Regions Ltd. was founded in 2008. Currently it has thirty employees, and is continuing rapid growth, but at the start there were many issues and hardships that newer employees are unaware of, such as the sudden hospitalization of the CEO and continued low revenue. One of our young employees, Terajima, interviewed Fukuzawa, a veteran consultant who has supported the company since the beginning and watched it grow. What values has Regions held dear since its establishment? What changes were made to achieve growth? The answers to that become clear in this interview.
※Date of interview – January 10th 2018
Executive Officer Head of the Hokkaido Company
Joined December 2009
Has had a twenty year relationship with the CEO Takaoka. Invited by Takaoka, he moved back to his home town Sapporo for a new job. He is a senior figure, and with his extraordinary sense of responsibility has supported Regions since the beginning. His large contribution to the company’s revenue has been the central pillar of the its success. His hobbies include playing the drums, pressure training, and boxing.
Joined April 2016
Born in Sapporo, she joined Regions as a new graduate after graduating from Hokkai Gakuen University. The reason behind her decision was a discussion she had with Fukuzawa at a company information session. Currently she is working hard to become a top-class career consultant. Her hobbies include reading, the theatre, and going to hot springs.
Terajima： You joined Regions in December 2009, the year after its founding, right? Can you tell me about the events that led to you joining Regions?
Fukuzawa： I have had a long relationship with the CEO Takaoka since I was his junior at the Hokkaido Branch of Recruit Holdings. In the summer of 2009 I had to go into work on a day off, and as I was working I was surprised with a mail that said “I have saved a seat for you here”. I was at Recruit Agent at the time. When was it… I remember that before that there was a case where I was invited to a Chinese restaurant in Shinbashi, where I was suddenly passed a business plan. As I sat there drinking beer he explained the plan to me and asked what I thought. At that time Takaoka only really drank once every one or two months.
Terajima： You were invited to join the company while out drinking?
Fukuoka： I was explicitly asked to carry out the business plan together at the time, but instead just responded rather ambiguously saying that I felt it was a good idea. Watanabe Kojiro (Currently Head of the Tohoku Company) was with us at the time and was listening very eagerly. It seems that around that time he had started considering going independent. However, I did indeed feel that I wished to work with Takaoka someday.
Terajima： Was you joining something that Takaoka had decided and planned for in advance?
Fukuzawa： I don’t know about that, but as it was Takaoka who invited me to work at Recruit Agent, he was someone I had a strong connection with. He was a great help to me, and played a big part in helping navigate my career.
Terajima： Was the email from Takaoka the reason you decided to quit your previous company?
Fukuzawa： This all happened in the same year as the Lehman Shock. An early retirement system had been implemented at Recruit Agent so I was thinking of applying. Right at that time, I was invited a long and went with it. Why did you decide to join Regions Terajima?
Terajima： You probably don’t remember, but actually you were the reason I decided to join! At my university, Hokkai Gakuen University, there was an opportunity for graduates to come to the university and talk about their companies. That is where I learned about Regions. I had been eagerly searching for a job since my third year, but I was completely clueless about the recruitment industry at the time. However, I have always believed that you have to try something before you can judge whether you like it or not. To not be a picky person. There I met Fukuzawa. All the other companies only talked about themselves for the entire thirty minute explanation period, but Fukuzawa only really talked about Regions for the first five minutes, and afterwards spoke from the perspective of the students, talking about thinks like what we should do to make sure we have no regrets in job searching. Through this I understood that standing close to others in this way is what working at Regions is all about, and became interested in the company.
Terajima： When you joined Regions in its second year since establishment, did it have all the difficulties and issues of a brand new company?
Fukuzawa： It sure did. Right after I’d decided to join, and just before I actually did, on the 1st of January 2009 – the day after Sato Teruaki (Currently Head of the North Kanto Company) joined – we took a massive blow when Takaoka collapsed and was hospitalized for two weeks. At the time we were still only a small company with few employees. The day after he joined suddenly the CEO was gone. Sato Teruaki’s introduction to startup companies really was a baptism of fire.
Terajima： Was it due to overwork?
Fukuzawa： Takaoka built up a lot of debt increasing the workforce, and I think there must have been some pressure from that. If I didn’t improve the revenue, then Takaoka couldn’t pay me my salary. It was an extreme situation particular to small companies.
Terajima： Quite the do-or-die situation. What was the most difficult thing for you at that time?
Fukuzawa： Mainly the fact that revenue remained stagnant. In the three months since I joined, from December to February, the revenue remained at zero. Takaoka said that at that time it felt liked everyday he was bending over backwards. Around February, Sato Teruaki, who was managing the finances, told Takaoka that at this rate we’d run out of funds, and was I decided to consultant with Takoka. I told him “Please lower my salary. You hired me to have an immediate impact on this company and yet I’m completely useless.” However to this Takaoka replied “Are you trying to run away from your responsibilities! I will not lower your salary! Let’s work hard together!” After that in March we got our first order, and subsequently orders continued to roll in, allowing us to somehow avert our financial crisis. We even consulted with clients to get them to pay us a bit sooner. Through this we somewhat managed to get by.
Terajima： There were still only a few of you at that time right?
Fukuzawa： That’s right, just five of us.
Terajima： Was there a sort of sense of despair in the company at the time?
Fukuzawa： I don’t particularly think there was. After all, we had no choice but to get on with it. There are a number of ways to raise funds, and we believed that we wouldn’t go bust. However, I was really glad that the effort we had put in from December finally bore fruit in March. Since then my own sales figures have been increased favourably, and since that day there has only been one month where I haven’t been able to increase them. There are ups and downs but we were able to create a situation where orders would come in every month. Everyone else also worked extremely hard, allowing the company to be what it is today.
Terajima： What caused it to be so difficult at the beginning?
Fukuzawa： When all I said and done I guess it’s mainly because of the recession due to the Lehman Shock, and so sourcing job offers was particularly hard. As a result, if though we want to obtain new clients most companies weren’t hiring, let alone pay a high fee to hire someone. It was very frustrating to conduct business calls under such circumstances and a result business didn’t make much progress. There was even a time Takaoka got us all together and angrily said “Your business cards say consultant on them, so why are you doing sales?”, and changed the titles on our cards to “Sales”. They returned back to normal pretty quick though.
Terajima： I didn’t know that that happened.
Fukuzawa： でHowever it is vital to go to that effort to collect job offers from companies. There are a lot of people searching for jobs during a recession, so if you get an offer it will definitely lead to revenue for the company. The job-opening-to-applicant ratio at the time was 0.51 globally, 0.40 in Hokkaido and 0.36 in Sapporo. I really do think it was incredible of Takaoka to start this business under such circumstances.
Terajima： It’s pretty hard to imagine considering all the issues with labour shortages you hear about today.
Fukuzawa： A lot of clients told us “We can send adverts to the job centre for free, and yet you charge as much as 35%”, and when I had decided to join Regions a lot of my colleagues at Recruit Agent said “There’s no way that business will work in Sapporo”. Of course I believed we could do it an fully trusted Takaoka. Nevertheless we really struggled with obtaining new offers.
Terajima： It’s thanks to your struggles at the time that the company exists today.
Terajima： It’s been ten years since Regions was founded, but is there anything that has changed since then?
Fukuzawa： If I was to pick something I’d say the company changed after Tsujii (Current Head of Business Planning) joined in 2013. Up until then it had been a sort of collection of individual workers, but inline with our management philosophy of “to contribute to the eternal growth of people and companies”, we changed the system so as make the company somewhere everyone could work for a long time. In particular our HR system and benefits packages were fleshed out. The idea of it being a company not just for those there since the beginning, but for everyone started to permeate, and Takaoka also changed his mindset a bit and his desire to grow the company grew further. The company charged into a distinctly new phase. Also, we became a much more diverse company. The driving force behind this was Tsujii entering the company.
Terajima： I’ve heard that you’re looking a little more round these days, but I heard that when Tsujii had just entered the company and tried to go out for lunch, you would say to him “You’re doing pretty well for yourself. I don’t have the time for that”.
Fukuzawa： If we go along those lines, there were three people I consulted when I entered the company, and one of them said to me that if you’re going to join a startup you need to have the resolve to earn three times your salary. That before anything your duty is to sell the most and stabilize the company. As a result my salary wasn’t low, and I felt a responsibility in that. So as a result I may have said that. My desire to “just do it” may have been too strong, making me a little strained. Indeed I collided with Tsujii quite a bit after he joined. I thought that we had to do everything to raise revenue and build up the company, that we didn’t have time to be lazing about.
Terajima： Is it true that there was a sort of air of “Don’t ask things of people who have higher figures than you”? It’s almost impossible to imagine right now.
Fukuzawa： At the time most of us were former Recruit employees and believed that numbers were everything. Takaoka wanted to change that and bring in new blood, and so even stopped hiring former Recruit employees for a while. As a result Tsujii joined the company, and he constantly said that “At the heart of this job, if the employees can’t express their opinions with each other freely, then they won’t be able to match companies and applicants well. An atmosphere where we can talk freely and naturally will directly lead to the company’s growth”. He tried to make the voices of the younger workers and those in training heard by the veteran consultants and CEO. He also persistently pressured me to go a little easier. He said that if the atmosphere didn’t change then the new graduates who were going to join wouldn’t stay long.
Terajima： And that led to you changing.
Fukuzawa： That’s right. As Tsujii was sorting out the company’s systems to make it an easy place for everyone to work, I started to think that not only did I have to earn money for the company, but that if I taught my experiences to the other members and get them to use those for business, then the company would grow. In that way my mindset changed.
Terajima： In contrast, what hasn’t change since the company was founded?
Fukuzawa： Takaoka’s ideas, or more philosophy remains unchanged. Perhaps his over seriousness as well. Also his spirit for sales. Something I remember even now is our encounter with a company that is now one of our biggest clients. While I was attending a banquet at a yakiniku restaurant by pure chance that company’s CEO was eating at the next table. Even though Takaoka had only ever seen him once, and that was many years ago, he called to him saying “Mr. XX, it’s me Takaoka”, and from that we eventually started dealing with that company. That’s how tuned in he was to sales. Even though the rest of us were just getting drunk, being loud and eating meat, he told us he’d be right back and went to do business. That’s how much he priorities meeting with executives and having a dialogue. Even now one the main requirement for joining Regions is to be good at sales. It sounds good to say you’re a career consultant, but first you must get your feet on the ground. That’s the same regardless of whether you come from a large multinational consulting firm. In this way, one of the things that doesn’t change is the spirit for sales.
Fukuzawa： I said that one thing that doesn’t change is the spirit for sales, but how do you feel about that as a person who only recently joined as a new graduate?
Terajima： I also feel that right now raising your sales figures is first and foremost. However, regarding the process of how to raise them I’ve received a lot of advice from you, and also consulted with the other members. I feel that it’s been quite a lively discussion. Today I’ve learned that it wasn’t like that since the beginning, but something that everyone changed slowly overtime. I heard that career consulting was an individual business, and that there are a lot of times where you have to work by yourself to reach your objective, but I also feel that we fight on whilst supporting each other as a team. For example the younger employees meet once per week and have a meeting with more experienced consultants and you Fukuzawa. So I’m quite relieved that it doesn’t feel that I have to do everything by myself.
Fukuzawa： We don’t leave you out in the cold. We have someone who takes care of education, and everyone can freely ask questions to each other, so I feel we have quite a friendly atmosphere. In the past three people have entered as new graduates, but no one has been worried about boring interactions. No bullying from older women or power harassment from the boss. I promise everyone that will join from now as well that they will not have to worry about such ridiculous things. If you have an issue with someone then you should say it to them directly. “That was power harassment you know” or something along those lines.
Terajima： I’ve never worked at another company so I can’t say for certain, but when I’m listening to my friends from university talk about work, I get the feeling that Regions is different. You can easily talk about your concerns or things you’re unsure about straight away.
Fukuzawa： I’m glad you feel that way.
Terajima： I really do. By the way the training camp in Niseko last September was really fun. It included a company retreat, and everyone from Hokkaido, Tohoku and North Kanto gathered together. It was decided that we should first just laugh and forget everything, so on the first day we had a comedy showdown and get-together that we called “R-1 Grand Prix”. On the next day we had an intense training session from 8am to 5:30pm, where we learned everything from sales and philosophy, to Takaoka’s vision for the company. I believe it was a really great opportunity to improve communicate between employees.
Fukuzawa： The get-togethers we have in the office once per month are also quite fun. Buying an array of food and drinks and bringing them into the office. We also go out to drink afterwards quite a
Terajima： I think there’s a lot of value information in the stories I hear from the more senior employees.
Fukuzawa： In our line of work it takes a while to connect people and companies. We are handling the extremely important and life altering issue of career change. We also receive quite a large fee from companies. In these circumstances matching people and companies won’t always go ahead smoothly, nor is it easily decided. The proportion of applicants who succeed in career change is around 15~20%. There are far more failures than successes. So you need to fully know the ropes of the job. Experienced veteran employees have that knowledge, and it is their duty to pass it on to younger staff. Also younger employees have to learn the know-how and spirit of the job from the veterans. As a result communication between generations is important. We need to have the ability to communicate enough with others.
Terajima： I completely agree.
Fukuzawa： People who like an impersonal relationship with others aren’t suited to this line of work or to Regions. The job itself requires building strong relationships after all. You have to listen to others open up about why they want to switch jobs, and within that a lot of personal issues like concerns and dissatisfactions will come out, which you have to take as they are, so people who have an impersonal attitude are unfit for the job. You have to have an interest in people, to like people. Also, I believe people who aren’t good at opening up, or who hate company trips and drinking parties, are not suited to Regions. It might be a bit behind the times, but in all honesty I want to work together with people who will try to create a close relationship with you.
Terajima： I remember you telling me that very well. If you’re impersonal then you won’t be able to match anyone, and won’t make any sales.
Fukuzawa： You have to look at the bad parts of people as well. It’s all about whether you have the resolve to do that.
Terajima： All aspects of the job really are hard, as it’s interpersonal. There’s no situation where it’s just “if I do this then this will happen”. You have to ask applicants what they are really thinking deep down, and that differs a lot depending on the person. If you just match people based on superficial discussions then they usually don’t fit into the workplace and quit straight away. It’s not a job where you can just say “as long as I do this much it should be fine”. If you don’t exchange meaningful communication and build trusting relationships with applicants, CEOs, and your superiors and colleagues, then the job just won’t work. I’m struggling on with what I should do to raise my skills, with help from you of course. But on the other hand, skills I learned at work like how to build trusting relationships with people, and how to communicate with others, stick as an important part of my everyday life.
Fukuzawa： It’s a pretty boring job if you don’t have a good sense of how you want to and should be. There’s a lot of frustrating points. If you don’t have a concept of how you should be then you’ll be washed away. But if you have one then it’ll be a great asset, and results will follow. Even 22 year old new graduates will be questioned frankly about how they “should be”. But many of our young employees say that having that experience every day means that you grow much quicker, and many of their friends from university who entered other companies sometimes look like children to them. I think you also have a concept of how you should be Terajima. I look forward to seeing you continue to grow.
Terajima： Thank you very much! I’ll try my best!
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