Reflections and Reason for Optimism on April Fool’s Day

—Kevin G. O’Leary

It has been almost a year and half since I returned to Fukuoka from Nagasaki.  I work in three different jobs now.   One is serving as executive vice-president and COO for K.E.I.  I am in charge of both the finance as well as the marketing strategy.  More title than commensurate pay at the moment though.  My other jobs are firstly, working for Watami Merchandising in the food processing plant.  I work Saturday through Wednesday from 11 PM to 4:30AM.  Some people tried to ridicule me for that.  But, in truth, I plan to work there for another two years until I go back to the US next time.   Last, but not least, I enjoy teaching some English classes for a friend’s school.

April 1st is not exactly April fools day in Japan, unless, of course you are truly a fool worthy of recognition.  The first of April is start of academic school year in Japan much like September is in the US.  In Japan, however, April is much more significant.  Companies sign on their new recruits and also commence their annual contracts with suppliers.  So the entire country here seems to stop everything the end of March and renew EVERYTHING in April.  They even switch their fashion to spring attire.  Out with the darker colors and into the donning of gay apparrel.  Lots of pink neckties the color of the cherry blossoms that will bloom the first half of the month.

I do not miss working in Huis ten Bosch one bit.  I do of course miss the great people I got to meet there.  Met my share of losers there too.  The first six months were far more productive than the last six months for me.   The biggest lesson I learned there being in management was how far behind Americans are in workplace maturity compared to our Japanese counterparts.  The English coaches who were initially brought in for individual events were wonderful and always exceeded our expectations.   The first set were spouses of military officers from the nearby US Navy base.  Most of them were college educated and teachers in their own right.  Unfortunately, we lost their interest and my boss hired someone from the base which perhaps history will tell was not an effective choice.  His intentions were certainly good.  We needed to find someone on the inside who could network and keep the pool of English coaches growing and stable.  Being on the other side of the gate, we did not have this insider capability.  But my boss did  not know the demographics and social systems of typical military families.   Being Japanese, my boss had no idea that it is not automatically natural for officer’s wives and enlisted wives to interact with each other on base and even off base.   He hired an extremely polarizing woman from the enlisted networking circle.  Consequently, she seemed to have a disdain for the more educated officer wives with superior educational backgrounds and most of them pretty much disappeared within a few short weeks if not days.  Our English coaching pools went from a highly skilled group of sophisticated to a group of people where very few had higher learning experience.  Our customers tended to be large groups from academic oriented schools and without the skills of the first group, there was a fair amount of awkward situations.  Against my objections, teenagers from the base were used quite a bit to fill requirements, thus kind of downgrading the programs in the eyes of the public.  Not to be misunderstood.  I am very fond of most of them.  They were all fine people, well raised and with bright futures ahead of them.

That said,  the people who were there on a daily basis certainly were a hell of a lot of extra work to babysit. Certainly, the coaches brought in just for an hour or two per event were head and shoulders above the everyday folks.  The crude woman hired from the base was given the title of “staff supervisor.”   Call a spade a spade here.  She was a self-promoting, back-stabbing, vicious bitch.  I had no idea, really.  In fact, I supported her to be brought in for further responsibilities.  My boss and I really liked three of the ladies who worked daily in the English Square including her.  But she insisted only she exclusively got the position and dissed her competition to be the sole individual candidate.  She was hired by my boss without much consultation from me but at that time I supported her in her goals not knowing her character.  She convinced the boss, that one member would be too young and immature and the other one from Guam was intellectually inferior and not a true native speaker of English.  Total nonsense.  She would call people already reserved on the program schedule and tell them they weren’t needed and replace them with people she wanted.  She was given an absolutely horrifying amount of power.  What was worse, she loaded her own teenage daughter on the schedule over others saying it was her  decision and hers alone and told our boss her daughter was the only one to be trusted.  Thankfully, her daughter was not really the monster her mom was.  But like many teens, she had issues with punctuality, workplace habits and other things.  I couldn’t safely remind her daughter of things to do and not do without getting the mom on a rampage to the boss about me mistreating her daughter.   So I had to overlook her daughter slouched in a chair on her I pod or phone and arriving sometime after her scheduled time.  I had a system, I just went to Monster Momma and said, “Yep, I guess its time for you do a walk around.”  I wouldn’t have to deal with workplace discipline that way. I know that no one would ever believe what I witnessed with my own eyes, so I You Tubed her trash talking. I learned that the camera on my Iphone was in the perfect place just above my pocket opening and the recording quality is very good for a phone. I got some funny things too on that Iphone, like one of our young interns hungover taking a morning bath in the coffee shop sink. The interns weren’t bad, just young and amusing at times.

Nothing compared to that woman’s arrogance and paranoia in the workplace. At a minimum:

She insisted on bringing her 5-year-old to work almost every day

talked trash about others directly to CEO

formed cliques on the job

became the queen of workplace mobbing

So, in spite of the fact I was the second person hired and a 部長 or senior manager, I could not do a darn thing and her behavior was severely impacting my ability to perform even my individual responsibilities.

Was my time at Huis ten Bosch  total hell?  Was it total waste of one year of my life?  Of course not.  Although, I didn’t really agree with my the management style of our president, I owe him a debt of gratitude for an enriching experience.  And I think Monster Momma for showing me that people like that really do exist and just on TV.

One example, At Huis ten Bosch, I was able to participate in providing English language practice to large pools of visitors enabled me to test, develop and refine many methods that I just could not without a decent quorum of learners.  When we did our big one hour program for schools, it was a big quick money-maker, too.  We got away with paying one-fifth of the intake for the coaches as each of 100 students paid 1500 yen a piece for an hour and the and 20 coaches needed only got 1000 yen.  Subtract 20000 yen from 150000 yen and you get a happy boss.  130000 yen gross profit for an hour program.  It was such a good model, it is being tried here too.

When I returned, I was able to make some changes and put a rudimentary travel English textbook together designed for a 15 hour course that I was doing for resort English .  Spending a year away from Fukuoka was a positive boost for me as it actually raised my profile significantly.  I am teaching people now who were introduced by customers I met at Huis ten Bosch and I am more than 2 hours away here!   Another project we never were able to get off the ground was the Empowering English teacher training seminar.  I actually was able to do a mini-version in Fukuoka this past summer.

I think overall what one should take away from any job experience that each experience better prepares you for your future.  If I never went to Huis ten Bosch, I would hate to imagine where I would be today if I just stayed with status quo in Fukuoka.  Things in the business have been bad for years.  Now thanks to seeing what I can put into practice here, our family business here Fukuoka is successful again for the first time in almost a dozen years.

I feel empowered.  Today, I am enjoying chopping cabbage at my part-time job, doing a few a classes for others and being EVP for Kebunsha-O’Leary Gaigo.  April 1st is the new year.  It won’t be a fool year.

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