Alec Weil of Pianoforti

Business - July 3rd, 2009

Alec Weil is the Director of Pianoforti, the exclusive importer of Fazioli pianos in Japan. Fazioli is an exclusive Italian brand of handmade pianos. Each instrument is individually handcrafted, combining high quality materials with the finest workmanship and technology. With a background in marketing and consulting, Alec Weil is well-equipped to market these beautiful and high quality instruments to Japanese customers.  

How long have you been in Japan?

I arrived in September of 1992. I came here with a previous company, then after a short while working in consulting I started working for Steinway & Sons. I was the first employee in the history of the company to be based in Asia, and I worked to set up the Japanese subsidiary. I was the marketing manager of that subsidiary until I left in the summer of last year to start my own company. I have come to the conclusion that I may not be the typical entrepreneur, but I’m an awful employee. I’m much happier doing what I’m doing right now.

Please tell us a bit about your company.

We are the exclusive importer of Fazioli pianos in Japan. Fazioli is an extremely small, exclusive brand of handmade pianos which I really fell in love with a couple of years ago. I am an amateur pianist and won one amateur competition in Japan. I had always thought that another famous piano brand was the be-all-and-end-all of instruments, but then I played this one and I thought, this is fantastic. Most famous piano companies are very old, many over 150 years. The founders all died in the 1800s, but Paolo Fazioli is still very much alive and kicking. It’s really cool to be dealing with him on a daily basis and introducing him and his fantastic instruments to the Japanese market. What is your background and how did you arrive at your current position? It’s pretty mixed—I was born and brought up in Chicago, where I studied economics. My first contact with Japan was working for the trading company Mitsui Bussan in Chicago. My first job after college was washing dishes, and my second one was with Mitsui. I worked there for four years, after which I worked for another small trading company for a little while, and then I went off to London Business School. That was back in 1985. After completing my MBA, I worked in Germany for seven or eight years, which was when I met my Japanese wife.

What are some of the major challenges your business faces in Japan?

If you don’t speak the language, you might as well give up. A foreigner operating in this country has some severe advantages and disadvantages, and it’s best to be very aware of those. You have to be able to compensate for the disadvantages that you have. I would say that having outstanding people with you is of course the best way to deal with that. The thing about starting a business is that the level of indebtedness you have to other people is absolutely awesome. No matter how good you may think you are, that is really the key issue. There are going to be people who help you, and you have to retain gratitude towards them.

Fazioli piano

What advice would you give to aspiring professionals?

Get your funding right. I don’t think that anyone takes it seriously enough. I started business last November in the biggest recession since the end of World War II. It was a really cold winter, I can tell you that. The people are now coming though. Actually the business is coming along quite nicely, and it’s a lot of fun right now.

What do you do in your spare time?

I used to have spare time, is the best way of answering that. I still play piano a lot and I am going to be in a competition again this year. I am dealing with some very fine concert pianists, and I find it very handy to understand their perspective of getting up on stage and being nervous and performing. It’s invigorating, but terrifying as well.