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Lost in Translation - A Journey of Communication, Negotiation and Success!

Returning to the U.S. after teaching English in Japan, Jim Hudak got a job as a consultant and translator with Toyota Motor Sales in California and then moved to Toyota Machine Works. The work took him to auto shows and to the plant floor. At each place he added to his knowledge. The experience helped prepare him for future work in global product development, market analysis, strategic development and tactical execution. It also expanded his communication, team building and leadership skills.

What was your first job with Toyota?

I was hired as the interpreter and liaison for Toyota executives at the Detroit International Auto Show, the New York Auto Show and the Chicago Auto Show.

Toyota hired me full-time in 1991 and put me to work in its Toyota Machine Works Division.

You’ve said the time with Toyota gave you insight into union negotiations. How did that happen?

As interpreter and liaison for Toyota Motor Sales, I found myself working with unions at the show sites and translating as the Japanese set up their exhibits. The expectations were sometimes very different, and we had to negotiate. That gave me insight into union negotiations, but the real learning experience was when I worked for Toyota Machine Works.

I found myself working at Ford engine plants and supplier facilities in the Midwest and Canada where state-of-the-art Toyota CNC grinder lines were being installed. These were major investments by Ford and Toyota Machine Works wanted to ensure Ford was satisfied. It worked to provide excellent customer service and sent its best specialists to set up the machining lines.

My job was to act as a conduit to ensure programming, operating and maintenance knowledge was transferred from the Toyota technical specialist to the UAW line operators at Ford.

It was a tough scene. There was a huge gap in trust and several issues had to be overcome.

The Japanese personnel didn’t speak enough English to communicate effectively. They also were a bit apprehensive about working with UAW-represented workers because the unions in Japan operate very differently than the unions in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, both groups were reluctant to transfer knowledge and experience to a competitor.

On the UAW side, the union was not happy Ford was buying a product from a competitor, not to mention a Japanese one. It was at a time when American automakers where losing share to the Japanese auto companies in the U.S. and tensions were high.

We had a standoff, and my job was to fix it.

What did you do to bring the two sides together?

First, I translated the manuals from Japanese to English. Then it was time to apply the negotiating skills I learned as a consultant and translator for Toyota Motor Sales at the auto shows. It also helped that I spoke both English and Japanese and understood the cultures on the plant floor.

It took time, but I finally convinced both sides I was there to help.

I got hyper involved in every aspect and worked hard to create personal relationships between the Japanese and American workers. Oftentimes, my job was simply to convince both sides not to take things too literally and understand there was not only a language barrier but more significantly a cultural barrier as both sides approached issues and tried to resolve them from completely different starting points and methodologies.

Both sides wanted a positive outcome but didn’t necessarily know how to get there with such vastly different approaches. I spent time teaching them that these differences existed and how to overcome them. I also encouraged getting together after work and we would go out semi-regularly for dinner or drinks.

The relationships and working environment improved, the technology was transferred, and everyone got along. We were even invited to the UAW workers’ homes for dinner. We truly became a cohesive unit.

What did you learn from that experience that you can bring to Arcadia Alliances clients?

There are a number of things I took away from my time with Toyota that will help me work successfully with our Arcadia Alliances clients.

That experience taught me to not only listen but hear what others are saying so I can respond in a thoughtful manner. So often we hear, but we don’t truly listen.

A lot of communication issues are more than just related to language, but rather the way people are taught to rationalize, think and communicate. That can lead to major issues, but if we listen, and hear, many can be avoided and those that are more complicated can be resolved.

That skill helped me hone my verbal and non-verbal communications skills, like watching body language, as well as the need to establish boundaries in negotiations and be flexible.

One of the most valuable things I learned was to appreciate that often cultures approach situations from a different perspective. That allowed me to see potential roadblocks and steer both sides to a successful outcome.

I have those skills and so do the Arcadia Alliances leadership team and our partners. So often things happen on the fly and there is a need to adjust. The ability to use those skills allows us to pivot quickly.

At Arcadia Alliances we do all this with respect, integrity and honesty.

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