Working at Japan has been a career objective for me, and thanks to GrasPP I was able to get closer to this goal by participating in a two-week internship at the Mitsubishi Corporation——One of the most prestigious companies in this country.
Outside of Japan, the Mitsubishi brand is mostly associated with automobiles, electrical products and the past glories of the bubble era, but this brand name is actually shared by a club of independent firms, of which the Mitsubishi Corporation is a key member. In the English speaking world, the MC is classified as a “trading company”, a name that is a little confusing and doesn’t do any justice to the broad range of business operated by this giant conglomerate. For this reason, in the first week of the internship, MC’s employees kindly gave us a series of lectures to help us understand Mitsubishi’s history and business model: It is true that MC used to be just a “trading company”, bringing foreign clients to Japan and helping Japanese companies to go abroad. But with the development of information technology, the role of middleman is gradually becoming irrelevant and MC started to invest heavily in the energy sector, transforming itself into an investing firm. However, since 2015 the energy price has been decreasing rapidly and prompted MC to once again upgrade its business model: this time by acquiring a majority position and send managers to run the various new business by itself. For example, MC bought a majority stake at the well–known Lawson convenience store and many MC people have been sent there to operate its business. One of Lawson’s flagship products——a canned coffee that is my favorite morning shot——is made from a Brazilian plantation that was opened by MC a few years ago. To sum it up, today’s Mitsubishi Corporation is a business empire that has the capacity to build a city from scratch and supply its daily demands ranging from electricity to black coffees, it is more like a country than just a “trading company”.
After the lectures, the participants were divided into three different teams and assigned a research project regarding CSR activities. My team’s mission was to investigate the CSR reports of the leading companies from the energy sector, compare their performance with other B to C companies and provide some suggestions for MC’s future CSR initiatives. The research itself is quite demanding, since we have to go through dozens of companies’ CSR reports, which are more than several hundred pages. But what was truly challenging was the teamwork between the participants, who come from different cultures and speak different “languages”. Although we all spoke Japanese during the meeting, due to our background our communication styles rotated constantly between American, Japanese and Chinese: sometimes straightforward, sometimes indirect, and sometimes balanced towards the middle. Little by little we found ways to articulate our ideas to each other and learned how to disagree without being offensive. The whole experience was very illuminating and educational to me, because for the first I realized the true challenge I am going to face in my future career: Unlike studying at school, which is mostly an individual endeavor, working at a company is 100% teamwork, and your personal talent is of zero importance if it cannot be connected with other people’s efforts. To achieve meaningful result we have to make our goal a common vision, and establish our relationships on the basis of mutual trust. Those are no easy task, especially when you work in a culturally diverse team. Fortunately, in this internship we were able to make it through and our major finding is that, from an industrial perspective, companies with higher shares of B to C business tends to spend more on CSR, perhaps to improve its brand image, and since MC is making more money from B to C sector, it should also consider increasing its CSR spending. Our proposal also included a plan for impact investment, which was meant to use MC’s global reach to help developing Africa’s small business.
I felt very grateful to this opportunity provided by GrasPP at the beginning, and started to appreciate GrasPP’s curriculum policy more at the end. Nowadays people often laments the lack of professional training at university, but at GrasPP we have the chance to learn teamwork in and outside of classrooms, with professors and peers that are diverse both culturally and academically. I wish to contribute and also enjoy more of this precious environment in the days to come.