TOKYO—Like many foreigners in Japan,
has just a few concepts about how the place may very well be run higher.
However the former Goldman Sachs analyst is the one one with the ear of the prime minister and a coverage voice so highly effective that some Japanese enterprise leaders are getting riled.
The 55-year-old Englishman is the lone foreigner amongst eight enterprise consultants on the federal government’s financial technique council. He’s the writer of 12 Japanese-language books and divides his time between operating a enterprise that renovates temples and shrines and providing coverage recommendation at conferences during which he reels off statistics.
Mr. Atkinson has lived in Japan since 1990, just a few years after he graduated from Oxford College, and speaks Japanese fluently. At Goldman within the Nineteen Nineties, he presciently warned that Japanese banks’ weaknesses have been endangering the economic system. Extra lately he has been often known as a robust advocate for reinforcing tourism.
His newest message is that fixing Japan’s financial stagnation begins with elevating the productiveness of its smaller corporations. This month, the federal government stated it deliberate to supply as much as about $1 million to small or midsize corporations that merge or develop into new enterprise areas—a direct results of Mr. Atkinson’s advocacy.
Low labor productiveness is a priority for Japan as its inhabitants declines.
GDP per employed individual, 2019
Productiveness is weakest at small and midsize companies, which far outstrip the variety of massive corporations.
With the Covid-19 pandemic hammering small companies world wide, Mr. Atkinson’s critics say they want authorities assist quite than the disruption of being pressed to merge. Others say it isn’t the federal government’s job to push by way of change.
Mr. Atkinson says the nation doesn’t have a lot alternative. Low productiveness at Japan’s smaller corporations means common output per employee was $78,570 final 12 months, in keeping with the World Financial institution, nearly 40% beneath the U.S. Compounding the stress, its workforce is getting old and shrinking.
“If the working inhabitants’s productiveness doesn’t go up, Japan will implode,” Mr. Atkinson stated.
Huge corporations are likely to get probably the most coverage consideration and, within the U.S. and elsewhere, they’re taking a bigger share of the economic pie. But serving to profitable small companies get massive is necessary, too. Round 85% of Japan’s 3.6 million corporations are categorized as small companies, sometimes with a handful of staff.
After leaving Goldman in 2007, an opportunity encounter with a neighbor led Mr. Atkinson into the restoration of nationwide heritage websites. His firm’s tasks embody a Seventeenth-century shrine and mausoleum north of Tokyo for the feudal ruler who impressed the novel “Shogun.”
‘If the working inhabitants’s productiveness doesn’t go up, Japan will implode.’
That have made Mr. Atkinson a number one proponent of boosting international guests to Japan, a profitable technique till the pandemic struck. Overseas vacationer arrivals rose fivefold from 2011 by way of final 12 months.
Whereas Japan boasts a handful of world-beaters similar to
Toyota Motor Corp.
, Mr. Atkinson has argued that its thousands and thousands of smaller corporations are holding again progress as a result of they’re usually averse to development and investment in technology.
“Over and over I made this level,” Mr. Atkinson stated. “And everybody would go, ‘Oh, David’s banging on about this once more?’”
One individual was listening:
the highest aide to then-Prime Minister
The son of an entrepreneurial strawberry farmer, Mr. Suga has lengthy appeared for tactics to jump-start development.
Mr. Atkinson stated they met about twice a 12 months beginning 4 years in the past, and the politician stated he was studying Mr. Atkinson’s books. “He’s much more pushed by numbers and evaluation than every other senior politician that I’ve met,” Mr. Atkinson stated.
After Mr. Suga won the top job in September, his British adviser turned an object of fascination for the Japanese press. One weekly journal quoted a neighbor of Mr. Atkinson’s as saying that the wallpaper in his Tokyo residence was a present from Queen Elizabeth. “Utter garbage,” Mr. Atkinson stated.
At a November assembly of the federal government’s financial council, Mr. Atkinson had a debate with
the pinnacle of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Trade. Mr. Mimura stated then that if a few of Mr. Atkinson’s concepts have been adopted, similar to elevating the minimal wage to spur enterprise homeowners to get extra productiveness out of their employees, “the result’s going to be bankruptcies and other people going out of enterprise.”
“It was, for Japan, a comparatively violent conflict of opinion,” Mr. Atkinson stated.
The end result was additionally uncommon. The foreigner’s view prevailed. “A very powerful subject for Japanese enterprise is to lift productiveness,” Mr. Suga stated in saying plans to encourage mergers.
Eiichi Hasegawa, a former head of Japan’s Small and Medium Enterprise Company and adviser to Mr. Abe, stated the federal government’s plans have been welcome however wouldn’t work all over the place.
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“Some companies, similar to small retailers, don’t essentially search to lift earnings. And if a enterprise proprietor is, say, 68 years outdated, do you consider in persuading that individual to make new investments?” he stated. “We want varied approaches.”
Within the metropolis of Takasaki northwest of Tokyo, 67-year-old Yasuhiko Nishizawa owns an eyeglass retailer that has been in his household since 1969. His spouse is the one different worker. He hopes to go the enterprise to his son after he has paid off his money owed from the shop in round seven or eight years.
Mr. Nishizawa stated he has by no means considered increasing the enterprise. The arrival of enormous low cost eyeglass shops in Takasaki in latest a long time has roughly halved his gross sales, and the pandemic has additional depressed enterprise, however he stated the store can survive.
“This measurement is finest. If we tried to get greater it could imply coaching individuals in specialist expertise,” he stated. “Anyway, I might lose in a battle with the low cost chain shops, which have extra capital.”
Round 80% of the greater than 500 companies which have filed for chapter safety because the begin of the pandemic are small or midsize, in keeping with personal credit score analysis company Teikoku Databank.
“The pandemic is attacking, in a way, the bottom productiveness sectors of the economic system,” Mr. Atkinson stated. “To a sure extent, it can velocity up the method of what we’re speaking about.”
Write to Alastair Gale at email@example.com
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