“I never thought it would matter,” said Martin, the Director of Customer Services, during our meeting. “All I tried to do was save the company money by eliminating an expensive position not crucial to our operations.” This response is very common in a business world driven by quarterly reports that must show constant growth to the shareholders. Unfortunately, not all positions are created equal.
Christopher is dual citizen of the United States and Japan. He is bilingual and married to a Japanese woman. He has lived in Tokyo for 15 years and is now the outstanding customer service liaison representative for a Fortune 500 company. When Martin came onboard, he brought Christopher and his family back to Seattle, and made Marie, a Filipino woman who resides in Singapore, the new liaison for the company's Japanese client. Christopher tried to explain to his new boss that this was a bad idea for several cultural reasons. However, Martin could not take his eyes off the bottom line. He thought Christopher’s arguments were bogus and a way to stay in a privileged position in Japan.
Seven weeks into the new arrangement, Marie called Martin to say a very large client in Tokyo was leaving them. Marie was in a panic and did not know what to do. Should she book a flight and go visit the client? But if she went to Tokyo, what would she say to them? She barely knew the client and did not speak Japanese. Moreover Marie was aware that Japanese businessmen don’t hold female executives in high regard. Marie asked if Christopher could step in and salvage the relationship. Martin did not want to do this, as he feared bringing Christopher back would validate Christopher’s claims with regard to Japanese cultural preferences. Hmm, what to do? Let’s call Valérie and see what she suggests...
Valérie suggested sending Christopher back to Japan as soon as possible. Having switched the customer liaison on the highly regarded Japanese client was perceived as an insult. And while people in the United States tend to be politically correct and are reluctant to state their dislikes for a specific gender or ethnicity, Japanese feel no such reluctance. Taking the account from the hands of a perfectly bilingual Japanese‐American man to place it in the hands of a Filippino woman who does not speak Japanese and live in Tokyo was a slap in the face to the client, something that would need to be remedied immediately.
With good intentions, Martin had nonetheless put a million dollar account in jeopardy.
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