Organizational Growing Pains in Paradise: A Case Study of the Interaction of Japanese Cultural Norms and Founder’s Syndrome in Hawai‘i

Degree Name

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management

First Advisor

Ken Williams


Hawai‘i has often been pointed to as a successful model of a diverse multi-cultural society. It has the highest percentage of residents of Asian ethnicity in the United States with the majority being Japanese Americans. Though, along with the benefits of this diversity, often come new challenges in cross-cultural communication and understanding, especially in the workplace.

Hawai‘i also contains the largest number of nonprofit organizations (NPOs) per capita in the U.S. As these NPOs grow, many experience Founder’s Syndrome (a power-struggle between the founder and other stakeholders), as part of their organizational ‘adolescence.’ During this often painful transition,’ from the unstable, informal, founder-driven start-up stage to the stable, administrative, board-driven mature stage, the clash of cultural norms becomes more pronounced. As such, this research examined the interaction of Japanese cultural norms with the experience of Founder’s Syndrome in nonprofit organizations (NPOs) in Hawai‘i.

A case study approach was used to explore historical and cultural influences on the way Founder’s Syndrome was handled in an NPO through focusing on the behaviors and interactions of founders with other key stakeholders. Data was collected over a year through participant observation; semi-structured, dialogic, and informal interviews; and a review of corporate documents and correspondence from the founder to key stakeholders.

The research concluded that Hawai‘i’s Japanese-dominant cultural norms contribute to, intensify, and prolong the condition of Founder’s Syndrome. The findings also indicate that the democratic, participatory mode of organizational functioning, believed to be necessary for recovery from Founder’s Syndrome, actually clashes with Japanese cultural norms. Possible process adaptations are recommended along with intervention strategies that executive directors can take to assist their organizations to recover and progress to the next stage of development.


East Asian Languages and Societies | International and Intercultural Communication | Organizational Behavior and Theory | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures

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