Saturday, 26 March 2016

Mistreatment by Yamatake almost destroyed my career

It has been a long time since I talked about these things publicly, and even longer since the events they deal with transpired. Sixteen years in fact. But the fact is that I still dream about Yamatake. Sometimes they are good dreams, dreams when I was making application stories for products the company made. But sometimes they are bad dreams, like last night when I dreamt about the internal politics at the company, which is now named Azbil. They had the renaming after I left the company, in 2001.

I had started working with Yamatake in 1992 when I was just 30 years old and I had a young family. I can't believe, now, that I would uproot my entire family and move them overseas to work in a new company, but that's what I did then. I spoke almost no Japanese, but when I arrived in Tokyo, I found a vibrant work unit with its own culture. It was led by an American woman who I will name Dierdre, who was a journalist by training. Originally I was employed for my desktop publishing skills but Dierdre soon had me writing application stories as well as laying out the various publications in English the company made.

We were an exceedingly happy group but a few years after I started at Yamatake Dierdre decided to leave. I remember receiving the news and being devastated. When I look back I realise I should have been even more badly affected. As it was, I jumped out of the car in the middle of the street and walked back to the office. I needed some air.

After Dierdre left the company things went on as normal except that I had to take on more work. I adjusted my way of doing things but there were no more staff. There was no more money. There were no new hires. We had a lame-duck manager brought in from an overseas posting whose only qualification for the job was that he spoke English. I was carrying the can. Then one say Musha-san arrived, asking to see the publications the group made. I should have realised this was the first stage in the company's take-over of the overseas communications function, and that my job was on the line, but at the time I didn't understand these things.

A bit of background is useful at this stage. When I had joined the company, Yamatake Corporation, it was still a joint-venture partner with Honeywell of the US but that relationship changed over time and eventually, while I was still working there, the company went public and started to accrue its own shareholders. Annual reports which my group had traditionally produced would now have to be distributed to institutional investors globally. And the overseas sales task for the company in general had changed, because whereas in the past Yamatake had cooperated with Honeywell in markets such as Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe, now it would be running its own global network of offices and sales staff.

Obviously, the nature of the overseas English-language communications task had changed. But instead of helping me to adjust to the changing environment, the company took the function away from me completely. I should expand here on some of those dreams I still have. The first thing to say is that I loved my job. I was learning how to tell stories - the reason I went back to university in 2006 to study journalism was because of these formative experiences, which had all been uniformly positive - and it was always interesting and exciting. I had dreamt about doing application stories constantly since leaving the company. That's sixteen years of dreams. They are mostly good dreams, too, dreams in which I know in my heart that I am doing something I love, and that fulfills me.

The stress I was experiencing at work affected my home life as well, and eventually in 1999 I was asked by my then-wife to leave home. I found a small, unattractive apartment on the back of a letter of recommendation from the man who had originally invited me to come to live in Japan in the first place. But I was lonely and pined for my children. Eventually, under severe stress, in 2000 I had a mental breakdown. Things at work had not been doing well. The company had moved me to one business unit after another and now I was supporting the overseas offices using my English-language skills and publishing skills. I still worked with sales people but the wonderful work of writing application stories was now being done by others led by Musha-san.

The mental problems manifested themselves at work and eventually one of my colleagues - the man at Yamatake I worked most closely with - took me to hospital. I was given a CAT scan and then taken to Jikei Idai Hospital in central Tokyo. Six weeks later I was released from the institution and I went back to live with my family. What I didn't know at the time was that my then-wife was talking also to my father back in Australia. I pleaded with my doctors at the hospital to let me go back to work, but they refused. In the end what I feared would happen - the company would let me go - did happen. I had lost my job. The company ferried me back to my family's apartment in the corporate limo, but it was all ashes to me. I would never again get to write any application stories.

The severance package, it should be said, was decent but it only lasted for a year. Eventually, after nine months of living in my family's apartment, my then-wife sent me back to Australia. I arrived just before the jets hit the twin towers, and stayed in my uncle's house in Sydney. The company had done its worst but I was still alive. In time I would heal enough to get another job and go back to work - this time doing technical writing and HTML coding - but I would still dream of writing application stories for Yamatake. The dream never leaves me. Just this morning I dreamt again that I would one day go back and do the same work again. Those were the days. We thought they'd never end.

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