Elle International

I have known about, and to a lesser extent known Tom Nevins in this Tokyo business community for about 25 years. At a distance we watched each other develop our businesses. I started a business development firm representing, marketing and selling international brand cosmetics. One of our major brands handled was Orlane.

As the economy worsened, along with so many other firms, our sales flattened owing largely to the collapse of some major retail clients. Just as important was my realization that I, the owner/founding President, would not be able to continue forever. The personal relationships, and influence I had with my people who had served me so well (as I always tried to serve them), for so many years, would work even with informal management structures. When it comes to succession, and an organization under less influence of an entrepreneurial founder, more systems and structures are helpful.

We had nearly fifty staff, plus well over one hundred beauty consultants working in department stores. We wanted to do more than just a cold, and mechanical staff reduction. We also wanted to change Rules of Employment, contracts, and adjust salary and retirement benefits at the same time. I wanted someone who cared, understood our needs, and would give us a considerate, customized, and heartfelt solution. They were my family. We had worked day and night together.

These important events effecting people’s lives, are not just about throwing money at people. Actually our managers and staff that we asked to leave knew we had very little money to solve this challenge. Meeting with people on an individual basis is something I considered, but it is not very considerate and easy on any of us. All people in the company should be able to know exactly what and why something is happening at their company. There should be transparency and fairness. Everyone must be convinced there are no special deals, no favoritism, or special treatment. Tom got me to see that the process he recommends represents even more caring and sincerity than risk-fraught one-on-ones-especially if people get emotional and unfortunate things are said. There still can be room for a warm, easier moment together on an individual basis. Indeed, if it can be avoided, it is better not to parade people’s weaknesses in front of them-much better to leave their self-esteem and tender hearts in tact.

A full process of all-employee communications, where we start from morning, have lunch together, have time to read about and question personnel system changes, get reassured on all aspects of the severance package, take care of people with a perspective on finding next opportunities, and getting on with life outside the company, and just as importantly from the very next day at the company, is critical and is usually missing. This is not business as usual, and the process Mr. Nevins has developed shows we recognize and respect just how important these changes are.

There was ample time for people to ask questions and really understand. We encouraged everyone to speak up, and everyone had a chance to share his or her feelings. Our upbeat ending in the early evening with food and drinks also does work. It means more time and attention given. Just as Japanese companies like to have sobetsukai, or leaving parties for people who retire, or leave, if you stop and think about it, it is something we would want to do for our people leaving, and those remaining.

Of course it can be tough on people who have to leave, but it is also tough on those who stay and have to work harder than ever. Just as Tom so enthusiastically describes, it was a very moving experience, that left us all in as great a state as possible, given the unfortunate circumstances. I should also say our goals were fully and completely reached. I also perceived that those of us remaining became more aware of the difficulties of running a business, and the reality that expanding sales and profits can not be taken for granted, and are necessary to survive. Our people have picked up the pace, try harder, and work smarter than ever.

Thomas Nevins, as I had always heard, is a special person, with special skills and experience. He really cares about, and is fully dedicated and committed to delivering what he promises he will help us achieve.

Reiko B. Lyster
President & CEO
Elle International Co., Ltd.
June 2003