Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Mitsubishi Lifer

Once in a while, you'd come across a book which you couldn't place your finger on, which genre it belonged to, why such a book was ever written in the first place, and what the publisher was thinking of in terms of making money out of publishing it. Well, "The Blue-eyed Salaryman" is just such as book. It is a story about a westerner (an Irish, actually) who spent his earlier years travelling the world over and yet ended up as a paid employee - a salaryman - in one of Japan's largest conglomerates. Yet, the author is not recounting any significant achievement worthy of an inspiring lesson, or about an unusually unique life that would make people sit up.

Yes, he is unusual in that he was the first westerner to reach the manager-class in a Japanese MNC - Mitsubishi to be precise - in Japan, not in a branch of the conglomerate located in Europe or America. He gained his PhD in Japan, joined Mitsubishi under local terms, married a Japanese and, last recounted, is raising his family in Osaka, Japan. Not something inspiringly distinct that you would want to spend time reading about it at first thought. Yet, I was almost glued to the book because of the stories of the ordinariness that life in a Japanese MNC could be, the different characters in the form of his colleagues (all Japanese, of course), an attempt to get him match-made and the ultimate uncertainty that permanent employment in a Japanese firm would bring. Such things sometimes make for engrossing reading. In that sense this book is unusual. The book is written with much wit by Niall Murtagh, erstwhile Mitsubishi lifer and PhD in Artificial Intelligence. The former is what this book is about, not the AI part.

Interesting and enjoyable.