The Language of Global Success: How a Common Tongue Transforms Multinational Organizations

Tsedal Neeley. Princeton Univ., $26.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-691-17537-9

Neeley, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, tackles her study of “Englishnization” with scholarly rigor and journalistic zeal. On a Monday morning in March 2010, the CEO of Japanese tech company Rakuten announced that the company was adopting English as its lingua franca. By the next day, the two-thirds of Rakuten’s employees who are Japanese nationals found themselves ordering from English-language menus in company cafeterias. Yet it wasn’t these employees (whom Neeley calls “linguistic expats”) who had the hardest time adjusting—it was native English speakers in the company’s U.S. subsidiaries. Suddenly it was possible for Rakuten to translate its organizational culture into English, requiring everyone to adapt. Neeley spotlights the struggles of individual employees to adjust to the changes at Rakuten against the backdrop of the CEO’s enthusiasm, lightly wearing a mountain of data gathering (650 interviews, about 3,000 survey results, and more than 20,000 pages of archival data). She also tells an intriguing story about culture and language, showing that the key to success for modern-day businesspeople is embracing a “global work orientation” and being open to collaboration across national borders. This finding is supported by the experience of Rakuten’s employees in Brazil, France, Indonesia, and beyond, “dual linguistic-cultural expats” whose openness to change helped them fare better than both their Japanese and American counterparts. This case study skillfully demonstrates that major corporate initiatives must be championed by top leadership and provide meaningful support and training for employees. [em](Sept.) [/em]