David Prosser: The need to own up and say sorry

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The Independent Online

Outlook What is it about corporate culture in Japan that makes it so difficult to be upfront when things go wrong? One of the most striking aspects of the scandal that has seen the security of 77 million Sony PlayStation owners' personal data put at risk is that the electronics giant has taken a week to mention the problem. It may have taken action promptly to shut down the hacked network, but it was seven days before it announced why it had done so.

Japanese companies have form for being slow to react to corporate disaster. Tepco, the power giant that owns the earthquake- and tsunami-ravaged Fukushima nuclear plant, is still scrabbling to catch up with its initial failure to confront the accident more openly. Last year, Toyota's chief executive, Akio Toyoda, went missing for days on end as the car giant was forced to recall millions of vehicles amid fears they might have dangerous accelerator pedal faults.

Western companies can be opaque too, of course – BP was accused of being exactly that last summer – but it is odd that while Japanese business leaders are much more likely to make conspicuous public apologies when a scandal comes to light, they're often slow off the mark in the first place.

In a global economy, businesses can learn from each other. Western companies ought to say sorry more often. Sony and co need to appreciate that part of being accountable is owning up to problems more speedily.