Building bridges across nations

Building bridges across nations

Building bridges across nations

Neoteric Nirmla Junko, a young entrepreneur from Bengaluru, is making her mark in the Land of the Rising Sun, discovers M A Siraj.

Nirmala Junko has many firsts to her credit. She is the first Indian woman to hold a Japanese citizenship. She also happens to be the first Indian woman to graduate from Hosei University in an MBA programme in innovation management. Perhaps, she is also the first and the only Indian woman to have authored books in Japanese. Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Nirmala is the founder and CEO president of Green Japan Limited, a portal that provides a platform to companies specialising in green and clean technology.

Having been in Japan for nearly 15 years, Nirmala has advised more than 70 Japanese companies about Indian market, has held seminars in Japanese promoting Indian market amongst Japanese companies and provided consultancy to countless companies. And to boot, Nirmala is a columnist in Toyo Keizai, a 117-year old publication on Japanese politics and economy. Currently, she is also an advisor to Deloitte.

Life has certainly been a roller-coaster ride for Nirmala. Initially in Japan on an assignment to plan programmes for an IT college in Tokyo, she enrolled into the MBA course after three years. This programme took her to about 100 small and medium enterprises looking into product innovation, quality and cost management, manufacturing process, materials and conceptualisation of products. It was only then that she saw an opportunity in connecting these technology companies and businesses to India.

While acquiring citizenship in Japan, an individual has to have at least a part of his/her name in Japanese language.

Nirmala opted for Junko, which is synonymous with her name. She didn’t know a word of Japanese, but Nirmala decided to take the plunge when she got her first job there. “I had to learn quickly. During weekends, I used to travel all through Japan to learn about places and culture. Then, I bought books for self study. Since we Indians can learn any language with ease, I picked up on spoken Japanese within the first year itself. However, I still struggle with reading and writing Kanji script, even after publishing three books in Japanese,” she says.

Once out of university, Nirmala invested every single available moment understanding Japan and the Japanese for the next one decade. She says Japanese are brought up with a mindset to achieve perfection and precision and never to hurt or harm others. They believe in constant learning and readjusting to changed contexts. Be it the Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombing, 1973 Middle East Oil Shock or 1911 Fukushima Quake, they learn to absorb, survive and take all that comes into their stride. They are non-confrontational, don’t know how to say ‘No’, believe in group decision-making, are most hard-working people in the world and the CEOs have no definite place on the factory or office floor - they could be seen working with any employee and are earliest to arrive and last to leave.

Japanese women, says Nirmala, are lux-aholic, a term that may explain their insatiable covetousness for luxury and branded goods. “Japan accounts for 35 percent of worldwide Louis Vuitton sales. Women drive purchases of luxury branded goods. Japan itself accounts for 40 percent of the worldwide revenue in global luxury branded goods market. Women’s changing attitudes and values are paramount to understanding today’s luxury branded goods market. And this spurs women’s presence in the workforce,” she adds.

Nirmala may well be described as a ready reckoner for people interested in cross-border business with Japan. According to Nirmala, Japanese technology is all about material innovation and process orientation. Japanese companies stand for their branding, quality and sustainable products. There are companies that are continuum of 700-year old business
organisations and have been consistently profitable. Japan has no natural resources, but the Japanese have the uncanny ability to tap into the consumer needs and orient their production lines to fulfill those needs.

All praise for Japanese work culture, Nirmala spent months together observing from close quarters the workers and their work. She relates an instance as to how the workers in a shoe factory struck work to press for their demands. They simply worked on manufacturing only a single shoe of the pair (only for one foot). Thus, the production remained on course, but the company couldn’t pack and send the shoe for sales. The company was then compelled to come to the negotiating table. Similarly, the Japanese do not offer excuses. If trains or buses get delayed - in itself a rarity - the train stations issue exit tickets recording the delay, which can be submitted at the workplace.

So much work and no respite - isn’t the Japanese lifestyle stressful? “No,” Nirmala says, “they work with zeal and full concentration during week days, but devote equal amount of time to entertainment and rejuvenation during weekends. Every single individual pursues a hobby and sets aside considerable time to nurture it.”

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