Near Yellow Mountain

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


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.