I was so excited to have attended the Opening Ceremony of Hitachi Rail’s Newton Aycliffe Factory last week. Hitachi Global CEO Alistair Dormer, George Osbourne and Prime Minister David Cameron spoke proudly of the massive boost for the regional economy, for British manufacturing and of course for the “northern powerhouse”.
The wonderful shadow puppetry performance highlighted the historical connection of the NE to train building-on a tour we were shown how the factory is built a mere metres away from Heighington Station where Stephenson’s Loco 1 was first assembled and many references were made to how train manufacturing was coming home. Indeed a very emotional and proud day for the NE & a perfect fit of Japanese Technology with British manufacturing. It was also a great day Japan UK Business Understanding.
Many of the engineers I spoke to had been out to Japan and undertaken Japanese style training there and although Hitachi Rail has shifted around its management structure to reflect a more localised structure in a globalising world, the roots of Hitachi Rail are still Japanese and will hopefully be celebrated and further Japan UK links will be developed within the local community too.
What was not so evident in the overall ceremony was that upon listening to the speeches of Japanese Ambassador Hayashi and Hitachi CEO Nakanishi san, there was a sense of a slightly more sentimental and long-term Japanese view towards business-worth taking note of for any businesses wishing to deal with the Japanese.
They both spoke of how Hitachi Rail’s commitment to the UK is in some sense “returning the favour” granted by the British people towards the Choshu 5-a pioneering delegation of Japanese who came over and studied in the UK 150 years ago and took their knowledge about rail manufacturing back to Japan, one of whom became the “Father of the Japanese Railway” and contributed to the immensely successful development of their railway system. There were poignant comparisons between the first Hitachi engineer having arrived in Southampton and who then travelled up north to the recent arrival of the first pre-series Class 800 Hitachi Rail train for the Intercity Express Programme, which did a similar journey from Southampton up to the north in March this year.
These key factors of doing business with Japan that came up-a shared history and trust, returning “favours” and honouring obligations, all oil the cogs of Japan Inc. although they do have very cultural different manifestations and are not as simplistic as just doing someone a favour and getting business back. Nakanishi san’s declaration that Hitachi takes a long-term view and are here to stay is typical of the longevity of business relationships that are carefully nurtured and preferred by the Japanese. Although building up trust within these relationships can be slow and frustrating, it can, as we have seen in the case of Hitachi Rail, who have committed fully to the UK market and are one of the few Japanese companies to base their Global HQ here, result in a reliable commitment quite rare in an uncertain business world.