After establishing himself in the corporate arena abroad, Andrew Abbey moved to Japan to teach English, and eventually ended up starting his own English training company. Along with his business partner, Paul James, Abbey now runs Platinum Training Consultants, where he works with Japanese companies to train their employees not only in the English language, but also in the finer points of business communication in English.
How long have you been in Japan?
I arrived shortly before the 2002 World Cup, so it’s coming up on eight years now.
What is your background and why did you decide to start your business?
I began my career in tax and spent seven years working for PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG in the UK and Australia, but soon realized that I wanted to run my own business. I took a career break and came to Japan, where I taught English for a while before deciding to take the plunge. Moving from the business world to the eikaiwa industry allowed me to identify many of the shortcomings in the way Japanese companies and individuals communicate with the rest of the world, and the opportunity to address these issues formed the inspiration behind Platinum Training.
Can you tell us a bit about your company?
We’re essentially an English and communication skills training company, but our approach is somewhat different to that of our competitors in the industry. There’s a popular misconception that Japanese workers have poor English skills, and as a result most companies’ English training programs lack a solid business focus and are directed at improving participants’ English ability on a general level. This approach rarely yields bottom-line dividends in the short or even medium term; the subject of ‘English’ is simply too broad for employers to effectively address. In fact many, perhaps most, Japanese workers actually have sufficient English ability in terms of grammar to do their jobs effectively. What they sometimes lack is the ability to bring this ability—painstakingly learned over many years in school and college—into the workplace. Platinum Training’s courses are designed to address this problem by helping people to channel their English ability into the specific tasks required by their job, such as teleconferencing, meeting management, or giving presentations. We also run cross-cultural training courses aimed at helping businesspeople to negotiate the various pitfalls of working in international environment. This is increasingly important in the modern business world.
What are the Japan-specific challenges your business faces here?
Japan, like every other country, has its own individual character, but up to now we’ve found more opportunities than difficulties. That said, perhaps the biggest stumbling block is the occasional tendency for organizations to pursue a course of action simply because that’s what they’ve always done. Initiating change can sometimes be a laborious, but eventually rewarding, task.
What kind of advice would you give to aspiring professionals and entrepreneurs?
Be very clear in your mind about the direction you want your business to go. Beware of spreading yourself too thinly, or straying away from the core focus of your business, at least until foundations are solid. If you work with someone else, take great care to choose someone with complementary strengths—Paul James (my business partner and co-founder of Platinum) and I work very well together for exactly that reason.
Can you describe your business philosophy for us?
The general failure of the English training industry in Japan is largely down to a failure to focus on clients’ bottom lines. Our philosophy is that to justify our existence we must offer a worthwhile return on investment, and our approach is specifically aimed at doing exactly that.
What are the best and worst decisions you’ve made doing business in Japan?
The best was starting our company—it’s a great feeling to build a business from scratch, and at the moment things are going well. The worst decision was not starting up three years earlier—life is short and if you have a good idea then there’s no point in delaying.
What do you do in your spare time?
I play and watch football, ski, travel and write. I also particularly enjoy eating out in Japan—perhaps the best restaurant scene in the world.
Platinum Training Consultants