Mark Ferris is Representative Director of Ascendant Business Solutions KK, a consulting firm that offers tailored solutions to a wide range of clients. Servcies include financial management, human capital management, risk and compliance, and marketing solutions.
Please give me a quick rundown of what your company does.
We have 90 people in full-time employment, and our two business areas consist of processing and consulting. Our area of expertise is the back office, which to us means the accounting, finance, procurement, logistics, human resources, and administration functions. When we talk of ‘processing,’ we refer to activities that are repeated, such as annual filings, monthly accounting, computing pay roll, etc. Our consulting practice helps clients cope with a change they are undertaking, for example, buying or selling a company, entering into new business areas, launching new products, or downsizing. We can help accomplish that change. Our main clients are major multinational companies doing business in Japan.
What do you think are essential characteristics that a business such as yours needs to have in order to succeed, and how does your company aim to embody such characteristics?
There are two things: the first is a dedication to making a difference for the client. This sounds obvious, but the ability to quickly understand what a client needs to achieve is important, as well as being able to think like the client, and the ability to align our goals with theirs is very important. Secondly, you need to have a group of motivated people working for you who want to make ours into a great company; one that is able to really help our clients. Therefore, training staff and developing high levels of skill is very important.
When searching for employee candidates, what sort of background and experience do you look for?
We do need employees with strong knowledge of certain areas, such as accounting, procurement, etc—people who have been dong that sort of thing for a long time. We also need business developers who can identify client opportunities and can close business deals. I E-Level Profiles Entrepreneurs in Japan: Mark Ferris suppose you could call that ‘sales,’ though we tend to refer to it as business development.
What are the current challenges facing your company and how are you overcoming them?
I believe there are challenges and opportunities at the same time. With the recent business climate, we all know that major companies are cutting budgets, and a lot of our clients are doing just that. However, we tend to focus on what clients have to do—or their compliance needs. Complying with laws such as Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) is an example. At the same time, I think a lot of business people feel that this environment gives them a chance to do things they couldn’t do before, such as launching into new areas or starting a joint venture or new business. We’ve seen some clients do some bold things and have been able to help them achieve their objectives.
How long have you been in Japan and what brought you here initially?
I first came here in 1993 as a backpacker, so I am now in my 16th year. I was practicing law before I came to Japan, and at the time I wanted to travel for what was initially going to be one year. I was in my mid-20s. Then, intrigued by the business climate in Japan, I had the good fortune of joining up with likeminded people, and my fascination for Japan continues to this day.
What do you do in your spare time?
I am a director of a non-profit organization called the Tyler Foundation, which helps children with cancer and their families in Japan. I have various other roles in the Tokyo American Club and other organizations. I also try to get out and play sports when I can.