In 2017 we started a new business to introduce “foreign workers who from top schools who are skilled at Japanese” as assets who can contribute to the globalization and overseas expansion of regional companies. In the first year we linked up fight foreign talents to regional companies, and both of the employees driving the new business forward are foreign themselves. Why did the two of them choose to cross over to Japan and work at Regions? What kind of world do they want to implement through globalization? In this interview they will take about everything from their pasts to the future that Regions is trying to make.
※Interview date: 10th January 2018
Global Business Consultant
Joined November 2016
Born in Tainan, Taiwan, she joined Uniqlo Taiwan after graduating from National Chung Hsing University. She had a long-held desire to work in Japan, and at the age of 26 joined Regions. Her hobbies are mountain climbing, yoga, dance, working out, piano, and live concerts.
Global Business Consultant
Joined October 2017
Born in Liverpool, UK. After graduating from Sheffield University he joined Regions as a new graduate. He is currently struggling to get used to Sapporo’s snow. His hobbies include watching football, gaming, and white hat hacking.
Chen： For regional companies, we often see cases where the fact that they don’t have any employees who can speak foreign languages can be a hurdle, and as a result they’re reluctant to deal with foreign companies or expand abroad. If we can introduce workers who are proficient at Japanese to those companies, it should lead to a lot of innovation and reform, but what do you think about that Andrew?
Croft： I agree, I think it’s exactly as you say. Furthermore, the population is aging and countryside depopulating rapidly, and so there are a lot of companies who are stuck when it comes to hiring. However, if you look abroad there are more than enough people. By hiring foreign workers companies should be able to fill the gap caused by labour shortage in Japan.
Chen： In 2017 I went with the CEO Takaoka to Australia, and the east coast of America, then afterwards we went to the UK and Germany searching for talented foreign candidates who want to work in Japan. After that I visited Taiwan together with Takaoka.
Croft： Did you realize anything from going around so many countries?
Chen： I realized that there are a lot of people abroad who wish to work in Japan. This year we plan to go to Taiwan in March, and Germany in May, and then afterwards to America and the UK. In each country we aim to find candidates who can speak Japanese and want to work in Japan, and then search for job offers for them when we return to Japan. In particular in cases where the candidate is a student, it is ideal for us to match them with a company before they graduate from university.
Croft： The Regions homepage is going to get a makeover, allowing it to have a more global outreach, and so candidates from abroad should increase from here on. That’s why we have to put effort into obtaining more job offers aimed at foreign talents. We’re also starting an internship business, and so are doing a lot of groundwork for that. First we are mainly expanding exclusively in Sapporo, and so we spend most days going around local companies. We are also drawing up plans to cultivate new customers in Sendai and Utsunomiya as well.
Chen： Our client companies are always surprised whenever you visit Andrew. They often say “This is the first time an English person has ever come to our company”.
Croft： They do say that a fair bit don’t they.
Chen： What is something you find difficult about going around local companies?
Croft： I would say the fact that a lot of the time even if we can get our clients to have some interest in hiring foreign workers, it usually ends up that they can’t consider hiring straight away. It seems that in most cases the fact that they have no experience in hiring foreign workers, they don’t know what kind of job they would make them do in the case they were to bring them in. There are also a lot of concerns regarding obtaining visas. I believe it is our job to expel those concerns.
Chen： You’re right. We still have trouble in getting companies to understand the benefits of hiring foreign workers or expanding their business overseas. It’s really painful when you have a motivated candidate, but you can’t introduce them to an offer that suits them… Right now we have quite a few candidates but are still lacking in the number of job offers, so we have to develop more customers. It’s the exact opposite situation to that of hiring in Japan, where the number of candidates is too low.
Croft： There are all kinds of companies, such as those who have already expanded abroad, those who are considering it, those who want to in the future, and those who are dealing with foreign companies, so in that way there are quite a few opportunities. Nevertheless, there are many wo feel that hiring foreign workers as full-time employees is a bit difficult.
Chen： I think part of it is down to the fact that there are a number of uncertainties when it comes to hiring, and as a business challenge, hiring foreign workers is not that high in terms of importance.
Croft： I agree. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to have them start off by taking in foreign interns for a short time period. Through that the company can accumulate a wealth of information and experiences, such as how they should bring in foreign workers, what to do about training them, what effects does putting a foreign worker in the workplace have etc.
Chen： If they can accumulate those experiences then they will be able to picture what kind of job to make foreign workers do in the case they hire them. We’d definitely love for companies taking in workers to use some trial and error.
Croft： Before coming to Regions you worked in Uniqlo in Taiwan right?
Chen： Yes. I joined Uniqlo right after graduating university. The reason is that for a long time I had a dream of working in Japan. I actually tried searching for a job in Japan before graduation, but no matter what I tried I was just unable to get the opportunity. At that time I saw that Uniqlo, who had expanded into Taiwan three years previously, was looking for a store manager candidate for one of their stores. I thought that in the future there might be a chance for me to go to Japan and applied.
Croft： Ahh, I see.
Chen： Another reason I applied is because I thought it would be a job with a lot of chances to connect with customers. I loved jobs which deal with people. I believe that being kind and consideration to people is extremely important. Uniqlo also highly values those kind of things, and the fact I connected with that stance also had an effect on me joining. Eighty people joned as candidates for store managers, but six months later only five were promoted to the position. I was one of them. I worked for two years as a store manager where I challenged a number of different tasks, and after that on my request I was moved to a department called the Administration Planning and Reform Center.
Croft： What kind of work did you do there?
Chen： It’s a department where we aim to bring innovation to the company through human relations and education, and promote increases in sales and staff training. It was a job where we aimed to support people in realizing their dreams through education. It would have a positive effect for both the workers and the company, and through that revenue would increase, making both even happier. I thought that that was a fantastic stance, and so raised my hand and took part.
Croft： It seems you were entrusted with quite an important job there, so why did you decide to quit and come to Regions?
Chen： I joined Regions in 2016 when I was 26. Before that there were massive earthquake disasters in both Tainan and Tohoku, and I thought about how you can never tell what will happen or where in the world it will happen. It was fine being given an important position at a company like Uniqlo and doing meaningful work, but I wanted to go back to the start and do what I really wanted to do. I felt that I want to do the things that I would regret on my deathbed if I didn’t. And so I decided that I wanted to realize my original dream of working in Japan.
Croft： I see. How did you end up meeting Regions?
Chen： It was quite a coincidence, but it was due to one of my teachers from when I was in school. That teacher is a woman who is married to a Japanese man, and was living in Japan. And by chance she went to Region’s Sendai Office for career change consulting. There she was asked if she would like to try and work in the global business at Regions. However it was a bit too much for my teacher as she was married with children. Therefore she declined. She was then asked if she knew anyone else who might like the job, and she posted about it as an article on Facebook.
Croft： And then you saw that post I assume?
Chen： Yes. As soon as I saw it I send her a message saying that I wanted to apply. If I hadn’t happened to be looking at Facebook at the time then I would have missed my chance.
Croft： That’s pretty amazing! Did you have any concerns about working in Sapporo?
Chen： I had a friend in Sapporo and heard a lot about it from then, and I had also stayed in Sapporo for three days on a trip in the past, so I didn’t have any concerns about coming here. My biggest concern was that I would miss my chance. What about you Andrew?
Croft： When I was in university I went on exchange to Keio University for a year. Up until then I hadn’t thought too much about it, but after experiencing life in Japan while on exchange I felt that I’d like to live here. As a result I decided to work in Japan after graduation.
Chen： You originally got interest in Japan because of music games right?
Croft： That’s right, it was a music game that I played a lot while in secondary school. It was an online game and most of the songs were Japanese, and so I was able to make some Japanese friends through it. However as I couldn’t speak Japanese at the time, and my friends could only speak a modicum of English, it was hard to communicate. And so I got interested in studying Japanese, and the more I studied it the more interesting it became to me. Right at this time I was worrying about what I should major in at university, and so decided to major in Japanese and study the language properly. Of course at the time I had never imagined that upon graduation I would be living in Sapporo.
Chen： We actually held a presentation at your university didn’t we? You didn’t come to the presentation but took one of the leaflets we handed out and registered online.
Croft： That’s right. We had a Skype interview for about an hour, and the next day I had an email from you saying that Regions themselves would like to hire me, which was quite a surprise.
Chen： Afterwards Takaoka met with you while you were in Tokyo, held an interview, and it was decided on the spot that you would join the company right? Where you surprised by anything when you first came to Sapporo?
Croft： I’ve gotten a little more used to it, but I’m surprised by the amount of snow. I’m always watching my feet when I walk to make sure I don’t fall over. This kind of snowfall wouldn’t happen even once in a hundred years back in Liverpool. I think it’ll take a little more time for me to get completely used to it.
Chen： Why was it again that you got interested in working at Regions?
Croft： Originally I was interested in working in consulting. I wanted to do a job where you listen to your client’s concerns and present a method for overcoming them. The second reason is down to my own personal experiences. I was quite proactive in trying to find a job in Japan while being in England, but at the time I realized just how limited the options for working in Japan were. There are only a few chances a year to even apply to a company. There are a couple of career fairs but they are mainly aimed at Japanese exchange students living in the UK, and for us there tends to be no option other than English teacher. I wondered why that was. I thought that I’d like to help even just a little in increasing the options for working in Japan, and felt that by working at Regions I could change that current situation. How about you Chen? Which aspect of Regions were you drawn in by?
Chen： I’m the same as you Andrew. When I graduated university I couldn’t work in Japan, and so wanted to help students who, like me at the time, want to work in Japan. Also, up until then I had mainly done training jobs, such as HR, and was used to scales of 1 to 100 or 1 to 1000, but I felt it would be great instead to find a career which matches each individuals life and personality. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but I felt that I wanted to provide a place where they could utilize those strengths. Also one more reason is that I wanted to help companies who were having trouble in expanding abroad. I felt that I wanted to help companies grow. So I think it really is fate that I met with Regions.
Chen： What kind of business to you want to make the global business into in the future? What kind of world do you want to create through this business?
Croft： One of the long term objective of Regions is to expand to and set up offices in a number of countries, and contribute to creating an environment in each country where you can “work where you want to live”. In particular in the case of developed countries, like Japan people are concentrated in major cities, and we want to support people who which to move to more regional areas. In terms of the global business, I want use to expand our horizons further. For example I’d like to look for candidates in eastern and northern Europe. I want to help create a world where regardless of which country you live in, if you want to work in Japan then you have the opportunity to.
Chen： I’d also like to create a world where you can “work where you want to live”. In the global business we aim to fulfill foreign candidates’ desire to work in Japan, but in the future I’d also like to contribute to fulfilling other kinds of movement, such as from Japan to Taiwan or Japan to America, and would like to create a world where there are no borders to working. If I expand further then I’d like to create a world where, for example moving from Taiwan to America, if there is something that people want to do, then they can go there and do it. I also believe that the global business can contribute to furthering diversity in Japan, and provide stimulation to both companies and people. Looking at Japan as it is right now, it seems that opportunities to achieve your dreams are getting fewer and fewer, so I want to create a world where people can hold bigger dreams.
Chen： It’s only been a few months since you started working in Japan, but is there anything you’ve felt from actually working at Regions.
Croft： I think it’s a really comfortable place to work. There’s no strictness or excessive formality. In terms of systems too, things like flex time and working from home are fully implemented, and you can pick how you want to work, which I think is great. Also, there’s the sense of unity that you can only feel at a small-mid size company. However, in terms of something I hadn’t been expecting as an English person, I was surprised at just how many meetings there are. I don’t mean that I think that that is bad or anything, but in all honesty, I was surprised at the start. I am used to it now however.
Chen： I felt a strong sense of speed and urgency at the company. It’s been just over a year since we start the global business, but it was evolved quickly both quantitatively and qualitatively. I think we’ve done well to come so far in such a short time.
Croft： What do you think the reason for that is?
Chen： I believe its because we work close with the CEO. Ideas are evaluated quickly after being proposed. Also we constantly plan, execute, and look back. Something else I felt is that everyone working at Regions is extremely diligent. Not just in terms of work, but in their life too.
Croft： Was there anything you felt uncomfortable about?
Chen： Uncomfortable… hmmm… I wonder… I guess the fact that in Taiwan it’s a bit more relaxed and they don’t place a large important on formalities. But in Japan you have to do things like waiting bowing in front of the elevator door when you see off a client, or wait until their car goes out of sight. I felt a slight discomfort to that at the start. However now I understand that that is entirely an expression of gratitude towards your client. One more thing I guess is the fact that there is a difference between how you are on the outside and what you really think. In Taiwan you just say what you’re thinking as it is from the start, so I feel that in that way communication is done differently.
Croft： The fact that seating at meetings or in cars depends on company rank is also quite specific to Japan. In Japan we say “when in Rome do as the Romans do”, but when working in Japan you have to remember what your client looks out for and act accordingly. I feel that can be a little difficult. By the way Chen, if we were to introduce more people into the global business department in the future what kind of person would you like to work with?
Chen： Hmm… Perhaps someone who wants to seriously face both their own life and that of others. Also someone who wants to have a fulfilled work and private life and enjoy it to the fullest. Someone who is considerate to others and kind. Also, someone who is honest and doesn’t lie or deceive others. What about you Andrew?
Croft： Someone who is positive, proactive, and more than anything has both a strong interest and passion towards Japan. Someone who will share our vision of “working where you want to live”. Someone who wants to increase job opportunities in Japan for foreign workers. That’s the kind of person I want to work with. Also, someone who is sincere and imaginative. I’d like it if Regions could become a company where people of as many different backgrounds and nationalities as possible are working. I believe that it is precisely in an environment where people with a variety of values are gathered and exchange diverse opinions that innovation occurs. So I want people from all sorts of countries to come.
Croft： I believe that someone who wants do a job which helps people or contributes to society from a global perspective is suited to Regions.
Chen： Someone who wants to leave an impact on the world through their own deeds, both for companies and for people. Someone who can work hard by themselves, and has a strong volition is also suited for Regions. I felt that you were also that kind of person when I first met you Andrew.
Croft： I look forward to seeing what kind of new colleagues we will encounter in the future.
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