Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

It's all for one and one for all in the workplace

The president of Japan's second largest bank, Fuji, does not have an office of his own. Nor do the vice-presidents or managing directors.

''Oh, yes, I do have a room where I can go and sit if I want to think quietly by myself,'' said Yoshiaki Araki, bank president and chairman this year of the All-Japan Federation of Banks. ''But the desk where I work is in a large room where I sit together with my vice-presidents and managing directors.''

About these ads

Executive togetherness to such a degree is rare even in Japan. But Mr. Araki would not have things any other way.

''No one has any secrets from any other,'' he said. ''You may be sitting at your desk, absorbed in your own business, but at the same time you cannot help being aware of the telephone conversation your colleague beside you may be having. So you can follow the course of projects even outside your own area of responsibility, and when the time comes to make decisions we can do so much more rapidly than many of our competitors. This way of working together also helps to prevent the development of cliques.''

Formal decisions are reached at weekly board meetings, but in addition Araki convenes an informal, two-hour meeting of top officers every Monday.

''We sit at an oval table and discuss projects that are still far from being jelled. We exchange information and voice opinions freely even on matters not within the area of responsibility of the person voicing the opinion.''

Mr. Araki is also proud that his board consists solely of officers who have climbed the executive ladder step by step. He admitted that banks are strictly controlled by law but denied the widely held Western view that Japan's banks work hand in glove with the government. ''We were founded as a private enterprise more than 100 years ago, and we continue to be a strictly private enterprise,'' he said.

Mr. Araki doesn't think the kind of banking revolution that has hit the US will reach Japan, at least not immediately. In Japan, as in the US (and unlike Europe), banks and security houses are separate. But the gradual erasing of the boundaries between the two is a worldwide trend. Both are finding that unless they enlarge their capacities and offer new products to the public, ''they cannot meet society's needs.''

Fuji was one of the first Japanese banks to go into international banking after World War II, and Araki thinks its role in this area will grow. ''At first , the American branch offices of Japanese banks catered exclusively to Japanese clients, but now increasingly we are lending to American clients as well who have been attracted by our lower interest rates.''

About these ads

As operations within Japan are computerized and automated, Araki says, more of his bank's 18,000 employees will be shifted from domestic to international duties.

''We don't like to hire the kind of person the public thinks of as a typical banker,'' he said. ''Prudent, cautious, circumspect. We must have a team player, but don't forget that every team is made up of individuals. We like sportsman types - aggressive go-getters with strong individuality.'' Araki himself has an unusual hobby: He holds a teaching certificate in flower arrangement.

Still, Fuji is a bank operating within the Japanese context, and Mr. Araki admits that some people of great talent simply are not able to fit into the kind of close teamwork most Japanese companies require. ''I'd like to be able to use a person like that as a troubleshooter. This type of person often has such a quick intelligence that he becomes quite impatient with his subordinates - he likes to do everything himself.

In the past, Japanese banks have been both regulated and protected by the government. But Araki foresees a major reorganization of banks as they are freed to offer new services both at home and abroad. ''This cannot be done too fast, because banks must retain the public trust, but a period of reorganization is definitely coming, and all banks may not survive. We will have to have many more new ways of raising funds, internationally as well as at home, and new ways of responding to our customers' needs.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.