How one foreign-born leader is leading transformation in Houston

Houston continues to draw in more than 200 people a day who are moving here from around the world. Among Harris County residents, 1 in 4 is foreign-born, representing more than a million people.

Immigrants are transforming the Houston community, as our city is the most diverse in the U.S. What does it take for a foreign-born leader to be involved and what is the impact of this environment on their company?

Focusing on results

One case in point is J.J. Naoki, president and CEO of Satake USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Satake Corp. of Japan, which is the No. 1 manufacturer in Japan’s rice milling industry and a maker of food processing machinery. Born in Tokyo, Naoki came to Alabama to establish a new subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp., and in 1998 moved to Houston to lead Satake.

For 17 years, the qualities that have contributed to Satake’s success are: teamwork, focusing on results and involvement in the local community. Since Satake is not a direct-to-consumer retailer, introducing the name of Satake to the community was not the main objective. The company’s belief in giving back to the community, however, has led to a reputation as a community leader.

In Satake’s business, engineering development is key, and it is always looking to improve its technology and manufacture better products. Naoki, however, observed that employees were exercising obedience rather than innovating, a behavior that was preventing the company from growing. He encouraged his employees to be aware of the changing environment and to freely contribute their ideas and creative energy to improve the company. He introduced the fair bonus system so that every employee could share in the company’s success.

Acclimating to a new environment

Ultimately, one pillar of Satake’s success has been to create an open environment, both externally with the community and internally with its employees. The company encourages its employees to take time to be involved and be aware of local activities, and share the joy of supporting the community together.

Doing so impacts the relationship between the leader and his or her employees, and improves the communication skills and working environment, which impacts productivity.

Advice to other foreign-born leaders

It is important to grow your business, but it is also important to communicate and be involved with the local community as one of its citizens. Naoki established the Japanese Association of Greater Houston and also supports the Japan-America Society of Houston. His involvement with the Japanese Garden in Hermann Park and the Japan Festival has helped enhance the relationship and understanding between the U.S. and Japan.

Meeting people in the community, learning about the city, being involved in local activities and encouraging your employees to do the same can mean great benefits.

Ultimately, Houston is a city that does not care about where you were born. It cares about how you impact and engage in the community once you are here.

Linda Toyota is president of the Asian Chamber of Commerce, Houston. With more than 20 years experience in the nonprofit community, Linda has worked with a wide array of nonprofit organizations including the Holocaust Museum Houston, the Houston Technology Center, the Texas Heart Institute and the Houston Area Women’s Center.