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Exploring Japan’s Corporate Culture: CULTURELABS and Robert Half team up to support West Virginia University’s “Global Field Trip”

Group photo with West Virginia University Students
Group photo with West Virginia University Students

CULTURELABS and Robert Half Japan, a leading international consulting and staffing company with a diverse presence in Japan, teamed up to host 24 students from West Virginia University on a leg of their "Global Field Trip" to Japan. This event aimed to provide students, many of them business majors, with a deep dive into Japan's corporate culture, its challenges, and its unique nuances.

 Andrew Sipus, Robert Half’s Executive Search head for Japan and Asia presenting in front of students
Andrew Sipus presenting to students

Following an introduction to Robert Half’s business activities and history by Robert Half Japan's Managing Director of Technology, Digital and Transformation, Lyndsey Hughes, the students were treated to an overview of Japanese demographics. The students from the Mountain State listened intently as Andrew Sipus, Robert Half’s Executive Search head for Japan and Asia, presented the various societal challenges currently facing Japan. They were particularly surprised to learn that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute the majority of Japanese companies, and foreign capital corporations make up a mere 0.74% of all companies in Japan, as this landscape is vastly different from what they experience back home. The country’s English proficiency ranking of 87 out of 113 further highlighted the limited exposure to foreign work practices, adding layers of complexity to international business interactions.

Panelists, Aya Shimada, Setsuji Ito and Fabrizio talking to students
Panelists, Aya Shimada, Setsuji Ito and Fabrizio Fumagalli talking to students

During a panel discussion titled "Business in Japan," experts from various fields shared their firsthand experiences and insights. Aya Shimada, founder of CULTURELABS, highlighted the high demand for young talent and the familial atmosphere within traditional Japanese companies, which contrasts sharply with the Western emphasis on individualism and job mobility. Setsuji (Sam) Ito, now a Director with Robert Half but with a history of 30 years at Itochu, a major Japanese trading company, emphasized the meticulous and rational approach of Japanese businesses, despite their reputation for preferring subtlety and ambiguity. Fabrizio Fumagalli, who leads Robert Half Japan’s Cyber Security Recruiting, noted the heavy reliance on formality and non-verbal communication in professional settings. He also stressed the necessity of cultural adaptability while maintaining a balance to preserve one's sense of self-identity.

Hikari Asano and Fumagalli during the Panel Chat
Hikari Asano and Fumagalli during the Panel Chat

The discussion also touched upon gender dynamics in the workforce, and the topic of women shouldering a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor. Hikari Asano, a senior recruiting manager for Robert Half, pointed out the traditional expectations placed on working women but also the benefits of job rotations in fostering a holistic understanding of business operations. The panelists agreed on the importance of embracing the Japanese culture while maintaining one's unique identity, stressing that success in Japan often requires a delicate balance of adaptation and authenticity.

Students actively engaged with the panelists, asking questions about various aspects of Japanese business culture, from job mobility and the daily life of a Robert Half employee to the treatment of women in the Japanese workplace and whether Japanese women felt intimidated by the male-dominated corporate environment.

Professor from West Virginia University asking question
Question and answer time

The students and their professor concluded by asking the panelists how best to navigate the future of new technology. Shimada advised them to figure out and stick to their values, while Asano emphasized the importance of adaptability. Ito highlighted the enduring power of analogue methods, while Ricky Anzai, Business Relationship Manager at Robert Half Japan concurred, noting that as AI becomes more prevalent, the human element will become increasingly crucial, especially in a "TikTok society" where quick, digital interactions dominate.


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