This week was my first trip to Japan after leaving my old job. The trip was planned to show respect to my customers after the sudden departure from my ex-employer. In general, the Japanese have a hard time understanding how American businesses make decisions - especially about people. Since I have known most of my customers for over 15 years, “what happened?” was a fair question for them to ask and I didn’t want close things out by email or have someone from my old company give an explanation. Call me a cynic but I think my story and the “official” line might be different.
As someone who has not been out of Japan for more than eight straight weeks since 1995, I also didn’t want to just drop off the radar. I wanted to close the loop face to face with as many people as I could see in a week. I was also curious to discover the depth of my relationships. A certain status comes with selling a vital raw material that is often in short supply. I thought my relationships were deeper than my prior company affiliation (aka “commercial self”) but that point had never been tested.
Actually the fact that I left for Japan with an itinerary full of meetings, dinners and three rounds of golf should have allayed my fears about where I stood with people but I still cleared customs in Tokyo with a slightly uneasy feeling which disappeared a short time later when I had dinner with a friend from a trading company.
Of course, everyone wanted to know the “why?” of my situation but in most cases I spent very little time talking about my old company and more time talking about the recent tensions between Japan and China, the US presidential election and the fact I planned to be working again soon in a position that would have me traveling to Japan on a regular basis.
It was a very interesting week and not in the least awkward except for one incident when I was at the front desk of one of the largest companies in Japan where you have to check in and get a computer card to access the elevators. Although I had an appointment with several people that I have known for many years, the young lady at the desk could not find my name in the computer (it was spelled wrong – the curse of having a last name that begins with “L” in Japan) and she awkwardly asked me to “wait a while”. I solved the problem by calling my host and handing my phone to the young lady so he could explain who I was. The next issue was enduring the five minute apology I received for the small mix-up.
So now I have been back to Japan without the cover of my old company role. It was a good feeling to realize people were happy to make time for me. From a business perspective, it seems that the skills and knowledge I developed over the years are more valuable than I realized. Leaving my old job seems to have opened a lot of doors for me. Many people told me this would be the case but I didn’t believe them until last week.