During the boom years, it was debatable whether Ireland was spiritually closer to Boston or Berlin.
Ireland has benefited hugely from foreign direct investment from the US and we have many high-quality companies here as a result. Our business culture over that time has been shaped by many of the same influences.
If much of our gaze was fixed westwards over the past 20 years, now is the time to broaden our horizons and turn 180 degrees – beyond Berlin, looking much further east. You don't have to be an economist to see that power is shifting and the new economic powerhouses include China, Japan and Singapore.
We don't have natural historic links to emerging economic nations in the way that we have with American companies so there is work to be done. Initiatives such as the largest ever Irish trade mission to Japan in January are encouraging.
Future inward direct investment needs to be on a more sustainable basis than we had in the past. That will mean more focus on research and development, new technology and innovation – something Japan, for example, is synonymous with.
Traditionally, many Japanese firms kept their research and development at home, but in order to become truly global this innovation investment is now being made overseas. This is an opportunity for Ireland to become a location of choice for eastern countries as a further basis to create a 'smart economy'.
I am encouraged that our entrepreneurial spirit doesn't seem to have deserted us despite the economic upheaval of the past year. Many of our other key assets still remain, such as a well-educated, young workforce. We should have the wherewithal to tap into innovation and new thinking and attract the new global players to our shores in addition to the top companies already based here.
A second, and maybe an even broader benefit, can come from looking east. When you think of Japan, you think of efficiency in production and services. This is summed up in Jeffrey Liker's excellent book The Toyota Way, which among other things talks about how the car manufacturer cut out waste in production and implemented a process of continuous improvement.
I have worked in a manufacturing environment and used similar techniques and they do work. Many of the same techniques can be applied to services.
The Japanese way values the team ethic: collaboration, consensus and co-operation. It's about engagement with people, and working together to solve problems. You don't need an army of consultants to come in – most people at the coalface know where inefficiencies lie. This is about service innovation, driven by people who are closest to the citizen or the customer.
Having worked for US companies and now a Japanese multinational I have been fortunate to observe two very different cultures in action.
Inherent in the Japanese business culture is a strong sense of serving something greater than oneself. The country is so densely populated that in every sense there is no room for the individual. They have learned to work by consensus, in a team-oriented way.
During the Celtic tiger years we followed the American model of the individual but we need to get back to a sense of 'team Ireland'. It's time to call a halt to the divisiveness that does not address the present crisis.
For example, there is too much perceived division between the public and private sector. That is unhelpful and unnecessary. In a country of just over four million people, we need to unite now that our economic and social survival is at stake.
Great article Regina, liked it a lot.
Brian O' Hanlon