Week 1 of Work at Fast Retailing: Let the Circus Show Begin

My first day of work was October 1st, Tuesday. Boy, did I have a lot of surprises awaiting me.

1) Orientation which lasted two days was completely in Japanese. Since I started with a few other MBA graduates who were also hired as a part of the Global Next Generation Leaders program, we each had an audio handset so that interpreters could help translate everything communicated, following us around even during the office tour. Phew.

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2) I learned that I was assigned to the Uniqlo brand which was a very pleasant surprise for me. I absolutely love the brand, what it stands for, its philosophy and the values it exchanges with customers in the store. I will be joining Division 22, Women’s bottoms (I chuckle every time I tell people that but I guess the locals don’t really understand the humor in that).

3) I open up my email on the new laptop and this is what I see (emails, meeting invites, etc.) all in Japanese. Sweet. Google Translate immediately installed.

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4) Work starts at 7AM sharp everyday. WHOA. Big slap in the face. However, they are also very strict about not working overtime so that the day should end at a hard stop by 5PM from Tues-Friday. They are pretty serious about it – everyday at 4PM a loud alarm noise rings from the clock and you better be packed up and ready to leave by 5PM. If you are there by 6PM, the lights and a/c turn off. If you end up working overtime, there is a special submission request and then the big boss has to write an apology letter to the officer. Just to clarify, the enforcement to leave earlier is not for a more balanced life, it is for time to self-improve or personally develop skills such as learning English. Also, they believe that if you can’t finish work within a certain time, you are not efficient and focused enough with your work.

5) I don’t have a designated cubicle or separate office. It’s like a huge call center, but no partition and in groups. If you can imagine two long desks put together facing each other, two workers on each side. So there would be pods of 4-5 people in each cluster of large desks. Being a part of the Merchandising team means that it’s a big open space with several groups of desks next to each other. The women’s, men’s, kid’s, accessories, domestic, and global teams are all next to each other, actively working with each other. It’s very characteristic of the collective attitude of this culture.

6) This is a very, very flat organization. At first I was slightly bummed that I did not get my own desk and privacy, but then I realized that even the Directors and above including Officers just sit out in the open too. They do not get a special room with a door and the culture allows for anyone to speak with the big cheese rather than go through several levels of hierarchy.

7) Some random funny rules / guidelines in the orientation booklet:

  • Do not eat breakfast or lunch at your desk. If you eat a snack, it cannot be overly smelly, else it will disturb other employees.
  • Dress code: Women can wear skirts, but not so short. Do not wear “too much” perfume that it will be distracting. Not sure what constitutes “too much”…Company prefers that you wear clothing from any of the brands under Fast Retailing. Mondays are company “uniform” only! Better dispose of all the H&M, Zara, and Banana Republic stuff I own. Thankfully this also means we can be casual with the Uniqlo basics look – one can never get enough of plaid patterns!

8) The company does not believe in spending excess money on employees if that means more profits for the business. That’s cool and all but geez, I can’t even find a water cooler or coffee machine on the floor! Thankfully, the cafeteria on the 34th floor with amazing views has subsidized food (ranging from $2.50 to $5 for lunch) and free hot/cold green tea or water. I’m scared to even ask for a pen or notebook although I was told that I can pick those up somewhere. To monitor our printing, we have a special printing card tied to our ID so don’t even think of printing 250 personal colored wedding invitations.

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There is a relaxation room to take naps in, beds to sleep on if you feel sick, and a gym near the cafeteria. A very nice peaceful park is also right next to our building which is good for releasing stress. On Fridays, they have something called Rock n’ Roll nights where the entire company is invited to the 34th floor and the cafeteria is transformed to a hangout with pool table, a variety of all you can eat food for $3, and beer/alcohol for just $1 USD each.

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In general, I have been very excited with the millions of things I am learning each day and the people across departments have all been very supportive. Sometimes I feel like my own island, with everyone around me buzzing in Japanese as if they come from another planet. But there has been direction from the top, pushing all employees to speak English to be a truly global company and they have English learning sessions each week. In the meantime,  I also have been self-learning Japanese on the side and the company will provide me 100 hours of private tutoring to learn Japanese, and multiple sessions on “working in Japan” and ‘cross-cultural interaction.” This will definitely be a much more different challenge than I’ve ever had in my life.

The path laid out by my team and HR is also very clear and detailed with ample amount of thought put in on how to develop and train me to my full potential. There is also a plan in place to eventually get a mentor from the US side and transition me to the right position somewhere in my home country. The MBAs will have a week long in-store experience in a few weeks to really see how much detail and process goes into maintaining a store so that it creates the best experience for the customer. Whether I end up folding clothes, unpacking the boxes in the back, or dusting the shelves, I am sure it will be an eye-opening experience. Just reading the manuals on how to be a store manager and business manager, written by our very own CEO, Tadashi Yanai, is such an inspiration. At some point it felt like a cult or ritual with all of the details that go into the store layout and the rules that must be followed. But to think how much consideration was given to, as an example, the optimal height for the wall shelves that can be best viewed by customers, the exact aisle width that allows a customer to step back and see all options, the ideal layout of the store to let the customer see the entirety of the products offered at one glance upon entering the store, etc. I have never seen such a push for efficient processes and they definitely believe in not having useless space. There is a purpose for everything in the store.

More to come after week 2 and the process of settling into my permanent residence…

 

 

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