Finnish shipbuilders in Japan
”The old hierarchical structure is visible at the big shipyard. Responsibility has been divided into so small fractions that sometimes it feels as if nobody has the power of decision”, writes Megumi Hayashi who is on leave of absence from the post of Trade Ombudsman of Turku Science Park Ltd.
When I came to work to the Nagasaki shipyard a little over a year ago, I had no idea how international a place it is. Greetings in the morning reflect the working environment: buongiorno, bom dia, ohayoo gozaimasu, good morning, hyvää huomenta. I wave at some people and bow at others.
Building a cruise liner is a big and complicated project. People and goods cross many borders. The interior elements may be shipped from Italy, Finland and Germany all the way to Japan. The tools and work clothes come from China. Employees have arrived from a number of European countries. A broad and functioning network is required for completing the work. Finns are closely involved in the Nagasaki project, and probably also at many other shipyards around the world. Through the eyes of a first-timer, the Finnish companies seem small, but that’s exactly why they know how to operate as a network and quite flexibly – unlike this Japanese shipyard which has a big and slow-moving organisation.
The old hierarchical structure is visible at the big shipyard. Responsibility has been divided into so small fractions that sometimes it feels as if nobody has the power of decision. When we make a request, the most common answer is “we’ll get back to you once we have sorted out the issue internally”. The sorting out may take longer than a week. Different departments have a little competition between themselves, so they don’t necessarily talk to each other. Sometimes the same information has to be requested from three different departments using three slightly different Excel tables.
Such inflexibility and inefficiency do not fit the Finnish mind-set. We can’t afford to wait for days for the results of internal meetings and stop the work in our area. Why can’t they just get on with it? I’ve already supplied the Excel table. There’s no reason for me to do the same thing three times. Please distribute it internally between the departments.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do
Nevertheless you have to get along with the shipyard. In addition to business intelligence you need cultural intelligence. The Finnish way to speak out directly may not be a good idea in Japan. Even if the work has been delayed, because the shipyard did not supply the materials by the agreed date, you have to communicate in a discreet and friendly manner. The hierarchy and community nature of the work community are highly regarded in Japan. The responsibility often lies with a group, not one person.
To keep a situation from escalating, I sometimes feel like saying to the Finnish side: back up, we’ll get back to it tomorrow. On the other hand, I’d tell the Japanese to enhance their organisation to get things done more quickly and flexibly.
Again through the eyes of a first-timer, you can only wonder how all details, materials, work stages, inspections and subsequent repairs can fall into place. In addition, the problems resulting from the cultural differences need to be sorted out somehow. Yet I have seen the first ship leave the Nagasaki shipyard. This is hard work. I do respect the Finns who travel around the world to build ships.
The writer works as Trade Ombudsman in Turku Science Park Ltd. She is currently on leave of absence and at the service of the Nousiainen-based company FCR Finland Oy which acts as a subcontractor at MHI’s Nagasaki shipyard in Japan.