Abstract: The Evolution of Management Consulting in Japan: Towards an American Model?

Matthias Kipping


This paper will trace the history of management consulting activities in Japan during the twentieth century, comparing it with developments in other industrialized countries. There is no doubt that the Japanese consultancy market today is underdeveloped. As the paper will show in some detail in its first part, this is not for want of trying. Already in the 1930s American scientific management consultancies such as Bedaux, tried to gain a foothold in Japan—albeit without much success. A more comprehensive effort to develop the Japanese consulting market was made in the immediate postwar period, in conjunction with the so-called productivity drive—but, once again, with little or no tangible results. The next efforts occurred during the early 1970s, when leading American organisation and strategy consultancies such as McKinsey & Company and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) opened offices in Tokyo. But their activities in Japan remained limited. In a second part, the paper will offer some explanations for the apparent delay in the development of the Japanese consulting market. Its main argument there was little need for their different services or "products" in the specific Japanese business system. This only changed after the burst of the so-called bubble economy in the late 1980s, when Japanese companies started reducing their management layers, became subject to more scrutiny from international capital markets and competitive pressures, both abroad and at home. While the market for American-style consulting thus remained limited until recently, Japan developed other types of advisory activities, more akin to its own business system. These will be detailed in the third part of the paper. Following the development of American-style consulting since the last decade of the twentieth century, many of these more indigenous consulting activities have been in decline or are changing shape.