Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Popping the Question

I struggled to think of a more inappropriate name for this blog, it was about a personal meets professional dilemma I face which revolves around Misaki and I was trying to think of something clever that something like TIME magazine or The Economist would use, and I thought of them 'the Japan question' sort of article headlines, and then i thought 'the misaki question' and then thought why not up the ante, so sorry to those that got excited by the relatively boring prospect of me having a lifestyle change into some kind of pussy whipped pussy, but sadly no, but you do get some insight into the creative process behind some of these creative blog titles.
No my question is much tougher than something romantic such as the notion of life lived together, consented to under the duress of public humiliation. Instead it is simply this, I have accumulated some knowledge of business over the years, through reading, studying, thinking and work experience. Misaki is just heading into her professional career, already experiencing the personal cost of being a working woman.
Namely some months ago we ended our relationship on account of her career path railroading her future.
This places me in an awkward position, and ethically I don't know what to do.
So I'm asking you what do I do?but first some specifics.
Miki left her course in Australia to return to Japan to work for Japan's number one Jewellery retailer, the attractive part of this internship is that her mother owns a famous as I'm lead to believe Jewellery shop in Shizuoka. Misaki will take over in a supporting role to her sister at the end of her internship. Suffice to say their is significant emotional investment in this career path, indeed a lot of Miki's emotional identity is wrapped up in it.
That being said, her current internship is for a company that pays a whopping $700 a month, based in Shikoku, initially in Tokushima, which is roughly the same population as Ballarat Australia, but much more 'countryside' and about as rural backwater as Japan gets.
So cynical tohm would infer, that a core component of said Jewellery guru's strategy is, to hire increadibly cheap labor (possibly criminally cheap) and then operate a direct sales model (ie. door to door) in one of Japan's neichingest markets. I have heard little to substantiate that this guy has more to offer in business saviness than this cost control model he has developed. And furthermore the little feedback I recieved from Miki was that it operated on the Win-Lose quick kill mentality of target chasing short term.
Bitter pills? well that's what I worry about. Let me compound it though.
The little insight I have into Misaki's mum's business leaves me unassured that it itself is a good business model, nor that there is any real ability in the business to allow it to survive through any means but dumb luck.
Specifically, Miki's mother needs to retire at some point and as such most of her loyal customers will retire from buying from her as she is the 'sales expert' this is however a vote in favor of her daughters and the trusted name taking over. (Yet no excuse for a poor business practice of indespensibility to begin with). The key crises they believe they are facing is a failure to attract new customers. (yet cannot state this problem in any other means but a solution)
However another problem is that the experienced sales staff seem to have an irrational problem with working for the next generation, the daughters because of their inexperience and complete abscence of knowledge of how to run a business. So a large threat looming is that they not only lose their key expert but the supporting cast as well. And like most industries, large scale chains seem to be gradually conquering the market putting the squeeze on independant retailers.
And on a personal level, the mother's own sister was hostiley bought out of the business and Miki feels a need to support her own sister as she due to the long ours of retail work here has had no time to start her own life and meet a guy, have a baby and so forth.
So that's the picture, and due to my skewed personal bias, I have chosen not really to intervene or even offer comment as I know how unpopular this can be in a relationship.
Yet without coming across as a pussy, is it worthwhile me communicating my below concerns/observations/recommendations to Misaki?

1. A family run business is a dangerous thing, despite some well known examples from the days of yore, generally a family business model doesn't work in the modern day and age, due to the successful ones usually being trade jobs and only family members having the priveledge of the trade's education, however in an age of standardised service chains and companies providing their own aftermarket service outlets in the pursuit of margin (such as car company branded dealers) they have generally fallen into decline and disrepute.
The art of sales having become science, and taught and trained well by various professional institutions there is not much competitive advantage to a family retail name. Furthermore underpinning all of this is basic knowledge, to draw from a gene pool restricted to one's own progeny, one is highly unlikely to place the best person for the job by excluding the rest of the population, particularly when this involves excluding tried and tested staff in favor of blood.
An example of a successful sustainable family business is Du Pont which gauruntees Du Pont family members an entry level position, however to progress up the chain of command, one has to be adjudicated by a panel of non-family employees and approved as exceeding in ability all other candidates. A form of internal quality control, because to assume that a family name is a preferable quality to say 10 years experience and a proven track record isn't stupid, it is simply placing one's personal interests ahead of that of organisational responsibilty, and that is above all else unethical management.
SO on the first grounds, Miki's business has a bleak future if the people decisions (some of the most difficult and consequential decisions any manager ever makes) are based on hollow sentiment. This means a company is exarcerbating a weakness (lack of experience) and needlessly discarding strenght (experience and customer relationships) its like deliberately taking ten steps back, and all this in a time of crises.

2. I have to assume, Misaki wants this career path and is not making this decision under duress or emotional bullying, her own personal value she can bring to the company (apart from her sales experience as door to door) is questionable. It is questionable because the business model employed by her boss is fundamentally flawed. By employing inexperienced staff he reduces his risk (wages) under the guise of internships he can pay them subsistence wages, probably obtaining as close to free labor as one can get.
I wouldn't stop short of believing that most of the companies employees are further subsidised with rent and/or petrol by their parents all to benifit from the learning opportunity.
But good business is generic, the problems of business profit and management are generic, porter devised the 5 forces as a linear generic method of analysing a given industry to understand how the game was played and now game theory makes industry analysis a relatively accessible exercise for all.
Thus said, looking at a successful jewellery business may by as usefull as looking at a successful bakery, the same business principles can be applied to a business in another industry, all it requires is a fundamental knowledge of your industry.
To compound this, unless you can replicate the problem you cannot expect to replicate the solution.
Miki is unlikely to be able to pay subsistence wages to her own workforce and demand the same output as a fulltime dedicated and experienced employee, largely because a regular member of the workforce wouldn't stand for it.
But by reducing his own labor expenses current boss can tolerate a higher advertising investment, a slower stockturn rate, in all he can apply far more risk elsewhere, risking more stock and so whilst whipping his staff into an exhaustive frenzy.
From my own experience generally as a commission only salesrep I knew that for my own $50 commission it usually meant my company was gaurunteed $150, it was no risk to employ as many sales reps as it could pull of the street and simply knock as many doors as possible. Virtually the only hitch was the client having an SLA of certain degree of penetration or 'positive churn' in an area, so failing to sell we got more annoying in the same area as the inexperienced reps 'burned' walks (the process where a bad rep barely talks to anyone and generates no leads, so he knocks all the doors on the streets he is assigned) so there was a degree of risk but not enough to prevent the company on loading up on as many sales reps it could fit in a bus and send out for 10 hour days 6 days a week to try and bring in a good $3-4k a day by knocking pure dumb luck.
And as such I could not apply any of my learnings (apart from some basic sales theory) to my job in sales at Honda, that needed to build long term profitable relationships.
The transferable skills where minimal. I suspect if you take a business model and don't reevaluate the basic assumptions or conditions, it is doomed to failure. If you do reevaluate the basic assumptions or conditions, you conclude you may aswell earn some decent money working at a bakery in civilization somewhere.
As such, I worry that Misaki as expert is not a viable strategy for overcome the crises of 'no new customers'

3. The bosses new business venture exposes his relative inexperience as a business man, from a poor marketing theme (too much creativity, not enough mnemonic appeal), poor positioning strategy (middle market on a high involvement purchase decision) and furthermore not really putting any investment into launching the new store.
As such business is starting slowly and suspiciously, its apparantly the first time a business like it has been tried (so one can appluad the risk element) however such enterprises often fold, nor does it seem to be the kind of experiment such as the London perfume and makeup store that arranged its merchandising by colour tones, and sents rather than by brand. A spectrum merchandising strategy if you will, run purely as an experiment to test the changing market conditions in consumer preferences.
This however seems to be a cake and eat it too strategy, and the same pressure to produce sales is being applied despite the distinctive lack of selling opportunities (think of a mercedes dealer in Bendigo demanding a sale from every staff member before they go home each night, just not going to happen).

4. Misaki sighted her motivations to support her sister in allowing her to 'get a life' that is relieve enough work load to allow her to go on dates, form meaningful relationships and have a future.
This to me has overlooked two things.
A) her sister chose the relatively 'low risk' (highest risk of all) career path of entering the family business. A relatively safe way to overcome having to sell yourself to a different company, and thus should take responsibility for her own predicament (though accepting of course that Misaki may have an emotional investment in her mother's business aswell)
B) to allow this, Miki has given up her own life effectively doubling the problem before trying to solve it, so in simple terms just moving the problem around. She has given up her relationship, moved to a backwater, working too long hours to form meaningful relationships with anyone and so fourth.
I am highly skeptical that infact Misaki will have any success at freeing up anyones time, remember that her mother still has to retire aswell and they may be loosing their experienced employees.
From my perspective given what I know, and have observed thus far, Misaki's support is to her own pure detriment and of superficial benifit to her sister, long term it will probably cost both of them their lives. (not in the lethal sense, but in the dreams and aspirations sense).

So that being that, I realise that Miki has said loud and clear, no matter how shitty this career path may seem to me, she prefers it to building a relationship with me. ALbeit one can never assume the level of ignorance or naivety one makes this decisions at.
I realise my predicament in that I can only find myself guilty and her innocent no matter how grounded I may seem. It just seems to me, that I would perhaps be remiss in my ethical duty as a manager, to not point out these areas of concern to someone who may not have considered them. Furthermore I am not the only loser from this situation, Misaki's friends and networks here have also lost out, including best friends and such.
The only person that seems to have gained is Miki's family, who communicate so often and freely and easily through channels I seem to never be able to use, to indicate an indecisive chat fest incapable of even effective communication.
SO what do I do or say? DO I continue trying to minimise the emotional cost of her decision and play nice guy say nothing tohm?
DO I tell her to her face what a bucket of shit she is lugging around all the while thinking it is a golden ticket to willy wonkas chocolate factory?
ANd if so how do I tell her, there are deep seated cultural values here that I know don't react in an open and gratefu way to such feedback, but are still susceptible to the ultimate feedback of reality.

DO I just put it down on paper and hand it to her and let her know the decision on whether to read it or not lies with her.
For me it is relatively low risk, as we are probably talking about grosse 3 hours of catchup in the rest of my life I may cost myself here, for her though it could be a confidence shattering bout of needless second doubts.

Where I've been coming from was to say, let her find out for herself, live her own life, I'll be fine don't worry attitude, but increasingly I feel like if I know something, or feel I know something I should communicate it.
All this is based on observed behaviours, and behaviour is hard to lie about. What I infere may be innacurate but I really, really don't know how to weigh up the costs.
So I guess that's the misaki question.
What do I do knowning what I 'know'

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