5 minutes with … Pierre (Yasushi) Uchino, Vice President of ZENRIN EUROPE GmbH
Zenrin Co., Ltd is a Japanese company from Kita-Kyshu in Fukuoka Prefecture with roughly 3,000 employees worldwide. Zenrin mainly produces maps for residential areas and car navigation software. The company is looking back on its long history and celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.
Zenrin has had a presence in North Germany since the 90s but the company has turned its back on the Rhineland after 20 years and ventured the move to Munich on the Isar. What are the reasons behind this? What advantages does Bavaria offer? In the search for answers, we set off for Highlight Towers in the north of Munich where Zenrin has its European head offices in close proximity to Fujitsu and IBM Watson.
We received a friendly welcome on the ground floor by Mr Pierre (Yasushi) Uchino, Vice President of ZENRIN EUROPE GmbH. We warmly greeted each other and were taken to the lift. Having arrived high up on the top floors of Highlight Towers, we are now in the Zenrin office. Mr Uchino’s desk is facing the window. From an eagle’s perspective it’s good to see how green Munich still is even though it’s a megacity.
Tell us a bit about your company.
We are celebrating the 70th anniversary of our company this year. We mainly produce maps for the OEMs’ car navigation software for the Japanese, Indian and European market. We are developing maps with BMW in Munich for their vehicles on the Japanese market. Our company motto is: 「物売りから、事売り – monouri kara kotouri – “selling products to sell experiences”, i.e. we also offer useful content from a wealth of information out of our map database for customers. For example, you need far more precise information for an autonomous vehicle compared to a standard car navigation system.
We also offer warning systems for Bosch and other German system manufacturers. Japanese roads are very narrow compared to those in Europe. German manufacturers cannot imagine the complicated roads in Japan that well. The close contact with our German partners helps us explain the special characteristics of Japanese roads to them.
Why did you opt for Munich / Bavaria?
Zenrin Europe had an office in Düsseldorf from 1997 to 2017. However, the automotive sector is not represented nearly as strongly there as in Bavaria, particularly in Munich with BMW.
In Munich we can communicate faster and easier with our partners and it’s possible to also talk about private things like skiing or the Oktoberfest. This closeness to our customers is very important.
Daimler with its head office in Stuttgart and Audi with its head office in Ingolstadt can also be reached quickly. And the direct contact with German or Bavarian car manufacturers is also an advantage as 90% of the cars registered in Japan are from Germany – in particular models from BMW, Mercedes Benz, VW and Audi.
What was the key reason for the Highlight office?
We wanted an office where the customers are also willing to drop in for a meeting. At the start, Zenrin Europe had a temporary office in Unterföhring but the place was too unknown so the actual advantage of being close to customers in Bavaria was lost on the customers. Which is why we looked at various office properties in Greater Munich with the help of Invest in Bavaria and finally opted for the design office in Munich’s Highlight Towers. The building is one of the most well-known offices in Munich, including the fantastic view over the city. It is of course also an incentive for our staff every day.
The Highlight Towers are a prestigious office with beautiful conference rooms and are therefore ideal for inviting customers to meetings. This makes working together with our partners and customers much easier.
Did you have difficulties with the “Bavarian working culture” at the start? And which Bavarian idiosyncrasy surprised you most?
There weren’t any difficulties with the “Bavarian working culture”. What I found very interesting is that the Germans act as if nothing happened after a heated discussion at work: as soon as work is over, they are totally normal and friendly to each other and don’t bear grudges at all. That would be inconceivable in Japan!
What I also find wonderful is that you don’t talk about work when eating but about skiing and everyone is very friendly towards each other. I admire the Germans’ ability to be able to use their “on/off” switch well at work. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Japan. We are always somehow in “on” mode.
It’s also great that people enjoy their life to the full from morning to night. I often see people in the English Garden spending their day chilling and drinking a beer.
How did you find out about Invest in Bavaria?
We found out about Invest in Bavaria from our contact at MUFG Bank, Ltd. back then. He gave us the tip that Invest in Bavaria may be able to help with new establishments and expanding a location. It didn’t take long for us to contact Invest in Bavaria.
Was our support helpful?
Definitely! The support was very helpful to us. Besides the actual move, we really appreciate the continued contact too. Among other things as part of the various events, for example the New Year’s reception at the new town hall on Marienplatz. It’s a great opportunity to chat to other Japanese companies. Apart from this, it gives us a good feeling to know that we can turn to Invest in Bavaria at any time, should we have any issues.
What are your favourite spots in Bavaria?
My favourite spot is the Hirschgarten in summer. The adults can spend a wonderful day in the beer garden there while the children can feed the sheep and have fun outdoors. Garmisch-Partenkirchen is my favourite in the winter. You can get there in one and a half hours from Munich and ski on the Zugspitze. I also found it great that the children could go skiing with a ski school in winter. It’s definitely a location advantage in terms of your free time too, if you have an office in Munich. Another favourite spot is Rothenburg ob der Tauber: such a stunning historical town with old buildings. Then of course there’s Neuschwanstein Castle. Also stunning but there are simply too many tourists!
Would you have any advice for companies who are interested in a location in Europe and in the European market?
We think the decision to have moved our European base to Munich / Bavaria was exactly the right one – due to our proximity to customers too. We’re establishing that the relationships with our customers have become far more intense since we’ve been in Bavaria. We have been able to develop a sense of togetherness with customers thanks to our local presence. That’s a huge advantage! You pick up on things here that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up on from Japan or Düsseldorf. For example, topics like Industry 4.0 or other economic developments and important trends.
Zenrin Europe had an office in Düsseldorf from 1993 to 2017. However, the automotive sector is not represented nearly as strongly there as in Bavaria, particularly in Munich with BMW.
In Munich we can communicate faster and easier with our partners and it’s also possible to talk about private things, for example skiing or the Oktoberfest. This closeness to our customers is very important
Mr Uchino, thank you very much for the interview! We wish you continued success in the future too!