ADL Partner and VisasQ COO, Uriu, discuss global expansion and the value of "connecting insights and aspirations across the globe".
Arthur D. Little Japan Partner
Mr. Hiroto Suzuki
He is a core member of the Tokyo office and has experience in setting up businesses in Southeast Asia. His main field of expertise is providing support for business and technology strategy planning in automotive, industrial machinery, electronics, chemicals and other manufacturing industries. Other themes include organizational and operational reform design, as well as production, distribution and intellectual property management strategy. In addition, Hiroto has extensive experience conducting business valuations, revitalization planning, growth-strategy planning and turnaround projects for financial institutions and private-equity funds.
VisasQ Inc. COO and Head of Global Business Development Group
He joined Goldman Sachs in 1999 and became Managing Director in 2012. For nearly 20 years, he worked in the investment banking division advising numerous domestic and international technology companies on M&A and financing activities. He left Goldman Sachs in February 2018 and joined VisasQ. He was appointed as CCO, Director of board and is currently responsible for the global business.
Uriu: Arthur D. Little Japan (ADL) has been working with VisasQ since before I joined VisasQ. As a precedent who had expanded the business into Southeast Asia, today we would like to hear about the story as well as your views on our services of connecting insights and aspiration. First of all, could you tell us about your own career, Suzuki-san?
Mr.Suzuki: I joined ADL in 2001 as a new graduate. Because my background is in mechanical engineering, I have been in charge of electronics, and mechatronics, robotics and industrial machinery in the surrounding industries. Most recently, I have been responsible for automotive and mobility as well. At the same time, I have been involved in ADL's Southeast Asian business. When you were at Goldman Sachs (GS), you were also in charge of manufacturing, weren't you?
Uriu: Well, at GS, I was involved in projects in various industries at the beginning, and at the end I was mainly in charge of the tech industry. I left GS after 20 years of working on many projects in various industries - and what did you honestly think when you heard that I was going to work at VisasQ?
Mr. Suzuki: First of all, it was a shock to me and in the industry - "Uriu-san is quitting GS!?”. I was surprised again when I met you and heard you say, "I'm going to Hashiba-san's company". (Suzuki-san was in the same university club as Hashiba and Uriu!) Uriu-san has been a role model for me, so I was genuinely curious to see what kind of career choice you would make next. When I asked you why you decided to work at VisasQ, you said, "Because everyone seems to be having fun at work.” I remember that I was convinced in many ways.
Uriu: Of course my previous job was very fun as well (with a laugh). But in VisasQ there was also the momentum and cheerfulness as a start-up, and the character of Hashiba.
ADL has been using our service since before I came to VisasQ, and have your impressions changed from when you started using it a few years ago to now?
Mr. Suzuki: I believe the expert network services like VisasQ are all about maintaining and expanding the pool of good advisors. There are similar services in other countries, but VisasQ is unique in its focus on Japan, and the speed at which it expands its advisors is very fast, even from our (user’s) perspective, and it is amazing that it achieves both quality and quantity. When expanding the pool, the quality of the advisors may inevitably decline, but that is not the case for VisasQ.
I see you are also actively expanding the range of your services, not only regional expansion but offering expert surveys and so on, compared to other companies in the industry. It's very helpful and attentive to receive that kind of new proposal.
The process of obtaining information is an important part of the consulting business, and we sometimes have to cold-call for appointments which has a high psychological hurdle to overcome. We don't have to spend time on this process, instead we can get the information via VisasQ, which allows us to shift to focus on more productive work. We've been conscious of changing the way we work for the past few years, so I think VisasQ has contributed to that aspect as well.
Uriu: All the happy comments, thank you very much! As for the pool of advisors, we're about to exceed 110,000 advisors, and about 10,000 or so are overseas advisors. We're going to continue to grow overseas, so we've also made a partnership with DeepBench, which we announced the other day.
Mr. Suzuki: What effect are you hoping to achieve with your partnership with DeepBench?
Uriu: DeepBench is developing an interesting system to find advisors based on information all over the world. This was very attractive to us as we wanted to expand our overseas business, so we proceeded with the discussion with them.
The strategy announced at the time of our IPO includes a focus on global expansion, and we opened our first overseas office in Singapore in January this year as a start. Since then, we have hired team members who can speak local languages and have built up operations.
How did you expand your business into Southeast Asia ?
Mr. Suzuki: Originally, we had office in Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries, but we withdrew from the region after the 2008 Financial Crisis. Then the need for Japanese companies to expand their business into ASEAN countries had increased, and Japan office took the lead in this development. Around 2010, we began to build up our operations in Singapore in partnership with a local company, and around 2014, we sent our staff from Japan to strengthen the operations. We gradually started with hiring local people. The process we took for setting up an overseas branch was the same as VisasQ, so rather than setting up an office, we hired people who can speak the local languages (such as Vietnamese, Bahasa, and Thai) in Singapore to cover the markets of Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Recently, we've started to hire more people, and we have come to cover the Southeast Asian market. We've expanded our business from Singapore to Thailand and Malaysia, and are currently in the process of setting up two new offices this year.
Uriu: From what you've told me, you're doing exactly what we're trying to do.I assume Southeast Asia is obviously important to the Japanese clients, but is it particularly important because of the automotive value chain?
Mr. Suzuki: Of course, it is important as a consumption area for vehicles and their accompanying manufacturing equipment, as well as for motorcycles and commercial vehicles, but that alone is not enough, so recently we, including local members, have been approaching large tech companies in various countries, and it has become another pillar of our business.
Uriu: It sounds like it's a tough job to obtain local clients, but what did you do to make it happen? What kind of insights do people in Southeast Asia look for?
Mr. Suzuki: In Southeast Asia, there is a high demand for learning Western practices, so our European team and senior local members have been working together to develop local clients. On the other hand, there are many Japanese angles, such as requests for Japanese expertise from local conglomerates that are in the value chain of Japanese companies, or exploiting the local market from the Japanese side in areas such as smart cities and infrastructure.
Uriu: Your Japan office also took the lead in entering into Singapore, but after having the experience of managing a few more overseas offices, what do you think is the ideal ratio of Japanese people to local people in overseas offices?
Mr. Suzuki: Personally, I think 1:1 would be ideal. In terms of the business structure, it's about 50-50 between Japan business and the local market business, so we allocate people accordingly.
As it depends on the nature and scale of the business, it's difficult to conclude if complete localization is ideal or not. And what about not being able to provide Japanese language support to local Japanese clients? We know it’s important to provide mother language support.
Uriu: What do you think is the purpose and significance of expanding your operational base in Southeast Asia?
Mr. Suzuki: It is a great opportunity for us to expand our business opportunities for local companies. The fact that we have a local office is important for us to gain their trust and confidence.
Uriu: I see. So, in order for us to support your company properly, the first thing we need to do is to increase our advisor recruiting capabilities in Southeast Asia, and have offices there. The clients in Southeast Asia are mainly looking for Western expertise, so we will also need to increase our recruiting capabilities in the US and Europe. Well, the steps we're taking now - setting up a office in Singapore to strengthen our recruiting capabilities in Southeast Asia, and then investing in DeepBench to increase our recruiting capabilities in the US and Europe - are the right thing to do! I was relieved to hear that (with a laugh).
Mr. Suzuki: In terms of ADL, as Southeast Asia is taking shape, I'm more looking at China as a major market. At the same time, the US market has been very important to Japanese companies, so we are focusing on the US as well as China.
Because we can easily communicate in English for the US, we can use VisasQ to hear their real opinions without sending someone to the US and we are able to complete our operations remotely in this situation.
On the other hand, for China, I used to travel there frequently before the outbreak of Covid-19. Now that is not the case anymore but the Chinese staff who can speak Japanese have become the hub for us.
Uriu: In terms of our matching business for overseas projects, the US is ranked first and China second, so we feel that these two are the major business hub.
By the way, we had a talk about a client the other day if we could collaborate between ADL and VisasQ to support the client.
Mr. Suzuki: I was surprised to learn that we can work together as a business partner beyond the framework of a service user and a provider, and I felt it has so much potential! So we want to try in many ways.
Uriu: What do you expect from VisasQ in the future?
Mr. Suzuki: I would like to see you continue to expand without compromising the quality of your services, as you have been doing. In our case, I'm sure you're struggling because we have a lot of niche cases where we want to listen to in depth, but our staff really feel comfortable using the service so I hope you continue to support us.
I also understand that you have a lot more to offer than just 1-on-1 interviews, such as B to B surveys and consumer research, so we'd like to see more aggressive proposals in the future.
Uriu: There is also a need for an expert survey of overseas advisors, which gather the opinions of a certain number of local people, so we would be more than happy if you could utilize this service. By talking with you today, I have renewed my desire to provide more and more new value to our clients, both in Japan and abroad.
Mr. Suzuki: As global needs continue to diversify, I believe that customization to meet such individual needs will be an added value by Japanese companies . That's why I think there will be a growing need for services like the expert survey to provide an overview of the differences in needs by market.
I know and trust your management team, including Uriu-san and Hashiba-san, so I hope we can work together to create value for our clients.