The Legend of Stevie Nicked

Charles Ghosn, the former president of Nissan was deliciously in the news recently. He jumped bail in Japan and by hook or crook, maybe special musical instrument crates, perhaps by simply walking out the door, got on board a private jet and arrived in Beirut. Got to be an upcoming movie, maybe on Netflicks, don’t you think? Who to play Charles? With those somewhat bushy eyebrows of his, I’m thinking one of Tommy Lee Jones, Eugene Levy or maybe Zachary Quinto if they want a younger actor.

Ghosn claimed he wasn’t getting a fair deal in the Japanese legal system that has an impressive, if questionable, 99% successful conviction rate. I can’t help but feel sorry for that lone prosecutor who just can’t get a conviction. He would be the Hamilton Burger of the Japanese legal system.[1] There is another movie for you, perhaps a television series, a young Japanese man or woman who got through law school, never wins a case!

This would be hard to take anywhere, more so in Japan with the pressure for social conformity, the full legal system and Japanese police on their side, having to pick themselves up time and again for the next case, cue Doris Day singing the song, ‘Pick myself up, dust myself off….’, Okay, I digress.

When I heard about Charles and his challenge with the Japanese legal system, it reminded me of Steven Gan. If you’re not familiar with Steven, he lived about 15 years in Japan and started up a collection business. This got a bit dicey when some attorneys complained that only lawyers could be in the collection business and they pretty much forced the prosecution of Steven. He was eventually put in jail (the Tokyo Detention Center), forced to sign a confession (actually several), and finally convicted of being in violation of an obscure law called Article 72 of the Attorneys Law, before he was able to leave Japan with a three year suspended sentence.

The rest of the story? You’ll have to read Steven’s book, “Making It & Breaking It in Japan: My True Story of Songs Sins and Solitary.”

I was in touch with Steven recently and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions I believe may be of interest to most of us in the professional credit & collection business.

Question: Are you surprised about Charles Ghosn’s claim that it is difficult, if not impossible to get a fair trial once you have been charged in Japan?

Answer: No, not in the slightest. With a 99% conviction rate, which is almost completely based on a confession that is many times forced and must be upheld at all costs, I believe that in our sense of the words “fair trial,” Ghosn’s fleeing from injustice is understandable.

Question: We say that hindsight is 20/20, if you had it to do over, would you still have set up a third- party agency in Japan?

Answer: Even though I had a rough ending to my 15 years in Japan, I would describe the first 14 years as fantastic and life changing. As my debt collection activities became well known over the years as an efficient and cost-effective way for companies to manage their past due accounts, I was asked to give over 90 presentations throughout the country. In addition, I was interviewed on radio a few times, had several television interviews, and wrote a book that was published by the second largest publisher in Japan. A documentary (with English subtitles) was also produced by the Japan Public Television of my collection business and life in Japan which is still often viewed today.

During my time in Japan, I made many wonderful friends, had some great clients, and overall felt as though I had successfully broken into a culture that isn’t always so welcoming to foreigners.

Question: Folks are folks, Steven, but what are the main differences to successful collections in Japan vs. the United States (Steven is located in the Chicago area.)?

Answer: I will tell you something that is going to be very difficult to fathom. Our collection rate in Japan was almost 70% and here’s why.

Culture is the big difference in which the Japanese overwhelmingly want to fulfill their payment obligation. When we called and asked about an unpaid account, the first words that came out of the mouths of most debtors was a very humble apology that went something like this: “I’m so sorry that I haven’t been able to fulfill my obligation to ABC company. They have been very patient and I’m so ashamed that I’ve put them into such a terrible situation.” Now, let’s be honest. When was the last time you heard a debtor in the U.S. respond similarly to a request for payment?

Almost all the Japanese we contacted ended up immediately making a promise to pay. If for example the debt amount was $5,000.00, they would offer to pay $1,000.00 for five months. Usually the first payment was missed, and we would have to call 3-4 more times until it was finally made. Once that first payment was made, then the other payments came in like clockwork until the account was paid up.

So, in essence, our collection activity was merely being a follow-up service knowing full well that eventually the debtor would pay.

Question: Your mom was with you in Japan at the time and when you were presented with an opportunity to ‘take it on the lam’, to another country perhaps, but at least out of Japan and away from jail time, mom said you should go. Think you should have listened to your mother?

Answer: Good question! My Mom is now 94 years old and still remembers sitting in the waiting room at the prosecutor’s office for hours while I was being questioned/interrogated (according to the Code of Criminal Procedures, the prosecutor can question you without an attorney present).

After my arrest and while I was sitting in my very small room at the Tokyo Detention Center, I said to myself over and over, “Why didn’t I listen to my mother??” At that time, I had a lot of regrets that I didn’t listen to her. But after it was all over and I had a lot of time to reflect on everything, I’m glad that I didn’t flee (like Carlos Ghosn – and I’m not passing judgment here) and just came home on my own accord. I’ve never worried about any repercussions from my legal difficulties in Japan and as they say, I’m a free bird! I’m free to travel, run a business, take care of my Mom, and live my life. 😀

Question: I think there might be a better movie in your story, Steven. Who should play you? Who should play your mom?

Answer: Having studied comedy at the School of Second City way back in the 80’s for a few years, I would like to play myself. Realistically, since movies need to have a famous actor’s name value, I would like Brad Pitt for looks or Joaquim Phoenix for depth of character.

Last note from Tim:
Stevie Nicks? I couldn’t resist the word play.
For the younger audience, she was a popular vocalist,
her best work perhaps with the group, Fleetwood Mac.

[1] He was the prosecuting attorney in a popular American television show, ‘Perry Mason’. Hamilton always lost to the defence attorney, Mason. Always.

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Give them to me for three to six hours. I’ll give ’em back when I’m finished, but not in the same condition. They will collect more money, faster and keep your hard earned customers.

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