Case 03: A Woman Engineer in East Asia


Kathy was a 28 year-old materials engineer with a U.S. electronics manufacturer on her first visit to East Asia. She was there to help Fred, the 47 year-old international sales manager, conduct new-product introductions and training sessions for their firm’s Pacific Rim customers. Fred had been visiting and working with these companies for several years.

Although excited by this new challenge, Kathy was concerned that her youth and gender might reduce her effectiveness in the Pacific Rim. Top management shared this concern, but agreed to send the young woman when Fred assured them that she would be accepted. The two visited Hong Kong first, then Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Coached by Fred, Kathy carefully studied the business cultures involved, had new business cards printed to reflect her academic credentials, and put together a professional presentation. The seminars in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea went smoothly even though on two occasions Kathy had to present the training sessions on her own, since Fred was busy elsewhere.

The first Japan visits also went well, with the two Americans accompanied by personnel from their company’s local agent, Mr. Yamamoto. Kathy also made a presentation to the Japanese agency’s salesmen. Finally it was time to visit the last of the Japanese customers. Since he had a conflict, Fred suggested to Mr. Yamamoto that Kathy conduct this session without him.

“That would be a bit difficult,” responded Yamamoto. In the event, the visit to that customer did not take place. Instead Mr. Yamamoto asked Kathy to make a second, follow-up presentation to his agency’s sales people that day. “Some of them didn’t quite get it the first time,” he explained to her with a smile. Nevertheless, on the plane back to the U.S. Kathy couldn’t help wondering about that sudden change in plan.


1. Why was Fred confident that Kathy would be well accepted by their East Asian customers despite the low status often accorded young people, and particularly women, in some of those cultures?

2. Why did Kathy modify her business cards?

3. Why did Fred arrange the visits in that particular order?

4. What do you suppose was the reason one of the Japan visits was canceled?

5. Why did Mr. Yamamoto arrange a repeat presentation for his sales people?