The variety in the industries we were exposed to was a staple of this trip.
Shiseido, for example, is the fifth largest and most succesful luxury and cosmetics company. We visited Shiseido’s Global Innovation Center; which incubates a cosmetics museum as well as develops, tests and demonstrates innovative technology and products in the cosmetics sector. Given that the company’s CEO was supposed to meet with us but had last minute travel obligations, we got a personalized video message from the CEO and the Chief People Officer led the presentation on his behalf. We also received a cute parting gift from Shiseido which included some strong sunscreen; which provided to be quite valuable throughout this trip.
Omron, an industrial and robotics manufacturing conglomerate, was another interesting company visit. We specifically visited one of the company’s subsidiaries, one which only employs people with mental and physical disabilities. It was eye-opening and quite comforting to see how to facility, processes and tools were customized and designed in a manner that caters to the employees’ specialized needs.
We also got exposure to the startup scene in Tokyo; since we got to meet several startups involved in printing, logistics, education and blockchain / cryptocurrencies. Raksul for example, a Harvard Business Review case company, leverages underutilized printers using an online platform. Raksul is a unicorn and is known as the “Uber for Printers”. We were greeted by its founder and CEO, a previous management consultant, who described to us the best practices and pitfalls of launching a startup in Japan. He emphasized how the Japanese market offers Raksul unique advantages, as well as challenges, that would not be easily replicated in foreign markets. Additionally, we got a bonus presentation on the founder’s other venture, a sort-of “Uber for Trucks”, and what he foresees for the future of the startup scene in Japan. Given that a significant portion of one’s identity in Japan is tied to the company he / she is working for, this normally de-incentivizes young individuals from starting their own company. However, this trend is progressively shifting and we can therefore expect more superstar entrepreneurs stemming from Japan in the coming years.
Georges Bassous is a 2020 MBA Candidate at Columbia Business School