Nomura's dress-code shows up cultural divide

Which suit to wear to work? Not 'the one of lustrous material,' says Japanese bank.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A year after successfully snapping up some of the juicier fragments of the fallen Lehman Brothers, Nomura has demonstrated how teething troubles can sometimes persist in otherwise happy international mergers. In this case, linguistically.

In a recent e-mail circulated to staff in a bid to get them to smarten up, Nomura politely pointed out that ‘gay colour nail polish' wasn't acceptable; anyone with a query on the firm's trouser policy was reminded to ‘wear the one gives to the ankle to the height of pants'; and, with summer now over, skirts were forbidden to be either extremely short or be ‘a skirt that deep slit entered'. With instructions as baffling as those it's a surprise its team didn't just bin the idea of getting dressed altogether.

The Nomura gaffes may be amusing, but they do illustrate a valid problem with international takeovers: that culture clash can be a real issue. Just look at the Daimler-Benz/Chrysler merger of 2001. The new company spent several million dollars on a post-merger integration team, which ran cultural sensitivity workshops on such topics as ‘sexual harassment in the American workplace,' and ‘German dining etiquette'. Yet the whole thing still went spectacularly wheels-up, largely because the two companies were just too culturally opposed.

And it seems that Nomura's problems aren't confined to linguistics either. Earlier this year it released its first figures after acquiring and restructuring the Asian and European wings of Lehmans - in which it revealed that losses for the 12 months to March had more than trebled to £1.3bn. There's also been a great deal of discontent over Nomura bankers getting the axe while former Lehman people pick up better pay.

The linguistic issue is a small one, but it only serves to highlight and exacerbate the fact other cultural divides may exist. The trouble is, such misuse of language is very common. On a trip to Tokyo one MT staffer once saw a t-shirt bearing the slogan ‘I've got the crabs'. That's not a good sentence to have emblazoned across your chest. Everyone knows you don't need the definite article there.


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Nomura's dress-code shows up cultural divide

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