The vaccination dilemma facing Japanese CEOs

This time, a year ago, Yuji Kuroiwa, the governor of the Japanese prefecture of Kanagawa, attempted a light pun in the face of a terrifying new disease, an economic spasm and life-changing restrictions.

He suggested that the normally happy ‘golden week’ of national holidays in early May should be renamed “amusing week ”for 2020 – a reference to Japan’s cherished quality of unflappable and blameless perseverance. A year later, as the Golden Week 2021 was about to begin, infections on the rise, the country in a renewed state of emergency and less than 3% of the Japanese population receiving the first dose of the vaccine, Kuroiwa thrown the same gag for a second time.

After 12 months of relying on the public to keep Covid-19 at bay with restraint, the repeated demand for more steadfast endurance – of amusing endless visible part – feels a much heavier imposition. It might be less the case, say Japanese friends, if authorities did not simultaneously praise their determination to allow several thousand athletes and their teams to enter the country for the Olympics, without offering firm objective to immunize the general population.

This tense atmosphere creates a moral dilemma for the executives of Japan’s most globalized companies who are desperate to get back on the road (or the private jet). The ability to amusing is one of the country’s deepest natural resources: the public and private sectors constantly depend on it. But debates on Japanese social media reveal outrage that the store has been exposed, rather than treated as valuable and finished. Given this tension, say CEOs of several of Japan’s biggest companies, business leaders are wondering if they should get the shot outside the country and sneak into a amusing-exempt elite.

The motivation to do so is serious. Over the past few years, many Japanese companies have decided that the best options for growth are outside the country. The calculation is based on the shrinking Japanese population, but the companies also saw an exceptional window for entering into overseas deals in which investors actively push them to increase return on equity and Chinese competitors are (for now) less acquisitive at the global level.

The result was a boom in overseas acquisitions that was, before the pandemic, averaging about $ 23 billion in transactions per quarter. In a relatively short period of time, this left a number of Japanese companies – from insurers to brewers – with vast global business empires and a pressing need to patrol them in person.

The problem with this whole acquisition is that it was undertaken with what were once reasonable assumptions about how the new assets would be integrated. Not only would a substantial number of Japanese executives visit the acquired operations and report, but there would normally be several trips by the CEO and his management team in the months following the transaction.

Japanese buyers often aim to keep the management of a target under close scrutiny after the acquisition – a review that depends on pre-pandemic mobility and that executives deem impossible through Zoom. The surprise visit to remote corners of their empires, have grumbled several CEOs in recent weeks, is a sorely missed management weapon.

Business leaders faced with this now fall into two camps. One of them (especially those with acquisitions in the United States) is actively pursuing plans to get vaccinated abroad (or to bring vaccines home for personal use) and allow immediate travel.

Earlier this year, when Japan’s immunization schedule seemed even more distant, the national media reported in scandalized tones that the heads of “some of Japan’s most famous companies” had succeeded in obtaining vaccines in Japan. China.

A CEO of one of the biggest names in Japanese society was not part of this program, but finds it easy to justify: thousands of employees count on him to run the empire to the best of his ability, and to host an earlier vaccine is needed for this purpose. .

But several CEOs from the second camp, who also run companies with recent overseas acquisitions, said the idea was unthinkable. Whatever the short-term benefits of getting months ahead of a slow immunization schedule, it damages reputation – as a leader unable to amusing – would be irreparable.

Japanese business leaders, I am told, exist in a realm where, for all their revered elevation, must affect to share the quiet endurance of their staff – especially when a amusing A resource that once appeared in such a plentiful national supply is set to lead everyone through a sad second golden week.

leo.lewis@ft.com

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