The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

BOOKS | REVIEW

JANUARY 2015

Breaking the Mold

The Japanese company that insists on doing things its own way

By Vicki L. Beyer

Book
Many readers will remember the heady days of bubble-era Japan. In those days, books on the excellence and effectiveness of Japanese business practices were plentiful and popular. These days, it is much more unusual, almost refreshing, to find a recently published book on Japanese business.

It could be argued that David W. Russell’s Good Risks: Discovering the Secrets to ORIX’s 50 Years of Success is not a book on Japanese business at all. Russell himself says his is a book about the key elements of successful globalization.

Indeed, in this slim volume that is part travelogue/part interview notes, Russell takes the reader with him as he learns about the existence of this “completely independent global financial services group.”

Russell’s journey starts with some of the company’s US affiliates, followed by travels around the world to further acquaint himself—and his audience—with the ORIX DNA that makes this enterprise thrive.

When Russell first hears about a “Japanese company I’ve barely heard of [that] owns a big chunk of one of the top investment banks in the United States and also a mid-sized hedge fund in New York,” he wants to know more. He gains an introduction to the CEO of one of these ORIX Group companies, and learns that ORIX “is an unusual company regardless of nationality.”

Rather than acquiring companies and running them its own way, the Group’s strategy is finding partners that already have strong fundamentals—such as management, client base, reputation, and growth potential—and supporting them, rather than exerting undue control from headquarters.

From New York, Russell travels to Dallas, site of the US headquarters of ORIX, then on to Dublin, the global center of aircraft leasing—a key component of ORIX’s core business. He then bounces to Sydney and Singapore before finally reaching Tokyo, the global headquarters of the ORIX Group.

Along the way, he picks up pieces of the ORIX puzzle, learning about its attitudes and business practices, all the while becoming more curious about this quiet achiever.

As Japanese companies go, ORIX is quite young, having been founded in the 1960s. Its roots are in B2B equipment leasing, which is also a relatively recent field of business.

Perhaps this contributes to the company’s ability to go its own way and not be hampered by notions of Japanese business protocol.

It seems ORIX was fortunate in its early days to have leaders who were educated in the United States and had limited experience in traditional Japanese companies. After all, it’s easier to break out of a mold you don’t know exists in the first place.

Russell learns that ORIX has never been afraid to look for opportunities and take calculated risks: good risks, as the preferred terminology goes. It developed an innovative form of business in Japan, cultivating keen local talent.

Its international expansion has involved partnering with locals knowledgeable in their home market. ORIX has made mistakes and had setbacks along the way, but it ultimately has learned from those missteps and been empowered to seek further success as a result.

Russell ends his journey at a baseball game in Osaka featuring the ORIX Buffaloes. At the game, he is briefly joined by Yoshihiko Miyauchi, ORIX’s visionary CEO, whom he had interviewed just days before.

Russell gives Miyauchi the literal last word in the book by including an epilogue penned by him. Miyauchi further emphasizes ORIX’s distinct character when he denies that it is a “one-man” company, and instead focuses on its corporate DNA, a recurring and key theme in understanding this Japanese version of a global company.

Vicki-new

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Vicki L. Beyer completed four years as an ACCJ vice president on December 31, 2014.

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