The debacle of Toyota’s former Chief Communications Officer for North America, Julie Hamp, is the sort of high-profile misstep that business executives will pore over for years in crisis communications courses. Ms. Hamp’s June 18th arrest and July 1st resignation ironically follow her promotion in April as Toyota’s most senior female executive in Japan and new head of public relations.

Ms. Hamp had been heralded as evidence of President Akio Toyoda’s focus on diversifying the company’s mainly Japanese, male-dominated leadership and workforce, and Toyota’s demonstration of its dedication to the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Abenomics policy. Global economists touted it as a commitment to more female executives.

While lodging in a Tokyo hotel during her move from the U.S., she was arrested under suspicion of importing oxycodone tablets into Japan, where it is a tightly controlled substance.  Japanese media reported that the medication was packaged with jewelry.

In true Japanese fashion, President Toyoda made a public apology, stressing that it was his parental responsibility as head of the company to both protect his children and to apologize for their mistakes.

The loss of face for Toyota, both in Japan and around the world, is considerable.  Police raided Toyota’s regional offices after the arrest was made. The financial cost to the company in terms of negative publicity, possible loss of senior executives, and additional fall-out has yet to be calculated.

And all because, according to the company, Ms. Hamp was not properly prepared for her new life in Japan.

When the international transfer of an executive occurs, proactively providing them with intercultural training can play a crucial role in ensuring the success of the assignment. This is true for multinational corporations (MNCs) as well as small to mid-size businesses seeking to expand overseas.

Consider these 3 practical approaches for avoiding an international blunder similar to Toyota’s:

  1. Ensure your international transfers develop cultural awareness and global competency. All employees transferring to positions in another country need to have interactive intercultural training that includes role-playing and simulations of critical incidents to embed that learning. This will assist international transfers so their companies won’t end up having to express regret that they didn’t adequately prepare them with settling into their new job.
  1. Provide Country Specific Briefings to executives relocating to geographical areas such as Japan. When transferring into a MNC in a country where diversity is a relatively new concept, expect a heightened level of scrutiny and prepare your people accordingly. Experienced cross-cultural experts will customize training sessions to help your international transfers ensure a successful relocation and avoid international blunders.
  1. Provide insight to international transfers about culture-based expectations and practices. Avoid an employee’s or expatriate’s costly return, arrest, or possible deportation by providing training that includes relocation do’s and don’ts, international travel packing restrictions, cultural taboos, and moving tips and traps.

In the case of Ms. Hamp, having access to Importing or Bringing Medication into Japan for Personal Use( might have helped avoid the costly and defaming faux pas.