What is the Yakuza?
Yakuza is a powerful Japanese criminal organization. At their height, the yakuza maintained a large presence in the Japanese media and operated internationally. At their peak in the early 1960s, police estimated that the yakuza had a membership of more than 200,000.
How it started?
The phone rings in my office. I picked up; the Sales VP asked me to come to his office as our Japanese partners arrived to greet them. I was not prepared. I was in jeans and a t-shirt as we had to install a lot of computers for the new shops. Anyway, I went down.
Our Japanese partner, who brought a translator with him, a woman was standing there, and I greeted him the European way. The translator translated, and of course, as European, I looked into her eyes.
That’s not done! Let’s say I completely messed up the first impression to put it nicely.
To fix it, the day after, I went back, wearing a suit and followed the Japanese politeness rules. The Japanese partner just replied politely “Nice to meet you”, and that was it, they sign the deal for the next fashion season, and they left back to Japan
To put this in the right perspective, I was Head of IT worldwide for a Fashion company during the day, during the night I did PR and the Japanese partner was interested in our Kids Fashion Line. The Japanese partner was the CEO; let’s call him Haruto. This story happened around 20 years ago. I can talk about it, but I will not reveal names. people who know me, know about who I am talking about, that’s enough and that the story is real
Six months later, the Japanese delegation, including Haruto came back, signing a new deal for the next season — this time I prepared. I knew when they arrived; I knew the rules. We are going to make a bigger deal this time.
And yes, this time, all went fine. Haruta (CEO) talked in Japanese, the translator translated for us in English, and we kept eye contact with Haruto. Perfect.
At the same time, we had a supplier from India. Let’s call him Ranbir. Ranbir is the businessman who came to us, one day before we have to pay him to make sure we paid. He came to visit us and wanted to enjoy Mussels as well. Our CEO, couldn’t make it, VP of Sales couldn’t make it….. I was the only one who had to take both, customer and supplier, out for dinner to enjoy Mussels.
VP of Sales and our CEO told me to talk about everything except business, or Ranbir would sell directly to Haruto.
Easier said than done… a whole table of business people not talking about business. And as you can expect… they started talking business. I needed to chance the subject fast. First about easy, simple topics, but every time Ranbir and Haruto switched to business.
I had no other choice than going some more explicit, some more non-political correct matters. So I asked about Tattoos.
Haruto second hand told me that Tattoo’s in Japan are related to specific cultural groups, and Ranbir said to me that Tattoo’s in India are often related to religion. I explained Tattoo’s in Europe is more about fashion and expression of the individual.
After 10 minutes talking the culture and religion parts of Tattoos, Haruto put his hand around my shoulder, he started to speak English to me, saying “I like you, I observed you, and you came here with us while others don’t want to join us. Then he told that his friends and partners have the jacket tattoo (the typical tattoo of the Yakuza)
The only thing I could reply was “you speak English?” He laughed and bowed his head.
The evening came to an end, we did a new deal, and Haruto left to Japan, Ranbir to India and I was happy as both didn’t have the change to make a deal between them. Our company kept the two contracts.
Six months passed by and Haruta wanted to come back to make a bigger deal (fashion season are every six months). This time we invited the Japanese delegation to our office in Paris. The game was the same. They talk Japanese, we use a translator, and I took them out for dinner at Buddha Bar. It went crazy, we have spent like 20.000 euro (with 14 people)
The result was less crazy, we couldn’t get up on time to do the presentation before Haruta and his team had to take the plane back to Japan and we had to sign a contract for 1million this time.
You can imagine my team was not happy at all, but what happened next was a lesson for my team and me about doing business. It is about trust.
After an open talk about the Yakuza with Mr Haruto at the restaurant, it became clear he was a top member. His tattoo’s, and the offer he made to me. The proposal went as far as that Haruto wanted me to work for them, staying at his son’s room (son had to move to the aunt) and more.
Yes, I got one of the highest respect possible as a non-Japanese person. The trust was created. Mr Haruto didn’t see the presentation; he signed a blank contract as asked me to fill in and send it to him.
Remember the contract was for 1million EUR? I changed the numbers to 1.500.000 euro.
The day after, Mr Hurato called me and told me he was right about me, that (in his words) have guts to upgrade the contract, and he told me the money is on its way.
That season, we got the money, and they got the merchandise. However, it was the last season we worked together. I never heard about Mr Haruto again, and no, I didn’t accept his offer to work for the Yakuza in Japan.
What I learned, was to created respect is the base of doing business, trust is what makes you sign contracts and yes, doing deals with the mafia is not done, but in that time it was expected as most of the brands didn’t know they did business with the mafia.
Respect is the base of doing business,
Trust is what makes you sign contracts