Musings on Japan

I have turned this post over to James Barker (@JamesAdmissions on twitter) who writes about his trip to Japan last year when he met prospective CJBS candidates.

“In my role as an admissions officer for the Cambridge MBA programme, I am fortunate to be able to travel to some of the world’s most fascinating cities.  Last year I was captivated by the atmosphere, culture and business practices of Japan and was therefore delighted to be able to return recently for a repeat visit.  Disembarking from the airport bus, it was comforting that, for all its frenetic energy and chaotic streets, Shinjuku felt familiar and I moved on confident that the visit would be a success.


My first engagement was with a selection of potential Cambridge MBA candidates at a dinner arranged and co-hosted by some of our highly engaged local alumni.  Pleasingly, we were able to welcome a diverse group of people from finance, consulting, science and technology – some of whom were going to be sponsored by their firms, others seeking to forge their own MBA path.  To make this distinction is crucial, for I believe that the Cambridge MBA can offer advantages to each of these two subsets of applicant.


Whilst the concept of shushin koyo (lifetime employment) is perhaps starting to die out, it remains a key facet of Japanese business culture.   For those who are seeking to return to their firms, an international-focussed programme such as the Cambridge MBA will offer the opportunity to develop a more global mind set.  Learning from a varied range of peers will allow the individual to affect change in business environments that remain inherently conservative in nature.  Where the rules of succession have begun to become more blurred and promotion is not solely based on seniority, the MBA can aid competitiveness when being considered for advancement opportunities.  As major Japanese corporations struggle to reinvigorate themselves following on from the so-called Lost Decade(s), the skills developed on an MBA programme can only further be of benefit to firms that seek to reward and retain loyal employees.


Of course many of the impactful aspects of undertaking an MBA will also be relevant to self-funding candidates looking to use the experience to accelerate or change their career.   I was particularly struck by the numbers of candidates that I met who were drawn to Cambridge for its entrepreneurial expertise.  This is perhaps a reflection of the ‘Abenomic’ principles (those of current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) that are currently being implemented to try and rejuvenate the country’s economy after the years of decline.  Through policies such as those which make it easier and less risky for individuals to obtain bank loans and the implementation of ‘Special Economic Zones’, entrepreneurship is positioned more centrally in Japan’s economic strategy than ever before.    It will take time to boost confidence – after all, as reported in the Economist, a recent Global Entrepreneurship Monitoring survey rated Japan least active of all developed nations when it came to entrepreneurial activity.  Significantly, only 9% of survey respondents felt that they had the skills required to succeed as an entrepreneur (the figure in France was four times higher).  An MBA then, particularly one with such a strong focus on entrepreneurship and innovation as Cambridge, may help those who aspire but fear that they lack the skills to succeed.


As ever, the MBA fair that I attended saw a strong flow of candidates to the Cambridge MBA table, the majority exceedingly well-prepared and researched which allowed for good quality discussions.  The strength of the Cambridge MBA alumni network in Tokyo was evidenced here:  as always former students came out to assist at our stand and to share their experiences with prospective applicants. Afterwards, and showing great hospitality as always, they were keen to hear the latest news from the Cambridge community over sashimi until late – great fun, but made the 4.30am start to catch my flight to Hong Kong more of a challenge!


In all, I am hopeful that these events will see us continue to receive a strong pool of applications from Japan, but also one which will reflect some of the changing business culture that I was able to observe during this brief visit.”


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One Response to Musings on Japan

  1. Thanks for sharing such insightful experience with us Conrad. I have always enjoyed my trips to Japan and am glad to see how the economy has improved since the earthquake.

    I can’t agree more on how much impact entrepreneurship can spur innovation and keep economies going. Looking at China and Japan, their development paths have been very similar. However, I am optimistic China will not hit a economic growth plateau like Japan did since the 90s. Thanks to successful stories by Baidu and Renren, the entrepreneurship spirit is growing strong in China nowadays. Success breeds success. I believe that entrepreneurship will be the key catalyst to push China’s economy to the next level.

    On the other hand, I remember an interesting perception on why Silicon Valley has become the Mecca for startup is because there are world class universities in the region, and a lack of investment banks in the west coast. As the finance industry has seemingly lost its shimmer after a spate of scandals, do you foresee more and more talents shifting away from banking and venturing into the startup space in the next couple of years?