'Englishnisation' a must to draw global talent, Japanese firms told

TO PREVAIL in the competition for global talent, companies must make themselves attractive to employees.

Business leaders speaking at a two-day management forum, which ended on Tuesday, said companies can do this by making English the official language at work, setting out clear paths of advancement and having greater engagement between senior management and employees.

The top executives said these are necessary moves if a company is serious about getting the best people to come on board and retaining them.

Mr Kasper Rorsted, chief executive of multinational corporation Henkel, which makes detergents and adhesives and hires almost 50,000 employees of 49 nationalities, said: "We may be a German company but English is the official language of Henkel."

At all the MNC's offices, townhall meetings with employees are a regular feature, as are smaller breakfast meetings with managers, which are designed to make the employees feel engaged with Henkel and its management.

"Be clear about their goals, and how (they can) advance," he told an audience of about 450 Japanese executives at the 15th Nikkei Global Management Forum.

In Japan, English has been the official working language of e-commerce giant Rakuten since 2011.

Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani said such "Englishnisation" of the workplace is essential in tapping the global talent pool.

"People want to work in Japan... but give up because of the language barrier," he said.

About 10 per cent of Rakuten staff and 30 per cent of new hires are non-Japanese, he said.

And when it comes to engineers, 70 per cent of those newly employed by Rakuten are non-Japanese.

With only 20,000 Japanese engineering and computer science graduates a year, he said it was clear that Rakuten needed to look towards foreign shores to recruit them. He added that as many as one million of such graduates a year are produced in China and about 320,000 in the United States.

English, he said, is also needed for employees to have better access to knowledge and for colleagues of different nationalities to share knowhow as Rakuten seeks to expand its global footprint to more markets in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Business leaders also said more Asians can be expected to join the boards of MNCs that originated in the West but have become global companies and are aligning themselves more closely to the Asian region, which is fast becoming their biggest market.

"Business is clearly moving East," said Airbus chief executive Fabrice Bregier, noting that Asia accounts for one-third of the backlog of aircraft orders, compared to Europe's 20 per cent and North America's 12 per cent.

Senior management have to go where the business is, said the frequent traveller to the region.

While aircraft maker Airbus is headquartered in Toulouse, France, "Asia is becoming my second home", said Mr Bregier.

He said it was a matter of time that Airbus appointed an Asian director, with its board already comprising five nationalities, and its 59,000 employees representing more than 100 nationalities.

Other speakers at the forum included General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, e-commerce firm DeNA's founder Tomoko Namba and chemicals conglomerate Asahi Kasei's president Taketsugu Fujiwara.

boonlai@sph.com.sg