Now in 2021, as the COVID-19 vaccination is steadily becoming available across the world, the ongoing pandemic continues to challenge our ability to adapt. How has life in the U.S. been different over the past year?
We asked Adam Ramirez and Yoshito Noguchi, both from Tokyo Century (USA) Inc. (TCUSA), as well as Chris Lerma, Tomoyuki Akamatsu, and Takaya Ishiguro from Allegiant Partners Incorporated (API), which joined Tokyo Century Group in 2019, to share their experiences.
- Masks Became a Form of Self-Expression in the United States
- Working with Anyone, Anywhere, as Online Becomes the Norm
- No Matter How Far Digital Technologies Advance, People Will Always Be the Capital of Our Business
- Every Hardship Has a Silver Lining
- Tokyo Century Receives its First Infusion of Energy from an Overseas Startup
Masks Became a Form of Self-Expression in the United States
――How has the expansion in COVID-19 infections changed U.S. cities and daily life?
The biggest difference has been that we now wear masks all the time. Wearing masks in public was never a widespread practice before the pandemic.
Until the current situation, the streets of New York City always bustled with businesspersons and tourists; now the subways are nearly empty and traffic has dramatically dropped. Before you enter a shop or restaurant, your temperature is taken and sanitizing lotion is pumped into your hands.
Although I just arrived in January 2021, my impression is that preventive measures are stricter here than in Japan. I had to make a reservation to apply for a social security number, and people are warned if their mask does not cover their nose.
I think most people wear plain masks in Japan. In the U.S., however, the general value American’s place on personal beliefs and expression apparently led, for example, to many people wearing masks displaying the word “VOTE” during the elections.
Even football fans have team masks, and it’s not uncommon to see people wearing masks with colorful designs or even handmade ones. It’s interesting how they’ve become part of daily life here as a means of self-expression.
Working with Anyone, Anywhere, as Online Becomes the Norm
――What are some of the changes you have seen in business?
In TCUSA, even before the pandemic, we were occasionally working from home using the company’s teleworking infrastructure. So there have been no major problems adapting to teleworking. TCUSA handles a considerable number of small ticket lending projects related to trucks and forklifts, and one of its strengths is the ability to quickly handle the entire process from applications to funding. I admire the way our truly dependable staff has been able to maintain that fast responsiveness even under a different working environment.
Hiring employees through a completely online process was a major shift at TCUSA. We hired one person who lives in a small city in the northwestern region of Montana, roughly 2,000 miles (approx. 3,200 km) from our main office in New York, with a two-hour time zone difference. The employee is closer to Oregon, where API is based.
There are broader possibilities now for hiring excellent personnel, regardless of geographic location. We basically work from home now at API, but thanks to our free and open corporate culture, we’ve adapted quite well.
No Matter How Far Digital Technologies Advance, People Will Always Be the Capital of Our Business
――Please tell us what creative ways you have found for facilitating work from home and online communication.
While there is some benefit to not having to travel, the quality of communication between face-to-face and online contact is quite different, so we hold more online meetings to coordinate. We regularly discuss ways to raise operational efficiency and productivity and continually strive to do better.
API employees have always engaged in close communication as equals. When we used to work in the office, we made time to dance or exercise, and we would strike a gong and celebrate together whenever we received a major order. To maintain our culture under a teleworking environment, we have come up with a lot of creative ideas, such as online trivia contests and other ways to enliven interpersonal interactions.
After more than a year of working from home, people got bored of the “same old” events. So, we try something new every day to maintain a sense of unity among employees.
At TCUSA, we hold team chats to greet each other at the beginning and the end of each work day. Seeing each other’s faces even through virtual meetings fosters a sense of connection similar to what we felt when we were in the office together. We are trying to reproduce a sense of being close through digital tools so that no one feels isolated at home.
We are in a people business, and people are our capital, so I think it is especially important for employees to feel they are part of the company and the team, even when we are far apart.
TCUSA has also been known for its free and open working atmosphere. One employee even brought a dog to the office on Fridays. I think we are maintaining the same atmosphere even when working from home.
Every Hardship Has a Silver Lining
――What new possibilities have you discovered because of these special circumstances?
Although COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges, we have also become familiar with a variety of digital tools we couldn’t have imagined in the past, like Zoom, Teams, and RingCentral, which in turn have broadened the possibilities for our business. This is a silver lining, a positive change, made possible by the pandemic.
You’re right. We are working together to come up with creative ways to cope with working remotely, and this has presented an opportunity for retaining and emphasizing our corporate culture.
According to the results of one survey, more than 80 percent of employees say they want to continue working from home after the pandemic. For families with small children in particular, working from home offers advantages such as flexible hours, so I think a certain level of telework will continue. On the other hand, once the pandemic ends, I believe the value of returning to work in the office will seem different than before. I think the focus of office work will shift to projects that require working together in the same place. This could ultimately strengthen our culture and produce even greater happiness in working together.
Remote work has also led us to review our operations. TCUSA has staff working night shifts to serve customers across the United States. We have taken this opportunity to consider working more efficiently, and this has led to an ongoing collaboration in which Oregon-based API will take on the night shift operations of New York.
Tokyo Century Receives its First Infusion of Energy from an Overseas Startup
――API joined Tokyo Century Group in 2019. Tell us about your business.
API is an independent general leasing and financing company focused on small and medium-sized trucks and arbor equipment and vehicles. API aspires to provide services that go beyond financing for manufacturers, vendors, and dealers that constitute our partners. For example, we serve customers seeking trucks by offering a proposal describing a specific model truck provided by a partner company and the optimal financing service. In a sense, we provide services that add strength to the sales activities of vendors, including manufacturers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided significant momentum to expanding the scope of the EC market. This will be accompanied by increased demand in the packaging and delivery sectors we have been serving. We are aware of this trend as we go about our daily business.
――What are the specific features and advantages of API?
API joined the Group as a startup company, which is unusual for Tokyo Century. While it has relocated to Oregon, the company originated in the Bay Area of California, the sacred land of venture businesses, and has a liberal and creative corporate culture.
We are also learning from API’s use of digital tools, such as Salesforce. Conventional businesses around the world are being overwhelmed by digital technologies that seem to emerge every day. The key to generating innovative businesses and services lies in the ability to quickly adopt and effectively use these digital tools.
Although we are currently not able to travel freely within the country, regular web meetings several times a week have made me aware and appreciative of API’s dynamic and responsive corporate culture as well as its business process and thinking, which are different than those of Tokyo Century.
I think we’re a fairly unique finance company in the U.S. for our size. A big part of our DNA is to be innovative and fast-paced. And curious thinkers come together each day to explore customer needs.
――While the path to ending the COVID-19 pandemic remains uncertain, what are your thoughts and impressions about business development in the years ahead?
API became a member of Tokyo Century Group, and this has created synergies even during the COVID-19 pandemic. North America is also home to CSI Leasing, Aviation Capital Group, and GA Telesis, with which we collaborate on a daily basis. We hope we can continue delivering excellent services to customers across the world in collaboration with members of Tokyo Century Group located around the globe.
As a resident staff, I would like to play the role of establishing connections among affiliates in the United States, Tokyo Century’s head office and worldwide business locations.
We are focusing on ways to deliver our services to customers who have not had access to financing services in the past. Every day, I feel there are greater business opportunities outside Japan, and I’m looking forward to working with our partners to deliver even better services.
Since being dispatched as a trainee in January, I have been learning about the operations of each unit. I hope to understand how to apply the latest digital technologies to our services and personally contribute to API and Tokyo Century Group.
I’d like to deepen my understanding of Tokyo Century Group and do my part to achieve Group-wide growth. In addition to developing a mutual understanding of our respective businesses and seeking closer collaboration, I hope Tokyo Century Group can contribute to initiatives on sustainability toward achieving the SDGs, which has become a global challenge.
Tokyo Century (USA) Inc.
Established in 1985 and headquartered in New York, TCUSA handles small ticket lending projects related to trucks and forklifts while also collaborating on financing projects with automobile manufacturers and manufacturers of agricultural equipment and construction machinery.
Allegiant Partners Incorporated.
Launched as a venture company in 1998, API joined Tokyo Century Group as a wholly owned subsidiary of TCUSA in 2019. Currently based in Oregon, API pursues general leasing and financing businesses focused on small and medium-sized trucks and arbor equipment and vehicles.
*The contents of the article and the position titles are as of the date posted.
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