February 16th, 2010
06:56 PM GMT
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NEW YORK CITY – Let's face it: the news these days is pretty depressing. High unemployment, spiraling deficits, lawmakers quitting because the mood is so poisoned in Washington. So, it was a breath of fresh air when I sat down with Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter (@jack) to talk about his new company Square.

You might think that someone who has achieved so much so young might be… well… a little self-important. But I found the exact opposite. When I met Dorsey, he was passionate about his work, polite and generous with his knowledge – basically a really really NICE guy. Maybe it is his mid-western background that keeps him grounded, I don’t know. But it was refreshing.

Square, Dorsey’s new project is looking to take mobile banking to a new level. They have developed software and a small hardware device that will allow anyone will a portable computer or smart phone to accept credit-card payments. If you meet a friend for dinner and have no cash, you can whip out your card and pay them right there on the spot.

In the demo we did, Dorsey charged me $4 for the interview (well $3 and I gave him a $1 dollar tip!).

Banking through mobile phones is not new in Africa, but those of us in Europe and the U.S. are a bit behind. This payment system hopes to change that. Square is beta testing with iPhones now, but plans to expand to Blackberries, Android and laptops and officially launch this summer.

The day I interviewed Dorsey, we met at one of his local haunts, Third Rail coffee shop on Sullivan Street. The two proprietors are guys who left their former jobs in the pursuit of perfect cup of java (and they’ve come pretty close!).

Dorsey and I then talked about Square, the competition (a handful of other companies are also working on mobile payments systems) and tech start-ups and I left feeling… well… hopeful.

Despite all the gloom and despair, New York City is humming with entrepreneurs. Some are chasing their own dream, some working on new ideas that have the potential to radically change the way we live/do business. And there isn’t any economic data that captures that. No monthly government reading that measures innovation. It is important to remember that when you read yet another headline about sub-par growth and lost jobs (even if I am the one writing, or saying, it!).



February 16th, 2010
11:40 AM GMT
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Toshiro Era doesn’t look like a radical. Dressed in his conservative blue blazer and tie, he looks like your average businessman in Japan.

But when he starts talking about his plans for corporate Japan, “radical” is among the words that leap to the minds of Japan, Inc. watchers.

Don’t lie. Move quickly. Be transparent. Allow in the media. Get your CEO out front early, even if there’s no consensus.

That’s Era’s message as he lectures two dozen senior managers at a food manufacturing plant two hours outside of Tokyo. It’s the opposite message most of the graying men in this room have heard their entire lives in corporate Japan. They need to change when crisis hits, argues Era.

“Japan is a homogenous and monolingual society. We assume we can gain understanding if we explain well later, even if we don’t talk about it immediately. Unlike Western companies, Japanese companies tend to specify the cause of the problem and fact-find internally first, before coping with the crisis. This move looks very slow and it is the worst move you can make when it comes to crisis management. Japanese companies, especially a conservative company like Toyota, will misstep,” said Era.

Temple University Professor and Japan scholar Jeffrey Kingston says Toyota followed the secretive rules of corporate Japan, a culture that closes off amid challenges instead of opening up.

“In Japan, there has been a greater movement towards more transparency, more accountability, better communication, but it’s a slow movement. This case highlights how much farther it has to go,” said Kingston.

Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator Joan Claybrook says when safety problems with Toyota’s cars began to emerge, Toyota as a corporation closed ranks.

The NHTSA was also not on the ball and that led to the ongoing safety issues, says Claybrook. “There’s too much secrecy that Toyota was allowed to get away with– withholding information, with not being transparent and forthcoming with the Department of Transportation. And as a result, we’ve had people die, and be injured, and I’m sure there are going to be more.”

Preventing further problems will require a culture change within Toyota, says Kingston. It’s something that appears to be happening, as Toyota’s President, Akio Toyoda, makes more public appearances and reassurances to his consumers.

He has yet to confirm that he will testify before US lawmakers in Washington February 24 and 25, something that Kingston says will be the marker of a true turning point for Toyota’s internal culture.

Back at Era’s seminar at the food manufacturing plant, he’s running through various examples of failures within corporate Japan. With his power point presentation and laser pointer, Era pushed the senior managers to go against the corporate grain. Change is never easy, he says, especially in Japan. But Toyota is proving that sometimes it needs to happen.

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