I had always done a lot of reading on Japan. I came across Tom Nevins’s Japan Times books, and was impressed. I could tell from what I read that Tom was solving practical problems for his clients in new and creative ways.
Tom’s firm, TMT, recruited our first Japanese Representative Director (RD), the leader of our Japanese subsidiary. The individual that TMT placed with us was instrumental to our success in Japan, filling a key role at Catapult for eight years until his recent retirement.
More recently, in the fall of 2002, we asked TMT to help us with a staff reduction when Catapult acquired a direct competitor, the Tekelec Network Diagnostic Business. Once the acquisition closed, our people in both operations were uneasy, and wanted to know where they stood. We had to move very quickly, and the entire staff reduction was successfully completed within less than two weeks after getting in touch with Tom Nevins.
The severance packages we offered were fair but still very reasonable by Japanese norms. The entire process was conducted in a manner that was totally transparent to all participants, and everyone was reassured that there would be no special deals or one-on-one negotiations.
We fully used Tom’s approach of speaking directly at a group meeting to all employees. Tom helped us work out the plan, create the letters of separation, organize the logistics, and manage the event itself. On the day that the meetings were held, our Japan RD, Tom, and myself, all made presentations, followed by an ample question period. Lunch together for the morning session Catapult employees, and evening food and drinks for the afternoon session of former Tekelec employees, were a nice way to conclude both events.
Tom helped us manage this process efficiently, yet with consideration and sincerity. We had to reduce about one-half of our total Japanese headcount. People were in a hurry to move on with their lives, so we asked them to honor a three-day signing deadline, which all of them did. There was not a single holdout or delayed signing.
The layoff process is never easy, and the less considerate, less creative, but perhaps more typical method of having to talk to people leaving on an individual basis is definitely a risky, time consuming task, one that most managers do not look forward to. In the Japanese cultural environment, the chance of having a complete success using this more traditional method is slim. While no one can guarantee that any solution to this difficult problem will be a complete success every time, in our case, Tom’s approach was both unique and 100% effective. You literally have to see Tom in action to believe it.
Probably, our Japanese RD summarized it best in the following note he sent to Tom shortly after the entire process concluded:
Once again, thank you very much for your strong efforts. You made a difficult task look very easy. Your well-thought-out plan paid off beautifully. Also, I was quite impressed with your impassioned way of getting your message across in Japanese. You are really something. I look forward to the next opportunity to work with you. Thanks.
Dr. Richard A. Karp
President (and Founder)