 

“Diverse teams may work, or may not,” he asserted. 

In school, for example, a monocultural group may be the most efficient team and easily get the job done, but might only receive only a B+ evaluation in class. 

A multicultural group, however, will experience more difficulties but have different opinions, and may receive either an A+ when diversity is working—or a C- when diversity fails.

“Focus on the experience of diversity. Take advantage of each opportunity because diversity is everywhere,” Hata encouraged.

“The pain and difficulty of managing diversity will harness your strengths.”

Taking it further, he touched on the typical globalization strategy of Japanese companies, giving it the nickname “Japan Co. Ltd.”

For these companies, globalization means sending its Japanese leaders to head overseas operations but keeping the mother plant in Japan, conducting meetings and retaining documents in Japanese, and maintaining a 70 to 30 ratio of international to domestic business revenue composition. 

Hata remarked, “Yes, Japan Co. Ltd may be efficient in getting the work done today, but will this model be sustainable [in the future]?”

Diversity is a business decision

Hata clarified that at the end of the day, managing diversity and responding to changes is still the company’s ultimate decision. 

However, he cautioned that companies should always consider changes in the environment (especially mega-changes) and evaluate if its decisions and strategies will still enable it to be competitive.

“The strategies that enable you to get a B+ today, may no longer be adequate to get a B+ tomorrow,” he warned. 

When asked why a company should gamble shareholder value for the sake of diversity, he said, “Diversity is not the only answer.” 

“It is not the single dimension for the company’s success and it is not a straightforward path.” 

“It’s a deliberate choice and it makes a significant difference.” 

Parting Words

Before concluding his talk, he offered a few words of advice to the audience: 

“Take the harder path—aim for the A+.”

“Be sensitive about the cultural differences around you, and recognize that these differences are just on the surface.”

“Look deeper and you will understand that at the end of the day, we are still all human beings.”

Touching on the importance of authentic leadership, he added: “Leadership is a personal style. You cannot be exactly like somebody else. Your character is a summation of what you have experienced which nobody else can imitate.”

“Good communication can earn you respect but the depth of your character will magnify that respect.”

In short, implementing diversity can be inefficient, it may be difficult, but it is also indispensable in modern business.

Mr. Takashi Hata joined Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. in January 2014. Prior to joining Nissan, he was President & CEO of JATCO. He was also President of SABIC Japan, SABIC Innovative Plastics Japan and GE Plastics Japan after working at GE in China and Hong Kong. He worked at Nissho Iwai in Germany and Indonesia.

Mr. Hata earned his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and a B.A. from Waseda University.

Mr. Hata is a remarkable storyteller. His previous seminar at GLOBIS was one of the highest rated in recent years.

Mico began his career as an IT Manager in Procter and Gamble's Global Business Services (GBS) office in the Philippines. In his six years of working for a multinational company, taking on both global and regional roles, he enjoyed collaborating with many colleagues from diverse cultural backgrounds, functions, and geographies.

He started in a more technical capacity as a Project Manager for Accounting ERP implementations and as an Application Manager for financial reporting systems before eventually moving on to a more business-facing role as a Solutions Brand Manager for distributor business intelligence. This marketing and business analysis-oriented position inspired him to explore broader areas of business and take an MBA in GLOBIS.

During his MBA, Mico did a digital marketing internship with IBM Japan. After graduation, he joined Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation in his current position.

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