By Anna Mukai
Bridgestone Corp., the Tokyo-based tire maker with Akron operations, found that presentations and discussions went much smoother after its top managers began conducting some meetings in English instead of Japanese beginning last year.
The results have been so encouraging that the world’s biggest tire maker has decided it will gradually implement English as Bridgestone’s official language, Chief Executive Officer Masaaki Tsuya said at a briefing Thursday, speaking in Japanese without interpreters. The decision is part of the company’s midterm plan to become “truly global,” he said.
Bridgestone joins Fast Retailing Co., Asia’s biggest clothing chain, and Internet shopping mall Rakuten Inc. in adopting English as the official language as they expand globally and seek to hire more international workers. Still, the companies remain a tiny minority in Japan, where English proficiency remains poor despite the language being taught for nine years from primary school.
“We think this is the right way to go,” Tsuya said. “Especially for our young employees, we’re going to tell them that English is a must if they want to move up the ladder.”
Bridgestone Corp. bought Akron-based Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in 1988. While it moved Firestone’s headquarters out of state, eventually settling on Nashville, Tenn., the company’s American technical and research center remains in Akron. The company renamed its U.S. subsidiary Bridgestone Americas while retaining Firestone as a brand.
Japan’s indifference to English was highlighted by Finance Minister Taro Aso, who suggested that corporate Japan’s poor language skills were actually an asset, helping it escape the worst of the 2008 financial meltdown as the nation’s bankers hardly understood English and hence didn’t buy subprime loans.
Bridgestone currently distributes some of its internal monthly and quarterly reports in English, said Tsuya, who holds an MBA degree from the University of Chicago.
“Many Japanese companies don’t want to go learn English and become global because it’s a lot of work to change,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. “But unless you only make and sell products within Japan, you need to become more global.”
At Thursday’s briefing, Bridgestone said it will invest 41.6 billion yen ($424 million) to boost output capacity at a car radial-tire plant under construction in Hai Phong City, Vietnam. The company will also shut a steel-cord plant in Japan next year because of difficulty maintaining its competitiveness.
Bridgestone expects net income to jump 43 percent this year, amid a decline in raw material costs and a weaker Japanese currency.
The tire maker has climbed 61 percent in Tokyo trading this year, outperforming the 40 percent gain in the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average.