Jack’s Challenge: Sumiko’s Dilemma

general article writing


Jack's Challenge: Sumiko's Dilemma Nicholas Athanassiou Northeastern University Jeanne M. McNett Assumption College

In his first month as president of a U.S.-Japan joint venture (JV) in the food sector, Jack had restructured the joint venture's management team and terminated the di rector of finance, Mike Jarone. It hadn't taken him long to realize that Jarone did very little that contributed to the company's success; he had delegated most of his responsibilities to the office secretary, a Japanese woman named Sumiko.

Jack and his wife had had a rough beginning in Tokyo. After 4 weeks, they were ready to pack it in. His wife had expected the local job market to welcome her, as it had in other countries that were tough markets for professional women, such as Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Yet, despite good connections and courtesy interviews with such solid companies in Tokyo as Mitsubishi and Hitachi, she had received no offers. Everything was polite, but every discussion seemed to dissolve into social pleasantries and lead nowhere.

In these first 4 weeks, Jack had found himself unable to get Sumiko to complete a single assignment. She was polite, but she stonewalled every request. Jack was un used to this sort of behavior from a subordinate, and he was puzzled. He knew that harmony was important to many Japanese, and that taking time to plan and work out implementation strategies was important to his colleagues there, but he also wanted to get his office up and running to meet the challenges he had set with cor porate headquarters for the joint venture. If he needed to find a new secretary, he wanted to do so quickly. He decided to ask for advice from the most senior Japa nese manager in the company. Shin Tomoda, the JV's director of sales, advised Jack to wait it out. He predicted that as soon as Jarone left, Sumiko would devote her energies to Jack's assignments, and they would be completed within the deadlines. Jack also learned from Shin that Sumiko was supervising Jarone's move from Japan to Seattle and tying up his and his wife's business and personal affairs in Tokyo closing their bank accounts, negotiating the termination of their apartment lease, making arrangements to have the apartment professionally cleaned and even super vising the cleaning, arranging to have their personal and family goods packed, get ting his cats transported to the United States, closing his business and social club

Copyright 2001 by Nicholas Athanassiou and Jeanne McNett. Reprinted with permission

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