of H&R Group
A deep understanding of the Japanese language and culture, as well as experience in the tourism and service industry, gave Steve Burson the insight he needed to help expats to relocate to Japan and set up their lives here. As president and CEO of H&R Group, he and his team offer a range of unique support services to help any newcomer to Japan feel right at home.
How long have you been in Japan?
About 16 years. For 13 of those years I was living in Nagoya, and I have spent three years in the Tokyo and Yokohama area.
What is your background and how did you arrive at your current position?
I originate from Christchurch, New Zealand, which has a large tourist industry and many Japanese visitors. I began learning Japanese at an early age, with a view to working in tourism at home in New Zealand. After two exchange programs to Japan, I found myself automatically heading back for more. The JET program was my entry point to work here, and I spent several years as a coordinator for international relations in Nagoya.
“Challenges make working worthwhile, as it would be a boring world without them.”
Throughout my high school and university days, I worked part-time in the service industry—duty free stores, casino restaurants, hotels, etc. After some experience in Japan, helping people to set up their lives and adapt to the cultural differences seemed to be the perfect industry for me. After JET, I initially gained experience at an international moving company in Yokohama before joining H&R Group in 2003.
Can you tell us a bit about your company?
H&R Group offers complete coordination of any move to Japan, supporting expatiates, their families, and also the companies for which they work. Our job is to try to simplify the relocation process as much as possible, reducing the burdens on those involved.
Our business started in 1991 in Nagoya, with the establishment of a company providing home finding services in English. From there we have expanded to offer relocation and visa support, automobile and furniture lease and purchase assistance, driver’s license conversion assistance, and fully serviced accommodations. We like to think that we offer ‘more than relocation.’
What are the challenges your business faces here?
Challenges, of course, make working worthwhile, as it would be a boring world without them. But the biggest challenge we face can be described as ‘selling the invisible.’ Many of the services provided during a relocation are delivered by our staff on the ground, and these are not products that can be seen or brought into a sales meeting. What is the monetary value of investing to make sure that a family is well oriented, is comfortable in their new home, and has a number to call if problems should come up after arrival? In our eyes, this type of investment clearly allows the expatriate to concentrate on work responsibilities and deliver results for the host company. However, it seems recently that many corporate procurement departments may see things differently.
What are the best and worst decisions you have made doing business in Japan?
The best decision was to join H&R Group, which gave me the chance to work with a great team of people and to continue to look for great people. In our business, our human resources are our greatest asset. The worst decision was to not believe in myself enough, and to fall into the trap of focusing on immediate problems rather than a long-term plan for the future.
Can you describe your business philosophy for us?
Happy staff equal happy clients. In order to ensure consistent client satisfaction, we need to first ensure that our own consultants are enjoying what they do. Keeping both sides happy can often be a very delicate balancing act, however the benefit of maintaining this balance is a stress-free relocation process for the expatriate and a successful and profitable business for our group.