Recently, you have taken up your job as new head of Swiss Business Hub Japan. What were your reasons to come to Japan?
I would say I had both personal and professional reasons. I lived and worked for a total period of nearly 18 years in North-East Asia, ten years in China and eight years in Korea. During these times, I learned about the culture, the people and I particularly admired the dynamism of the region. When I had the opportunity of moving to Tokyo, I didn’t hesitate to take up this challenge. My stay in this country will allow me to somehow complete my experience in this very vibrant region of the world. After having worked in China, I was also keen to go back to a major economy in the world that is still attracting many exporters from Switzerland.
What does the Swiss Business Hub Japan actually do?
The Swiss Business Hub as part of the Embassy of Switzerland represents Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) in Japan. On behalf of the Swiss Confederation and the Swiss cantons, S-GE promotes exports from Switzerland and direct investments from Japan by helping its clients to realize new potential for their international businesses and thus to strengthen Switzerland as an economic hub. Our job consists in supporting Swiss companies to enter or to expand into the Japanese market and informing Japanese companies about the key advantages that Switzerland can offer as a location for European headquarters, R&D center etc. Our goal will be to make aware Swiss entrepreneurs not yet present in this market of interesting opportunities and at the same time to support players already active in Japan in expanding their business.
Where do you see the current opportunities with regard to your tasks?
Japan is Switzerland's fourth largest export market and Switzerland is ranking in Japan as number 6 in foreign direct investment. Swiss innovative and quality products are extremely well received. Thus, the existing potential in Japan for Swiss exporters is considerable. I see particularly opportunities related to the digitalization, where Japan can be considered a sort of hotspot in this frame. Automatization, including robots, is used more and more not only in the industry, but also in domestic households. Japan is one of the major players in the world in this industrial revolution. Particularly, we are also focusing our activities in the promotion of disruptive tech sectors such as Fintech and Healthcare tech.
Regarding export promotion, where do you see the challenges?
To find the best possible way to help Swiss companies overcome the lack of knowledge about Japan both in terms of the market such as competitors, rules and regulations, distribution channels etc. and in terms of culture covering quality expectation, communication style, the concept of harmony, time.
Could you give us a recent example for this?
One recent client, an innovative electronic component company, sold its products through a distributor in Japan but had some quality management issues. It could not always meet the customer requirements. A staff member of SBHJ accompanied the responsible engineer flown in from Switzerland to Japan and the distributor to meet the customer who needed an explanation.
The SBHJ helped both in communication (intercultural interpretation) and trust/relationship building. In the meantime, the Swiss company established a Japanese legal entity (also with the support of the SBHJ), found a local general manager (ditto), and is developing further its customer basis.
Regarding promotion of Japanese investments in Switzerland, what are your objectives here?
Switzerland is benefiting from an excellent image in Japan as a tourist destination and for the quality and reliability of its products. At the same time, the knowledge in Japan that Switzerland is an ideal location in Europe for international companies is somehow lacking in Japan. A big part of our activities in investment promotion consists of awareness building, with the organization of seminars, workshops or publication of articles and individually meeting companies.
Do you see any current trends in this realm?
There is an increasing interest from sectors such as life-sciences, fintech or cryptocurrencies: our challenges consist of identifying those potentially interested companies and informing about the advantages that Switzerland can offer as a business location in Europe.
It is a fact that many Japanese companies need to internationalize their activities in order to survive in the competitive globalized world. The shrinking of the Japanese population is another incentive for many companies to expand their market beyond Japan’s borders.
You have done the same job for Switzerland Global Enterprise from China and South Korea before. What is different in Japan?
In terms of export promotion, the objective is similar in every country: informing the Swiss companies about opportunities, challenges, regulations and eventually finding local business partners. The differences exist mainly in the business culture and business approach. For example, in China, it was easier for us to speak directly to high ranking managers of big corporations.
This was much more difficult in Korea due to the extremely hierarchical system in the corporate world and due to the dominance of the very big conglomerates. I am still in a learning curve in Japan and for me it is very helpful to see and to understand what approaches SCCIJ members are adopting in order to tackle this market.
You have now experienced the Swiss business community in Japan. What are your impressions so far, also in comparison to China and South Korea?
I have been living here in Japan for four months now and during this short time, I have made just a few first impressions. Despite the differences between China, Korea and Japan, my experience in this part of the world is helping me in being on the fast track to learn the specific aspects of the Japanese business culture, such as the importance of gaining the trust of our business partners and the importance of negotiating with an assertive and determined approach but not in a hard manner.
I had the opportunity to meet several representatives of the Swiss business community who have been extremely helpful to me in helping to understand their challenges but also what Japan can offer to Swiss exporters. Also, I am personally still at the beginning of the learning curve but fortunate in being supported by an extremely professional team of Japanese colleagues. At the same time with my team we would be very happy to discuss issues the SCCIJ might have and help them wherever we could.
Mr. Claudio Mazzucchelli, Head of Swiss Business Hub Japan, can be reached via email@example.com.
This interview was conducted by the Swiss Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan (SCCIJ) and was first published on 15 January 2018 on the SCCIJ website.