Courage is Important

FUJIFILM operates in various business domains – graphic arts, medical systems, photo imaging, optical devices and digital camera equipment and, recently, Astalift skin care products. The economic situation, changing markets and digitalization all have an impact on these business domains. “We need to re-invent ourselves and we have to adjust: to develop new products for new markets.”

A conversation with Hideru Sato, Manager of Corporate Planning and Loes de Boer, Head of European HR from FUJIFILM Europe GmbH, Düsseldorf, Germany

What is a difference between Japanese people and European people? 
“First of all, the Japanese people are not all the same, which is also true for European people. But generally speaking, the Japanese are closed in their communication style. We do not tend to express our own feelings, we hesitate and if possible we even avoid expressing them. In the Japanese community we understand each other without this explicit expression of feelings and opinions. We are aware that our partners in other countries are often used to a different communication style. The Japanese that work on an international basis therefore have to learn to be alert to communicate precisely and to explicitly express expectations, opinions and feelings, because otherwise it may lead to mutual misunderstandings.”

How do the Japanese look to leadership?
“Traditionally Japanese leaders used to be moderate, trying to find out how to support the company in the best way. But now we have to change drastically, because of our changing market position. Strong leadership is now required. This is also an important point in our HR strategy. We need a strong attitude, which is reflected in our leadership styles. Courage is now really important, the courage to start and to achieve something new. It means that we continuously have to challenge our known, existing way of working. We should not be reluctant to try something new and to change ourselves.”

What can the Europeans learn from Japan?
“The Japanese have a tendency to feel responsible not only for their own task or position, but for the company as a whole. It is more or less natural to work in the same direction and to share the same objectives. In the past we had mainly Japanese members in key positions, but over the years our business scale and the variety of our businesses increased so much that currently globalization is an important topic and we appoint European staff to key management positions. In the European context it is sometimes really difficult to share a direction because so many different opinions are involved. It is each time important to listen to the different opinions and to find a win-win situation. Nevertheless, the design of the future direction should be clear and understandable for everyone, in order to enable all employees to support this direction. We need our high professional and qualified people in order to keep our business on a healthy level and we need to take them along in order to fight the big challenges that we are facing. In this context self-reflection is important: a continuous check whether one is not stuck too much in the routine of the day to have an open mind for the challenges that will come our way.”

William Strobbe, Director De Baak Belgium (

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