Following the the radiation leaks in Japan, American and European financial companies with offices in Tokyo faced a serious dilemma. Many of their employees wanted to flee the country until the radiation situation had been resolved. But the companies worried that relocating employees would be seen as a sign that they lacked faith in the ability of Japanese authorities to manage the disaster.
"It's about saving face. If you leave, you're insulting Japan," one investment banker explained to me at the time.
This is one reason why financial firms very publicly insisted that they weren't leaving Tokyo.
Courtney Comstock at Business Insider reports that this tension boiled over into a cultural schism at Goldman Sachs :
When the earthquake hit Japan on March 11th, a schism divided both the earth's surface and Goldman Sachs' office in Tokyo.
The Japanese natives in Goldman's Tokyo office stayed put; the ex-pat employees of Goldman's office booked flights and got out immediately. The divide has caused a "serious issue" inside the bank's Tokyo office, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Word is that the ex-pats wanted to work from Singapore or Hong Kong, but the Japanese told them, essentially, if you leave you can't do business here; you can't trade with your Japanese clients.
No doubt this is a little too pat. Surely not all the ex-pats fled Tokyo. And its very likely that not all the Japanese natives stayed put.
Comstock reports that the upper management of Goldman resolved the situation by allowing nervous employees to work from an office located further south in Japan.
This is very reminiscent of the aftermath of the September 11th attack. A number of financial firms very publicly pledged to remain in or relocate to the financial district. It was considered something of a patriotic duty.
Goldman couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
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