Jarislowsky East Asia (Japan) Chair

The Centre for Asia Pacific Intiatives' Jarislowsky East Asia (Japan) Chair is Mary Yoko Brannen, PhD. A well-known international scholar in multinational affairs, Mary Yoko Brannen received her MBA with emphasis in International Business and PhD in Organizational Behavior with a minor in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Having taught at various Universities in the United States, Japan, China and France, Professor Brannen's consulting specialty is helping multinational firms realize their global strategic initiatives by aligning, integrating and deploying critical organizational resources.  Born and raised in Japan, having studied in France and Spain, and having worked as a cross-cultural consultant for over 20 years to various Fortune 500 companies, she brings a multi-faceted, deep knowledge of today's complex cultural business environment. As Jarislowsky East Asia (Japan) Chair, Brannen has plenty of opportunities to apply her culturally specific skills to develop a Pacific Asia program that connects the university community - across campus, cultures and countries. 

Most recently, Dr. Brannen’s research has focused on a project for UK supermarket giant, Tesco.  When new CEO Philip Clarke took over in March 2013, he wanted to reinvigorate the core of Tesco in the UK. At the time, Tesco’s profits in the UK had fallen by 0.5 per cent, while its profits globally had gone up by 30 per cent, led by its Asian subsidiaries. Clark wanted to see what learning could be garnered from their Asian counterparts to reinvigorate the core business of Tesco in the UK.

The new project to investigate this change was led by Dr. Brannen and involved training nine of Tesco’s managers from its six Asian subsidiaries to be “inside ethnographers” at Tesco in the UK for three months. Dr. Brannen explains:

“It is a relatively new concept, bringing ethnographers into a workplace. Usually ethnographers go into foreign cultures and try to examine them. Here the trained ethnographers are doing a similar job, but in a work culture.”

The findings were surprising. Of the nine Asian managers, the ones who scored highest in competency and were the best “bridgers” between cultures, were those who had little other cultural experience or language experience outside their own country, but had a thorough knowledge of Tesco. These managers – the ones who knew Tesco but not the local language or culture in the UK, had the best insights to where Tesco UK could learn from its Asian subsidiaries.

This information is useful, not only for Tesco but for other companies operating in the global marketplace.  Dr. Brannen’s research is at the forefront of a new school of thought which sees international business from the view of an individual’s identity, cultural background and language.

“If we can understand who the “bridgers” are in an organization between one culture and another, companies can leverage that skill set to better understand the context they are in and better facilitate knowledge sharing,” explains Dr. Brannen. “It can be difficult to see the cultural context of a company while you are inside it, whereas an outsider can come in with fresh eyes and new ideas.”

Dr. Brannen is currently working on three papers related to this research.

This chair position is shared with the Gustavson School of Business and came into existence as a result of a $1-million gift from Canadian financier, businessman and philanthropist Stephen Jarislowsky.

To contact Mary Yoko email maryyoko@uvic.ca.