In 2006, the Japan subsidiary of Tommasi Motorcycles, an Italian manufacturer of high-end motorcycles, was implementing a new customer data application to help its motorcycle dealerships increase the effectiveness of their sales and marketing activities. Horizon LLP, a consulting firm, was Tommasi’s global implementation partner for the application. To identify any dealer concerns regarding the new system, Tommasi Japan had brought in additional consultants from Horizon to conduct a series of interviews with the dealers. As the consultants soon discovered, the dealers’ concerns with Tomassi went far beyond the new application. An unannounced visit by an influential dealer set all the players on a collision course, and soon exposed their widely differing views and a number of fundamental problems in the relationship between Tommasi Motorcycles Japan and its dealer network.
The case begins with a series of separate dialogues involving the director of sales and marketing, Nobu Katoh; the expat president of Tommasi Motorcycles Japan, Fambio Bonardi; Koji Saito, an influential owner of multiple dealerships; and two consultants from Horizon, both of whom are non-Japanese. When they meet in the board room of Tommasi Motorcycles Japan, the ensuing conversation reveals a number of issues: opportunistic behaviour by the bilingual Katoh, who plays the role of translator — and also gatekeeper — between the dealers and Tommasi’s Japanese National Office by limiting, filtering and shaping communications in both directions; a limited understanding of local market conditions by expat Tommasi management who rotate in and out of their positions every three years; frustration on the part of business-savvy dealers; and naiveté on the part of the consultants, who did not see the social hierarchies at work, nor realize that their cultural and language fluency, which had in past projects always been an asset, could also be a threat.