“Things are not the same all over the world.” Hamp out of jail, Toyota’s diversity drive “set back for decades”

Julie Hamp after her release. Picture courtesy Kyodo News

Julie Hamp after her release. Picture courtesy Kyodo News

As expected, former Toyota Chief Communication Officer Julie Hamp was released from a Harajuku, Tokyo, police lockup, after prosecutors decided not to indict her for bringing the powerful painkiller Oxycodone into the country. According to Kyodo News, prosecutors did not want to take Ms. Hamp to court, deciding that she had no ill-intent, and that she did not bring the highly controlled narcotic into the country to get high. While these may be the somewhat strained legal grounds on which she was released, prosecutors basically resolved that after three weeks in jail, and especially after a resignation from her top job at Toyota, Julie Hamp has been sufficiently punished.

“She has already gone through a certain level of social punishment,” an official from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office told Yoko Kubota of the Wall Street Journal, adding that prosecutors took her resignation into consideration. The Journal notes that Japan has no plea bargaining system, “but the lengthy detention often allows for negotiations that leave each side with something. “ In this case, Japan’s police made its very high profile point that drugs should not be brought in to the country. Ms. Hamp is free to go home to the U.S. without a formal criminal record. Sakae Komori, a lawyer who specializes in drug cases, told Kyodo that the outcome to Hamp’s case is not unusual, and that cases are often dropped after the suspect did time in a police lockup. A conclusion as today’s became very likely soon after her arrest.

Julie-Hamp-Picture-courtesy-Bertel-Schmitt (2)

Julie Hamp, and her former boss and now successor, Shigeru Hayakawa

In a statement issued today, Toyota apologized “for any confusion or concern,” while striking a defiant tone when it comes to diversity. “We remain firmly committed to putting the right people in the right places,” Toyota said, “regardless of nationality, gender, age and other factors, as we continue to take the steps necessary to become a truly global company.” In the next chapter of the release, Toyota announced that Ms. Hamp’s successor in the Chief Communications Officer role is Shigeru Hayakawa, Senior Managing Officer and Member of the Board of Directors, a Toyota lifer who has worked at Toyota since 1977, and who was Julie’s de facto boss.

“We don’t hope to face a crisis again,” said Julie Hamp on April 4th, when she met a small group of reporters at Toyota’s Nagoya offices. Less than three months later, the newly minted PR chief caused Toyota one of its biggest PR crises since the recalls. She also “set back that diversity movement in Japan by more than 30 years,” as an executive at a European automaker told this observer. It wasn’t that she was unaware of Japan’s tough rules. After all, the pills were concealed in a courier package, and the content was declared as “necklaces.” A PR chief is supposed to keep the company out of trouble as much as possible, and not play into the hands of circles that do not agree with the company’s policies. Of course, the arrest was exploited for maximum PR damage, in daily police leaks that were lustily lapped up by a domestic Japanese press. Some in that press were unhappy that they could no longer deal with a Japanese PR chief schooled in the high art of polite innuendo, and they did not want to receive “you did not hear it from me, but” tips through Julie Hamp’s interpreter.

In the same Nagoya meeting, the same Yoko Kubota asked Julie Hamp how, transplanted to Japan, she would master the certain culture shock. “I worked in many markets, Middle East, Africa, 27 countries in all,” a confident Hamp said. “I have learned to work across many different cultures, and honestly, that’s the most enjoyable part of the job.” Not this time around.

“Things are not the same all over the world,” Hamp added. That was confirmed in a painful way, only 10 weeks later.

P.S.: The public social shaming of Julie Hamp also has come to an end – in a way. Until yesterday, she was referred to in the Japanese press as “Hump suspect.” Out of jail, that stigma has been dropped. In the Nikkei, and other Japanese media, she now is “former officer Hump.”