Santa Paula business consultant William Irion has heard many of the common preconceptions of what it's like to transact business in Japan, and he'd like to offer a different perspective.
"People say they're in a recession, so no one's buying anything; it's impossible to do business there; it's expensive--but all these things that used to be are not necessarily still the case," Irion said.
"I'm trying to get businesses to understand that now is an excellent time to go to Japan and into that market," he said. "The money is still there and the government has switched around to encourage imports into Japan. They have certain types of needs that they don't have the means to solve."
Through his company, Irion Enterprises, Irion calls on his experience as a longtime facilities manager to offer consulting services in a variety of areas, including energy management, environmental health and safety, and contract management.
Over the past year, his focus has been on training Ventura County businesspeople to develop contacts in Japan. His primary goal has been to prepare business owners for a series of global commerce conventions in and around Osaka in the fall.
"There's been greater interest in Japan from larger companies in the U.S.--big American multinational companies are intensively moving into Japan," Irion said. "For a reasonable amount of money [to attend the conventions], somebody who has a product that's marketable in Japan has a very good opportunity."
Irion coaches businesspeople in Japanese etiquette, business practices and general conduct that may help them in their business dealings. Irion's wife, Kumiko, was born in Japan and teaches the Japanese language. Irion Enterprises has provided Japanese consultation for clients that include Geo InSight International of Ojai, the Point Mugu naval base, the city of Oxnard and Medical Analysis Systems of Camarillo.
At the least, the Irions would like to share cultural tidbits that can make or break a business deal--such as not writing on the face of a business card, an act many Japanese consider discourteous to the owner of that card.
Ideally, the Irions want to encourage local businesses, and prepare them, to attend the Global Business Opportunities Conference scheduled for mid-October. The series of trade expos will serve as a forum for businesses involved in environmental work, heavy equipment manufacturing, overseas investments and other areas of international trade.
The cost to attend--including air fare and exhibit space--could reach more than $2,000, Irion said. But the investment, he said, could be well worth it.
"I want to convince [companies] to go on their own, or hire somebody else if they want," he said. "Japan has one of the largest economies in the world. They have to import all kinds of things, so the potential is definitely there. . . . To me, the exposure you get for the fee you pay is pretty extensive."
Geo InSight International, which specializes in automated mapping for clients such as the U.S. Navy, is among Irion Enterprises' newest clients. Irion Enterprises was awarded a $10,000 contract through the Ventura County Economic Development Commission's defense-conversion program to train Geo InSight staff in Japanese culture and business practices as the company prepares to expand its presence in Okinawa.
"We're providing them with a certain level of language training, survival Japanese," Irion said. "We'll run them through a series of courses--pieces of culture, living in Japan, what to do in medical emergencies, how to present your business card, things not to do."
Geo InSight, founded in 1989, includes among its clients the Port Hueneme naval base, the Camp Pendleton Marine base and the Air Force Academy. The company, which has 50 employees, provides its clients with digital maps that include detailed information on topography, vegetation, buildings and roads.
Much of Geo Insight's work calls for overseas business transactions.
"We have major contracts with military bases in Japan, and there are a number of Japanese corporations we work with, and our desire is to expand our business in Japan," said John Ford, vice president of operations for Geo InSight.
"We realize success in business in Japan is keyed very much to strong personal relationships with business partners," he said. "Our desire is to have employees very sensitive to cultural issues, language, protocol issues, things that really drive Japanese business. . . . Some of us have been traveling in East Asia and Asia before, but many of us have not."
Since September 1997, Geo InSight has been involved with a project preparing topographic base maps of military installations in Okinawa for the U.S. Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. The goal now, Ford said, is to further expand the company's involvement in Japan. There's a special interest in establishing an office in Okinawa, he said, because company founder Margaret Elliot has family ties to the island.
"We're working with Japanese government officials and business partners to open an office," Ford said. "I think we'll have a representative office in Japan within a year."
The Geo InSight contract is one of several contracts Irion Enterprises has won from the EDC. The company also built a human resources department for Voiceboard Corp. of Ventura and has worked on developing Ventura County's environmental business cluster.