Sixty-three: Japan versus Sweden
Steve: Hi, Jill.
Jill: Hi, Steve.
Steve: We have with us again and we know he's very busy and he's going to go back to his desk here at KP Wood but we want to ask him very briefly to describe the nature of his work now, the different projects that he's involved in, what things there are on the environment, you know, on the horizon rather, things that he has ahead of him.
Tell us a little bit about your work.
Stephen: Actually, my work is very interesting right now because what I have been spending most of my time on the last few years is working with our lumber suppliers in Sweden to develop products for Japan and then working along with our staff in Tokyo, Japan to sell those products to Japan. So, I get a chance to work on the supply side and the sale side so it's quite interesting. And in the more recent last six months or so I've been involved in our software division also where we have developed software for companies like ourselves that are trading lumber and also for sawmills in their production and sales of lumber. That business is quite interesting because it's new and any new project is fun.
Jill: Yeah, I was just going to ask you, how do you find it different than the wood industry? The software industry, is it a different, you know, is it a different sales pitch? How do you communicate with your clients, your potential customers?
Stephen: Well actually the potential customers are people that we've been dealing with for years or at least the type of people, people in the sawmill industry. So, I think we know how to relate to them quite well and we know what their needs are but it is a different product. Lumber and software is quite a different product so I've had to learn a lot about software and I still have to learn a lot more about software -- not programming but software use -- in order to sell it. And also until now most of my sales have been selling lumber to Japanese customers in Japan where now I'm selling software to Swedish customers in Sweden and, of course, the cultures are totally different but that's interesting too.
Jill: Yeah, I was just going to ask you, what is the difference in cultures? What's the main difference you notice between dealing with Japanese customers and Swedish customers?
Stephen: Actually, of course, they don't look alike but other than that I find a lot of similarities surprising enough. Both Swedish people and Japanese people are generally very punctual, quite formal in their business and then they like to have fun after business hours, which is the way I conduct myself. When I'm doing business I'm quite formal and then after business with customers or suppliers we like to have fun. They are also – both Japanese and Swedish – quite serious when they are working. I guess I mentioned that before but detail-oriented, serious, punctual, neat and formal. So, actually, there are a lot of similarities between the two.
Jill: As we know from a previous podcast you spent years living in Japan and I think you may have some plans to spend some time in Sweden.
Stephen: Yes. I don't think they want me back in Japan again. No, just joking. So, actually, now I'm planning to move with my wife and children to Sweden for a few years. KP Wood has had an office in Sweden for a while but I'm going over there to work in that office and I'll be involved in both the lumber side of the business and the software side of the business so that should be exciting.
Jill: And do you have plans to learn Swedish now that you're moving there?
Stephen: Yes. Actually, I'm using LingQ right now. I've only been on it for a short amount of time but I'm progressing quite well. I mean I listen to a lot of Swedish radio when I'm driving in my car in Sweden. I also have my iPod which I listen to my Swedish tapes and review it on LingQ and surprisingly enough in just a few short months I can follow a lot of Swedish conversations now.
Steve: And the interesting thing, of course, you talked about the comparison between Swedish people and Japanese people. One thing I find interesting is Sweden is kind of a peninsula. It's not exactly a peninsula because Norway sits on top of them but it's the Scandinavian Peninsula. They are kind of separated from Continental Europe and, of course, Japan is a group of islands. So, I also find that the Swedish society is a little insular like the Japanese are a little bit insular. They are both very international, very internationally-minded but they are also…both societies I find close knit. Do you find that?
Stephen: Yes, I do. They are quite homogeneous. Only recently Sweden has had more immigration and now 15 percent of their population are immigrants but those are mostly in the larger cities. So they are quite insular but lucky for me that everywhere I go when I speak English, if I go into a restaurant or somewhere a gas station and I speak English, they always ask me where I'm from and when I answer Canada they're quite friendly, so. I've had only good experiences in Sweden as I did in Japan too.
Steve: And one of the major differences though would be that in Sweden just about everybody speaks English which is not necessarily the case in Japan.
Stephen: That's right. Actually, in Tokyo a lot of people do speak a limited English where you can have simple conversations but not detailed conversations. In the countryside of Japan it's very hard to find someone to speak English which is one of the reasons I left Tokyo after two years and moved to the countryside to force myself to learn Japanese. Where in Sweden a lot of the Swedish people speak better English than I do.
Steve: And where did you move to in Japan just before we finish here?
Stephen: I moved to the Island of Shikoku to a city called Matsuyama which is a very, very small city in Japanese standards. It's only 450,000 people. I guess that would be the second largest city in Sweden.
Steve: Yeah, could be. I don't know how big Tabori is but...okay, well listen, thank you very much for dropping by. It's been very interesting. Thank you Jill.
Jill: Thank you.
Steve: Thank you Stephen.
Stephen: Thank you for having me.