How it all began

World Business is a blog discussing the particularities of doing business in an international and multicultural market. Our contributors will share their experiences, thoughts and advices in hope to improve our common understanding of various cultures and to develop more efficient and respectful business approaches in an ever more connected world. Thank you for reading us: we look forward to our future discussions!

Below is my first post.

What a big deal… my first deal was!

I was twenty-two. The car was moving slowly through the night, on the left side of the road. This made me feel uneasy, like a Titanic’s passenger with a premonition… and I did not need that! I was very nervous as it was, gathering all the strength I could muster to regurgitate the Japanese words I had learned by heart, in hope to close what would be the biggest deal of my short life. The driver, my counterparty and negotiator, was a short tempered entrepreneur in his fifties whose reputation as a demanding and unforgiving leader had been repeated to me ad nauseous. His name was Haruo, and he had lived all his life in Japan. I was then a French student of the Law who had not even passed the Bar yet, and here I was, about to request that he entrust me with his most precious asset for an undetermined duration… with no guaranty of payment! All I could offer was goodwill. All I could hope for was his trust. What a foolish lad… and yet I had to go for it! The opportunity was simply too rare to pass, my urge was too strong to ignore. This deal would make or break me: I had to convince him. Over the humming noise of the engine, I heard my voice ask the question mechanically, almost hopelessly, as if estranged from my own body. Haruo looked at me, clearly amused, and asked with a smile: “Anata?” (“you?” in Japanese). “Hai!” was my affirmative response, hastily and desperately spurted… And then, the silence…

Although it probably lasted less than a minute, it seemed then like a term without possibility of parole, as the car kept on gliding inexorably towards collision. Whatever hope I had exited my useless and slumping self… what a fool I had been to even ask the question! Until… until of course Haruo said yes, with an amused and complicit smile. What a miracle it was, and trust was its cause! I could now feel it in the car, this almost palpable and warm cloud of mutual confidence. Whatever had gained me this man’s trust (this scary, different, demanding and yet convinced Japanese man’s trust), I knew right away that it was going to be invaluable to me throughout my life.

I had to know what it was… and it did not take long to figure out. From my first day in Tokyo, I had played by Haruo’s book. Had never used chopsticks before… yet never asked for a fork (“see how they fly!”). Had always broken fast with sweets in the morning until then… yet gladly finished my fish and flushed any fling for croissant. Had never spoken Japanese before… yet spurted along the few words I knew from a self-teaching method every time wondering eyes seemed to require an answer from my pitiful self.

Respect. Such was the word. No requests made for any accommodation of my inadequacies. No judgment passed on a culture that I had not yet come to understand. Respect for the new world I was discovering. Respect for the people who had built it. Respect as the lens piercing through the puritan cloth of which History and Geography clad us all. Respect as the bridge on which all human beings can meet as equals.

Since then, I became a Canadian citizen, passed the Québec bar, and closed a lot of deals involving a lot of negotiators from many walks of life and areas of the globe. The lesson I learned with Haruo stuck with me throughout my career.

For the asset he entrusted me with was the happiness of Kana, his twenty-one year old daughter, whose enchanting eyes had transported me in every possible way. The deal we negotiated was a joint venture with Kana as CEO and controlling shareholder, the dividends of which came to us later in the shape of two beautiful little girls.

Fifteen years after the fact, I still don’t think I ever closed a deal as important as that.

David Tournier

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