uniqlo’s is uniquely unabashed

When moving to a new city, it affords one lots of new opportunities. And I like none more than the process of getting rid of various items during the moving process (a process which in and of itself is actually miserable). The boxes that haven’t been opened and contents touched since the last move. Various collection of corporate giveaways, birthday cards received and other sundry items that had held nostalgic value, no longer seem necessary when it means yet another box to carry and dreading the thought of having to find a new place for the melange once unpacked.

My recent move to NYC was no exception; being out of the larger (a.k.a. non-startup) company environment my attire definitely needed to move away from worn out jeans to business casual, or what someone once described to me as, “client respectful” attire. Many things were donated, others turned into a second life of cleaning clothes.

First stop on the recommended clothing store list from my sister (a now five-year veteran of the Manhattan corporate consulting scene) was Uniqlo, a modern, white walled, brightly lit, 3-floor store in SoHo. Jam packed with tourists and NYers alike, this store was the only of its kind in the United States for the Japan-based company.((although I learned that this was their second location, having upgraded spaces from some where on 5th ave to this Broadway location.)) At first glance, the store reminds one of the other stores in the hip and trendy clothing genre: Express, Banana Republic and H&M.

But it is not its clothing nor store design that makes it distinct. Subtle at first, when I went to make a purchase of three sweaters that I realized what had been in my peripheral vision. When the cashier (and from his name badge, it said he was a manager in training) returned my credit card after swiping it, something curious happened; he returned it with two hands. Fingers curled, thumbs up, held between thumb and forefinger. At first, I was sure it was just a quirk. But when my receipt and bag were handed to me in a similar manner, I began to notice the other signs that Uniqlo was not only bringing its wares to the U.S. but cultural mannerisms.

At this point I should note, none of the people around the store carried a noticeable Japanese accent. And the cultural background looked to be a typical New York snapshot of diversity: equal parts of men, women, Caucasian, African American, Asian, et al. So the way in which they said thank you (a slight nod of their head), their distinct posture (think movies of people practicing by balancing a book on their head) and the signal they give to inform you they are available to checkout your purchase (raising their hand farthest from you in a graceful, yet firm manner. think miss america with a little more straight arm).

So although it is subtle Uniqlo seems to be making sure their personnel not only follow company policy of good behavior, they clearly are taking the time, money and resources to train American in the Japanese culture.

Questions linger though: will Americans notice? or even if they did, will they care? is it subtle enough for folks not to notice but still be subconsiously affected? What will happen when (if?) Uniqlo tries to expand beyond this store? Does this kind of training scale? and can its costs be justified?


inefficiencies in large organization

I could have found two working environments that were more extreme, but it wouldn’t have been easy. Moving from 400K employees at IBM to the original 4 employees of an angel-funded startup was certainly an adjustment. But besides my own shock, I became fascinated with other people’s thoughts on why I was so “lucky” to be working with a startup:  I could be my own boss. I could set my own hours. I could work on what I wanted to work on. There would be less politics. ((See “allure (and the fallacy) of startup life“)).

However, the one difference that was never mentioned (and I found most striking) was the level of efficiency in the different organizations. I once heard Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, describe leading a large corporation “like captaining an an oil tanker. The ship has a lot of momentum; turning took a very long time.” In contrast, startups made lightning fast decisions and changed everything from their resources to their business model on a day-to-day basis. And when laid out, this makes a lot of sense. Startups require fewer people to align and even “big” decisions have a relatively (and absolutely) smaller risk and impact to the company.

So, I began to wonder, as an organization grows in size, is it possible for it to maintain efficiency? Or is it inherent and inevitable that an organization will become more inefficient as its size, in terms of people, revenue etc? Does it scale linearly?

Certainly large organizations are subject to (some would say burdened by) regulations, especially public institutions. One must inform investors or share holders when certain business decisions are made, some which even require waiting until a board of directors convenes. Overhead in order to report financials certainly adds an additional resource burden. Changing culture in a startup requires a few beers at a bar, while changing the mindset and embedded history of a large organization can take months, if not years.

With more employees, communication and processes required to create alignment of goals and consistency of execution contribute to the lack of ability of an organization to make decisions and react quickly to changes. With more people, comes a greater possibility of ideas and solutions to problems. But also more opinions to decide between and build consensus with.

I have seen large organizations try to become more efficient. But in the end, and beyond all the above reasons, it is actually inefficient to remove the inefficiencies. It requires more resources, time and cost to investigate and understand the issues and create the processes for improvement than just to leave the inefficiency in place. So perhaps it is actually economic efficiency at work all along…




Startup life was fast paced, big decisions (or at least big relative to the size of the company) were made quickly. People were hired, re-tasked and/or fired on a regular basis.

In contrast, large companies move slowly, have a hard time making decisions

In these