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Case Study: Fred's Struggle to Balancing Work and Family in Tokyo

Fred and Jenny

Fred gazed out the window of his 24th floor office at the tranquil beauty of the Imperial Palace amidst the hustle and bustle of downtown Tokyo. It had only been six months ago that Fred had arrived with his wife and two children for this three-year assignment as the director of Kline & Associates’ Tokyo office. Kline & Associates was a multinational consulting firm with offices in nine countries worldwide.

Fred was now trying to decide if he should simply pack up and tell the home office that he was coming home or whether he should try to somehow convince his wife and himself that they should stay and try to finish the assignment. Given how excited Fred thought they all were about the assignment to begin with, it was a mystery to him as to how things had gotten to this point.

As he watched the swans glide across the water in the moat that surrounds the Imperial Palace, Fred reflected back on the past seven months. Seven months ago, the managing partner, Dave Steiner, of the main office in Boston asked Fred to lunch to discuss “business.” To Fred’s surprise, the “business” was not the major project that he and his team had just successfully finished, but was instead a very big promotion and career move.

Fred was offered the position of managing director of the firm’s relatively new Tokyo office, which had a staff of 30, including seven Americans. Most of the Americans in the Tokyo office were either associate consultants or research analysts. Fred would be in charge of the whole office and would report to a senior partner (located in Boston) who was running the Asian region.

It was implied to Fred that if this assignment went as well as his other assignments, then it would be the last step before becoming a partner in the firm. How could Fred go back now? Certainly going back early would be the kiss of death for his career in Kline. But Jenny was not in a mood to discuss things.

As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to discuss. She hated Japan. She felt that the company and Fred had oversold the country and how “well they would be looked after.” Fred worked 80+ hours a week because of all the after-hours socializing that he had to do with the clients. He was never home and “had no idea what life was really like in Japan.” Jenny had given Fred an ultimatum: either they left together or she would go home alone.

The Tokyo job offer

That things had escalated this far just did not seem possible to Fred. What was he supposed to do? Sacrifice everything that he had worked for over the years? His Harvard MBA would no doubt get him another job, but he had a real future at Kline if he could just hit even a double in this assignment. But if he walked away from the plate now, his career was over. And yet he loved his wife and children and did not want to lose them. What had gone wrong?

Fred and Jenny

Fred and Jenny met during their last year in college in a senior seminar class on business ethics. Fred was instantly attracted to Jenny’s warm smile and flair for fashion. Jenny recognized in Fred ambition and a kind heart. The two started dating only a week after the class started. Jenny came from a well-to-do family in Connecticut. Her father was a senior executive with a major firm headquartered in New York.

She had majored in fashion merchandising as a way of combining her interest and talent for fashion and her father’s advice about studying something practical. Fred was the oldest of six children and was the first to go to college. His father was a construction.

worker and his mother a beautician. Fred had worked hard in high school and graduated second in his class. Even with a partial scholarship and loans, tuition help from his parents had placed a real financial burden on them. Fred was determined to take advantage of the opportunity he was being given and to make his parents proud. Fred and Jenny were married on a warm June afternoon.

Although skeptical at first, Jenny’s parents gradually came to recognize in Fred what Jenny saw from the beginning. Fred was bright and determined but his humble background sparked in him a genuine interest in others that put them at ease whenever Fred was around. Before and after getting married, Fred and Jenny talked at length about careers and family. Fred wanted to go back and get his MBA after a couple of years of work.

He had landed a great job with American Express after graduation and hoped with two years experience in a name brand company, his stellar college grades, and good GMAT scores he could get into a top MBA program. Jenny wanted to be a buyer for a major store like Sacs Fifth Avenue and later have her own shop. They both wanted children but thought they would wait until Fred finished his MBA before starting a family. At that point, Jenny would take a few years off and then start her own small clothing store once the children were in school.

Challenges in Tokyo

They both thought that owning her own shop would give Jenny the flexibility and time to spend with their children that she wanted. Everything had gone according to plan up until the offer to go to Japan. Fred joined Kline right after graduating from Harvard. He had a couple of other offers, but including expected performance bonuses, the job at Kline paid 20% more than any of the others. Fred took it and was immediately put on the San Francisco team of one of the hardest charging young consultants at Kline. Rick Savage was one year away from the magical “up or out” decision concerning partner.

This decision typically happened about the seventh year of employment forMBA hires. Rick had been given a very high profile assignment with Kline’s largest client. Success here would guarantee a partnership. Fred felt that his life must be charmed to have landed on Rick’s team out of the gate. During his first three years at Kline, that first project and nearly every other project that Fred had been part of were successes. In his fourth year, he was given a major assignment and led a team of seven consultants and associates. Fred had just completed this 10- month assignment when Dave asked him to lunch. Fred was stunned by the Tokyo offer.

The Tokyo office was opened in part to serve major US clients’ operations in Japan. From the same base, Kline would begin to develop relationships with Japanese firms. Once the relationships were formed, Kline would be able to service the Japanese multinationals’ American operations from their established offices in seven major cities in the United States. The strategic significance of the office and the offer did not escape Fred. Fred’s predecessor in Japan had opened the office a year ago. George Woodward was a partner with a mixed reputation.

George had friends at the very top of Kline, but he also had made enemies all along the away. Fred was not sure why George had been suddenly transferred to the UK. Because the transfer to England was taking place “right away,” Dave told Fred that he and his family had about three weeks to get prepared for the move. When Fred told his wife about the unbelievable opportunity, he was shocked at her less than enthusiastic response.

Jenny thought that it would be rather difficult to have the children live and go to school in a foreign country for three years, especially when Christine, the youngest, would be starting first grade next year. Besides, now that the kids were in school, Jenny wanted to open her own clothing store.

Balancing work and family

Fred explained that the career opportunity was just too good to pass up and that the company’s overseas package would make living in Japan terrific. The company would pay all the expenses to move whatever the Bailey’s wanted to take with them.

The company had a very nice house in an expensive district of Tokyo that would be provided rentfree. Additionally, the company would rent their house in Boston during their absence. The firm would provide a car and driver, education expenses for the children to attend private schools, and a cost of living adjustment and overseas compensation that would nearly double Fred’s gross annual salary. After two days of consideration and discussion, Fred told Mr. Steiner that he would accept the assignment.

Preparing For The Move

Between getting things at the office transferred to Bob Newcome, who was being promoted to Fred’s position, and the logistic hassles of getting furniture and the like ready to be moved, neither Fred nor his family had much time to really find out much about Japan, other than what they had quickly read on Wikipedia. Kline handled many of the logistical and relocation details internally.

Unfortunately, a number of things went wrong. For example, when the packers came, they were totally unprepared for the fact that some of the Baileys’ stuff was going into storage and some was being shipped to Japan. On a “look see visit” a week after Fred had accepted the assignment, Jenny saw the house in Japan where they were to live and instantly knew that not even a third of their belongs would fit. In fact, none of the antiques would fit through the door, let alone in the house.

Fred's Early Experiences  

When the Bailey’s arrived in Japan, they were greeted at the airport by one of the young Japanese associate consultants and the senior American expatriate. Fred and his family were exhausted from the long trip and the 90-minute ride back to Tokyo was a rather quiet one. After a few days of just settling in, Fred spent his first full day at the office. Fred’s first order of business was to have a general meeting with all the employees of associate consultant rank and higher. Although Fred did not really notice it at the time, all the Japanese staff sat together and all the Americans sat together.

After Fred introduced himself and his general ideas about the potential and future directions of the Tokyo office, he called on a few individuals to get their ideas about how the things for which they were responsible would likely fit into his overall plan. From the Americans, Fred got a mixture of opinions with specific reasons about why certain things might or might not fit well. From the Japanese, he got very vague answers. When Fred pushed to get more specific information, he was surprised to find that a couple of Japanese simply made a sucking sound as they breathed and said that it was “difficult to say.”

Career and Family: A tough decision

Fred sensed that the meeting was not meeting his objectives, and so he thanked everyone for coming and said that he looked forward to their all working together to make the Tokyo office the fastest growing office in the company. After they had been in Japan about a month, Fred’s wife complained to him about the difficulty she had getting certain products like maple syrup, peanut butter, and quality beef. She said that when she could get it at one of the specialty stores, it cost three and four times what it would cost in the States.

She also complained that the washer and dryer were much too small and so she had to spend extra money by sending things out to be cleaned. On top of all that, unless she went to the American Club in downtown Tokyo, she never had anyone to talk to. After all, Fred was gone between 10 and 16 hours a day. Unfortunately, at the time Fred was pre-occupied, thinking about his upcoming meeting between his firm and a significant prospective client—a top 100 Japanese multinational company. The next day, along with the lead American consultant for the potential contract, Ralph Webster, and one of the Japanese associate consultants, Kenichi Kurokawa, who spoke perfect English, Fred met with a team from the Japanese firm.

The Japanese team consisted of four members—the vice president of administration, the director of international personnel, and two staff specialists. After shaking hands and a few awkward bows, the Japanese offered to exchange business cards. Fred’s staff had prepared his cards in advance with Japanese on one side and English on the other. Fred handed his cards to each member of the Japanese team with the English side up. After the card exchange, Fred said that he knew the Japanese gentlemen were busy and he did not want to waste their time so he would get right to the point.

Fred then had Ralph Webster lay out Kline’s proposal for the project and what the project would cost. After the presentation, Fred asked the Japanese what their reaction to the proposal was. The Japanese did not respond immediately and so Fred launched into his summary version of the proposal thinking that the translation might have been insufficient. But again, the Japanese had only the vaguest of responses to his direct questions. The recollection of the frustration of that meeting was enough to shake Fred back to reality.


The reality was that in the five months since the first meeting little progress had been made and the contract between the firms was yet to be signed. “I can never seem to get a direct response from Japanese,” he thought to himself. This feeling of frustration led him to remember a related incident that happened about a month after his first meeting with this client. Fred had decided that the reason not much progress was being made with the client was that Fred and his group just did not know enough about the client to package the proposal in a way that was appealing to them.

Consequently, he called in the senior American associated with the proposal, Ralph Webster, and asked him to develop a report on the client so that the proposal could be re-evaluated and changed where necessary. Jointly, they decided that one of the more promising Japanese research associates, Tashiro Watanabe, would be the best person to take the lead on this report. To impress upon Tashiro the importance of this task and the great potential they saw in him, they decided to have the young Japanese associate meet with both Fred and Ralph. In the meeting Fred had Ralph lay out the nature and importance of the task.

At which point Fred leaned forward in his chair and said: You can see that this is an important assignment and that we are placing a lot of confidence in you by giving you this assignment. We need the report this time next week so that we can revise and re-present our proposal. What do you think? After a somewhat pregnant pause, the Japanese responded somewhat hesitantly, “I don’t know what to say.” At that point Fred smiled, got up from his chair and walked over to the young Japanese associate, extended his hand, and said, “Hey, there’s no need to thank us.

We’re just giving you the opportunity you deserve.” The day before the report was due, Fred asked Ralph how the report was coming. Ralph said that since he had heard nothing from Tashiro that he assumed everything was under control but that he would double check. Ralph later ran into one of the American research associates, John Maynard. Ralph knew that John was hired because of his language ability in Japanese and that unlike any of the other Americans, John often went out after work with some of the Japanese research associates, including Tashiro.

So, Ralph asked John if he knew how Tashiro was coming on the report. John then recounted that last night at the office Tashiro had asked if Americans sometimes fired employees for being late with reports. John had sensed that this was more than a hypothetical question and asked Tashiro why he wanted to know. Tashiro did not respond immediately and since it was 8:30 in the evening, John suggested they go out for a drink. At first Tashiro resisted, but then John assured him that they would grab a drink at a nearby bar and come right back.

At the bar John got Tashiro to open up. Tashiro explained the nature of the report that he had been requested to produce. Tashiro continued to explain that even though he had worked long into the night every night to complete the report that it was just impossible and that he had doubted from the beginning whether he could complete the report in a week. At this point Ralph asked John, “Why the hell didn’t Tashiro say something in the first place?” Ralph did not wait to hear whether John had an answer to his question or not. He headed straight to Tashiro’s desk.

The incident just got worse from that point. Ralph chewed Tashiro out and then went to Fred explaining that the report would not be ready and that Tashiro had worried that it might not be from the start. “Then why didn’t he say something?” Fred asked. No one had any answers and the whole thing left everyone more suspicious of and uncomfortable with each other than ever.

There were other incidents, big and small, that had made especially the last two months frustrating, but Fred was too tired to remember them all. To Fred it seemed that working with Japanese both inside and outside the firm was like working with people from another planet. Fred felt that he just could not communicate with them and that he could never figure out what they were thinking. It drove him crazy.

Jenny's Early Experiences  

Jenny’s life in Japan was equally frustrating. Jenny was determined at first to make an adventure of living in Japan. During the first week, she went down to the local grocery store to buy some food and basic household supplies. However, not being able to read the labels she had mistakenly bought a bottle of bluish colored liquid that was in a bottle of the same shape as “Scope” mouthwash back home. She discovered that it was actually bathroom cleaning liquid after “swishing,” “gargling,” and nearly choking to death on the stuff.

After about a month, Jenny tried to take the Tokyo subway system from her house to the American Club. What was supposed to be a 15-minute ride turned into a 2-hour ordeal. Jenny missed her stop but did not discover her mistake for several more stops. Then when she did, she got off the train, only to discover she had no idea of how to get to the other side of the tracks and head back in the opposite direction.

She exited the station and tried to ask how to get to the other side. Finally, in broken English someone pointed out some stairs that led to a tunnel that went under the tracks to the other side. However, arriving there, she found, that she had no idea how much a ticket would cost to the stop she wanted and even though the map had had the stops in both English and Japanese, there were so many subway lines and stops that it was just overwhelming. At this point she was frustrated nearly to the point of tears.

The tears came when she saw a small group of young grade school kids buy tickets and go through the turnstile. Although she did not want to, she called Fred on her mobile. She reached his assistant who said he was in a meeting. “I understand, but I need to speak with him,” Jenny said firmly. When Fred came to the phone Jenny was crying. Fred tried to be understanding but his irritation at being called out of a meeting because she was lost on the subway seeped through. After a brief discussion, Fred and Jenny reasoned that she shouldtake the escalator up out of the subway and hail a taxi.

Fortunately, the Japanese taxi driver understood “American Club please” and Jenny arrived just as the group she was supposed to meet was breaking up. Two people in the group were more than sympathetic to Jenny’s ordeal and could not say enough about the “stupid” things that they had encountered in “this most frustrating of all developed countries.” As part of this cathartic complaint session, Jenny related her “mouthwash” incident. After they all had a good laugh, one of the women told Jenny about National Azabu, a small but American grocery store. “At least there you can get key things from back home,” she said.

The Bombshell

For Jenny, these incidents were only the tip of the iceberg. She wanted to go home, and yesterday was not soon enough. Even though the kids seemed to be doing okay, she was tired of Japan— tired of being stared at, of people trying to touch her hair, of not understanding anybody or being understood, of not being able to find what she wanted at the store, of not being able to drive and read the road signs, of not having anything to watch on television, of not being involved in anything.

She wanted to go home and she could not think of any reason why they should not. After all, she reasoned that they owed nothing to the company because the company had led them to believe that this was just another assignment, like the two years they had spent in San Francisco, and it was anything but that! Fred tried to reason with her, but the more he countered, the more determined she became. Suddenly she dropped the bombshell on him: either they could go home together or he could stay here alone.

The Decision

Fred looked out the window once more, wishing that somehow everything could be fixed, or turned back or something. What had gone wrong? Why was Jenny being so unreasonable? Did he dare call Dave and explain the situation? Dave was very old fashioned and had once made a derogatory comment about a promising young consultant whose future looked dimmer and dimmer because he “could control his complaining spouse.” Looking down again, Fred could see traffic backed up down the street and around the corner. Although the traffic lights changed, the cars and trucks did not seem to be moving. Fortunately, in the ground below, one of the world’s most advanced, efficient, and clean subway systems moved hundreds of thousands of people about the city and to their homes.

1.Analyze the performance management at this company, the recruitment and selection process, the compensation package, as well as the pre-departure     training.

2. Explain what should have been done.

3. Discuss the situation for the family coping with the new demands of the job for Fred, the changes for the family with regards to the social networks, and the effect on the partner’s career with this expatriate assignment.

4. Create a plan for what should have been done to prevent these problems.

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