Bridgestone Adopts English as Official Language in Global Push

Bridgestone Corp., the Tokyo-based tiremaker, found that presentations and discussions went much smoother after its top managers began conducting some meetings in English instead of Japanese beginning last year.

The results have been so encouraging that the world’s biggest tiremaker has decided it will gradually implement English as Bridgestone’s official language, Chief Executive Officer Masaaki Tsuya said at a briefing yesterday, speaking in Japanese without interpreters. The decision is part of the company’s mid-term plan to become “truly global,” he said.

Bridgestone joins Fast Retailing Co., Asia’s biggest clothing chain, and Internet shopping mall Rakuten Inc. in adopting English as the official language as they expand globally and seek to hire more international workers. Still, the companies remain a tiny minority in Japan, where English proficiency remains poor despite the language being taught for nine years from primary school.

“We think this is the right way to go,” Tsuya said. “Especially for our young employees, we’re going to tell them that English is a must if they want to move up the ladder.”

Japan’s indifference to English was highlighted by Finance Minister Taro Aso, who suggested that corporate Japan’s poor language skills were actually an asset, helping it escape the worst of the 2008 financial meltdown as the nation’s bankers hardly understood English and hence didn’t buy subprime loans.

English Reports

Bridgestone currently distributes some of its internal monthly and quarterly reports in English, said Tsuya, who holds an MBA from the University of Chicago.

“Many Japanese companies don’t want to go learn English and become global because it’s a lot of work to change,” said Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute in Tokyo. “But unless you only make and sell products within Japan, you need to become more global.”

At yesterday’s briefing, Bridgestone said it will invest 41.6 billion yen ($424 million) to boost output capacity at a car radial-tire plant under construction in Hai Phong City, Vietnam. The company will also shut a steel-cord plant in Japan next year because of difficulty maintaining its competitiveness.

Bridgestone expects net income to jump 43 percent to 246 billion yen this year, amid a decline in raw material costs and a weaker Japanese currency. That compares with the 259 billion yen average of 15 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

The tiremaker has climbed 61 percent in Tokyo trading this year, outperforming the 40 percent gain in the benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average.