Japanese Engineers in Demand in South Korea and China

The following appears on jaw.com

After being driven out in increasing numbers through company restructurings and forced retirements, many Japanese engineers are finding themselves in demand in South Korea and China.

And they are taking their corporate trade and technological secrets with them, with little recourse from their former employers to stop them.

An outflow of Japanese workers to overseas companies, including Samsung, coincided with the period Japanese electronic makers started cutting their workforce. Seeking new challenges, many Japanese, such as Takahisa Mizuta, a Seoul-based technical consultant, are now headed for South Korea.

Mizuta had worked for Hitachi Ltd. for slightly more than 10 years, a Japanese venture business for 18 months and a core company of Samsung Group from 2000 to the end of 2012.

A “senpai” (senior colleague) at Hitachi, who was working for Samsung, recruited him, saying, “You will find various opportunities here (in Seoul).”

At Hitachi, Mizuta was developing major parts for the cathode ray tube of the television with his senpai. He proposed a study on the computerized test manufacturing of parts, which can be used in the development process, but it was rejected on the grounds that it was not a manufacturing technology.

It took several years until Mizuta was finally allowed to do the research, but before long he was transferred to the section for large-size plasma display panels.

Unfortunately, technologies for virtual manufacturing, which could have been utilized for development of other parts, were not commercialized by the time he quit the company.

Knowing all this, his senpai, who was working at Samsung, said, “At Samsung you can develop parts using your skills.”

Samsung at the time was not capable of efficiently making core parts for its CRTs–of which he had been in charge at Hitachi.

He made up his mind when he was told, “As far as you are making (the core parts), we don’t care how you do it.”

“Even if it is an emerging overseas company,” he thought, he would be happy as long as he could continue working on a project he had almost given up.

A personnel official at the Samsung R&D Institute Japan Co. in Yokohama came in with a contract. His employment with Samsung was decided upon only two months after he was first contacted.

In South Korea, Mizuta was allowed to spend research funds in any way he desired. He felt rewarded as a researcher.

Asked about their recruiting practices, a public relations official at Samsung Electronics Japan Co. said, “We hire competent people from across the world. We are not disclosing individual cases.”

Another former Japanese employee, a man in his 50s who had long worked for major precision machine manufacturer Ricoh Co., received last summer an e-mail with a job offer right up his alley.

“We are looking for a specialist in laser-based copying technology,” it said.

He went to see the sender of the e-mail, the Samsung institute in Yokohama. The research institute, affiliated with South Korea-based Samsung Group, was recruiting engineers.

The man had been repeatedly wooed by Samsung for about 10 years.

He first received an e-mail with a job offer on his computer at work. The same e-mail had been sent to his assistant, whose name appeared as a co-inventor of a patent. The sender apparently found his name seeing a patent information site, which is open to the public.

He said Samsung was not the only “scout” that offered him a job. Ricoh’s domestic competitors also contacted him.

But Samsung differed from the rest in that it limited prospective applicants to “those who have engaged in development of copy machines at Ricoh, Fuji Xerox Co., Canon Inc., or Konica Minolta Inc.”

“Samsung is focusing on acquiring specific technologies it desperately needs,” he thought.

He agreed to an interview last summer even though he had turned down the request for many years. The reason for his change of mind: he had been abruptly forced to resign.

When his superior pressured him to quit, saying there was no work he would be doing at his company if he stayed on, he accepted voluntary retirement.

He had contributed to his company with his expertise in state-of-the-art technology, but Ricoh was going to lay him off due to declining company profits, he thought.

In comparison, Samsung still wanted his skills, for which he was grateful.

The interview at the institute took about 90 minutes. One of the three interviewers was a Japanese engineer who formerly worked for a Japanese manufacturer.

Questions centered around the details of the technology he helped develop. He was told that the institute would pay him more than what he had made at Ricoh.

However, he decided not to join Samsung, for he was told his job would involve business trips to South Korea and China for technical guidance for an extended period. He had to care for elderly parents.

 

CHINA ALSO WANTS JAPANESE

 

Many companies in South Korea and China are recruiting Japanese engineers, following Samsung’s success.

Seoul-based IDSYS Co., with 17 employees, plans to employ three Japanese engineers next year.

Having developed power-saving light-emitting diode (LED) lights, the company wants them to work in this section. The company is considering adding a business related to power management of buildings. The Japanese are likely be assigned to the operation.

President Charles Yoon, 46, left a Samsung Group research institute seven years ago to start IDSYS.

Explaining the reason for hiring Japanese engineers, he said, “I saw that Samsung has grown thanks to Japanese engineers.”

China’s rising companies also have hired Japanese engineers.

At a Japanese office of a major Chinese manufacturer at a building in front of a station in the Tokyo metropolitan area, a Japanese man in his 50s was writing a report on a performance analysis of Japanese smartphones. English seemed to be the official working language there.

The man also had worked for a major Japanese electric manufacturer, where he had been promoted on a regular basis, developing hit products. But when the business he was in charge of sank into the red, he became a victim of restructuring.

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