The first part of the evening comprised of a welcome by Dr Angelo Bisignano of Nottingham Business School followed by a short presentation by Sarah Parsons, Japan In Perspective, JETAAUK Chair and Associate Lecturer at NTU. Sarah gave an overview of Japanese Investment in the UK including their key elements such as long-termism and huge investment into skills and training. She talked about examples of Japanese investments in sustainability such as Hitachi Rail’s investment into the UK’s train infrastructure and highlighted challenges surrounding sustainability in Japan including the need for more sustainable softer technologies/social initiatives to address the ageing population, gender inequalities and corporate culture issues. She also spoke about the challenges for Japan to adhere to the Global Reporting Initiatives (GRI) guidelines for Sustainability Reporting, mainly driven by North American and European stakeholders commenting how Japanese companies are traditionally much stronger in the environmental areas but not so good at reporting social and governance issues.
This “environmental” strength was certainly evident listening to Rob Gorton, Corporate Planning Manager at Toyota Manufacturing UK (TMUK), who spoke about the upcoming trends at TMUK in the area of sustainability, including their plans for hybrid and hydrogen technology. Rob also gave an overview of TMUK's recently announced 2050 environmental challenge to address key global environmental issues such as climate change, water shortages, resource depletion and degradation of biodiversity by 2050. Rob re-iterated the long-term aspect of Japanese business mentality reflected in TMUK’s sustainability policies and spoke of how sometimes these can be at odds with the short-term mentality of British business, noting that it is difficult to graft long-term thinking onto short-term cultures. He used the example of the manufacture of the Prius that took more than 10 years from inception to achieving volume in sales to emphasise the need for long-term thinking; he anticipates that the numbers of Mirais being manufactured will grow significantly over the coming years. He also spoke about how the UK needs an increase in engineers to support sustainable innovation here. Japanese companies such as TMUK and Hitachi Rail are heavily involved in raising the skill set of young people in the UK in this area through apprenticeship schemes and links with local schools and colleges.
Both Professor David Smith and Dr Michael Ehret agreed that collaboration and information sharing on top of more long-term thinking is the key to sustainability and, in some cases, institutional changes need to take place to realise this. Sarah added that although Toyota is a fantastic role model for information sharing through their various processes, there can be cultural challenges for other Japanese companies surrounding the sharing of information from a Japanese mind-set outside of Japan and also on a management level where slower and more structured decision-making processes and different communication styles & methods of PR sometimes affect information-sharing both within organisations and to their customers and offices globally.
After the panel discussion, there were several Q&As from the audience including questions on the Brexit referendum (again bringing up the short-term versus long-term debate). This was followed by a chance to network and for everyone to sample the fantastic Japanese buffet provided by Japanese Ideas in Nottingham. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive with one student of the MSc in International Business saying, “I learned so much, wrote so much and got to eat some amazing food so it was a great evening!”
This event was co-organised by JETAAUK and Nottingham Business School as part of JETAAUK’s “Spotlight on Japanese Companies in the UK” and was attended by around 60 local business people, academics and students from surrounding universities, JETAA members and representatives from the Japan Local Government Centre and JETRO.