Japan offers world of opportunity for expanding Yorkshire firms

YORKSHIRE companies looking to expand into overseas markets should consider opportunities in Japan, according to the head of a fast-growing language services firm.

The Japanese market accounts for nearly one-fifth of sales at thebigword, the Leeds-based business owned and run by Larry Gould.

"Japan is the second major market in the world. It's amazing how British companies shy away. They are more comfortable with China," he said.

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The company, which turns over 38m, has contracts with Japanese companies including Honda and Hitachi.

It has had a presence in China for five years and has grown the business there, but Japan is "such a rich country – it's amazing for business", said Mr Gould.

He has been operating in Japan since 1999.

"The challenge in Japan is that they are exceedingly demanding of the highest quality service. They demand that when you make a mistake, you really show remorse.

"You have to demonstrate that a new person is in place to make sure it does not happen again. There is such a process to go through, a very cultural process. If you prove to them you can give 100 per cent service, they will trust you and be very loyal."

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Japan is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world and underwent massive growth in the second half of the 20th century, creating close links between manufacturers, suppliers and distributors.

Despite the recession, it remains the second largest economy in the world, based on exchange rates. Culturally, Japan is renowned for formality and politeness.

Mr Gould said: "You have to present your business card in a certain way. You have to bow to a certain level. You do need to go there. You need to communicate in their language.

"Eighteen per cent of our market is in Japan and has been for 10 years. It's growing again, especially in automotive, with new models coming out after the recession."

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The company is sponsoring the Exporter of the Year category in the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards. Last year, it was named winner in the Companies With Turnover of Between 10m and 50m class.

The company has about 500 staff, including 250 in Leeds, and around 8,000 freelancers worldwide. It has offices in New York – run by Mr Gould's son, Josh, and daughter, Dalya – Beijing, Japan, Denmark, Germany, San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and London.

Mr Gould, speaking about his success as an exporter, said: "Don't waste your time if you are not willing to speak your customers' language. Don't go on business trips and give out information that's not in their language.

"Don't be scared. View it as you would Scotland or Wales. It's just a flight away."

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The company employs 36 different nationalities in Leeds, yet Mr Gould said there is a prevailing atmosphere of "being fearful of foreigners", which is very dangerous.

Ninety-five per cent of his employees have a degree, while 80 per cent have two languages, said Mr Gould.

"If they weren't accessible within Leeds, we would not be in Leeds. We would not be in Yorkshire – we would have have moved out."

Mr Gould said he was "incredibly optimistic" about the UK. "There's hope out there, there are markets out there," he said.

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"The reality is that you can get highly educated young and established people in the UK. High unemployment means high candidate availability.

"The pound is relatively weak against the yen and dollar, so we are well placed. The British work harder and longer than anybody else. We are very innovative. This is the time when the new entrepreneurs have a great opportunity."

He moved part of the group's operations to Argentina to save money, but moved it back to the UK because of the costs of checking work. He also returned developers from China to help increase efficiency.

"We were going to move to Argentina and China because they were low cost and felt to be reasonable quality. Now the cost of staff here has become good economic sense. There is a lot of people available."

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n Tickets are still available for the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards. Chancellor George Osborne is the speaker at the October 14 event. To buy tickets, email [email protected]


Larry Gould admits he is "obsessive" about costs and margins, how much his company pays suppliers and what he charges customers. This approach should assist thebigword in austerity Britain.

Mr Gould said: "We are big suppliers to government and we are going to help government by reducing our price. We are going to do that by technology."

As founder, he sees his role to look at opportunities and how to exploit markets. He plans to grow turnover by 20 per cent next year.

Turnover for the last year was 38m. Mr Gould said this is forecast to exceed 45m next year.