I came across this article a few days ago and it kept nagging at me; I have therefore decided to post it for comments and opinions. The main premise of the article is that companies will fall behind if they do not adopt English-only policies within their companies. I wonder if this is good advice or not.
One of the major global companies in our area is Toyota. Toyota is a Japanese company with international operations, but many of their executives are Japanese. I know for a fact that most of the higher level executives rely on personal interpreters who travel with them and go to every single meeting with them, interpreting between Japanese and English all day every day. Does Toyota put themselves at a disadvantage by not adopting an English-only policy?
Harvard Business Review: Mandating English is a must for global companies
By Chris Reidy
Forget about Esperanto, the invented lexicon that was devised to be widely adopted as an international language. English is emerging as the common tongue of the global economy, and companies that fail to adopt an English-only policy could face a competitive advantage.
So argues Harvard Business School professor Tsedal Neeley in the May issue of the Harvard Business Review. In her article, Neeley notes that such companies as Airbus, Daimler-Chrysler, Fast Retailing, Nokia, Renault, Samsung, and SAP have “mandated” English as their corporate lingua franca.
“If you want to surpass your rivals, it’s no longer a matter of choice,” Neeley writes.
Neeley’s article may be of special relevance in Massachusetts, a hotbed of product lifecycle management tools that enable people from around the world to collaborate on such projects as designing and manufacturing automobiles. Companies specializing in such collaborative software include Parametric Technology Corp. of Needham (also known as PTC) and Dassault Systèmes, a French company with a big presence in Waltham.
In life sciences, meanwhile, several foreign giants have bought local pharmaceutical companies. In 2008, the Japanese drug maker Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. bought Millennium Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge. A year later, another Japanese company, Dainippon Sumitomo Pharma Co., disclosed plans to acquire Sepracor Inc., a Marlborough drug company perhaps best known for its Lunesta sleep aid. (After that deal closed, Sepracor’s name was changed to Sunovion Pharmaceuticals Inc.) And last year, French drug maker Aventis SA bought Genzyme Corp. of Cambridge.
In her article, Neeley cites Aventis as an example of a company that has chosen English to be its “operating language.”
For English to take hold in a workplace where English is not the first language, it’s crucial that the company’s chief executive be a role model for “Englishnization,” Neeley writes.
Englishnization is the word used by Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive of Rakuten. Neeley describes Rakuten as an online marketplace that’s a cross between Amazon.com and eBay. In March 2010, Mikitani decreed an English-only policy at Rakuten. As of today, half of the company’s Japanese employees now can adequately engage in internal communication in English. Much of Neeley’s article is devoted to recounting how the company achieved this goal.
To be sure, adopting English as a company’s official language has potential pitfalls. Employees who are not native English speakers can fret about job security if management doesn’t offer the right kind of support. But the advantages of switching to English far outweigh the negatives, Neeley argues.
“Language differences can cause a bottleneck — a Tower of Babel, as it were — when geographically dispersed employees have to work together to meet common goals,” Neeley writes.
In conclusion, I suppose companies can do whatever they wish in order to try to gain a competitive edge. However, a company accepting only English speaking employees may be cutting itself short or failing to hire the best candidates for the job. I also feel that a company with this kind of hiring policy may put itself at risk for other blind spots; perhaps failing to see all of the potential business in other parts of the world.
What do you think? Do you agree with this article or not?