It’s late at night in a tavern in Kyoto, Japan메이저놀이터. A group of young people are listening to a gray-haired man in his eighties. They were young entrepreneurs in their 30s and 40s running businesses around Kyoto. The conversation centered around business management. As the drinks wore off, one of the businessmen spoke up.
“Mr. Sensei, I run a small business that specializes in painting (塗装), which involves applying paint to buildings and bridges. The world considers this a ‘3D industry’ and a dirty job. Young people don’t come here, and they leave. I often resign myself to the fact that this is the industry I’m in. I didn’t choose to be in this business, I inherited it from my family. If I give up, I’ll have to borrow a lot of money. How can I instill pride in my employees?”
Kazuo Inamori (1932-2022) is revered as a “management god” in Japan. At the age of 27, he founded Kyoto Ceramic, a ceramic parts venture, with ¥3 million in capital, and grew it into a global company with annual sales of ¥1.6 trillion. He founded the telecommunications company Daininden in 1984, which is now Japan’s second-largest carrier. At the age of 78, he took over Japan Airlines (JAL), which was facing bankruptcy, and pulled off a miracle by liquidating more than ¥2 trillion in debt in eight months.
The old man put down his drink, looked at the businessman for a moment, and then spoke.
“The Eiffel Tower in Paris, which is over 100 years old, hasn’t moved a muscle because it has to be repainted every year to keep it from rusting. You’ve got to change that mindset. How can you expect your employees to take pride in their work if you, the owner, don’t take it seriously? You need to start with a cause, a reason to do it. “
Undeterred, the young entrepreneur replied, “But my employees aren’t budging. They’re all irresponsible and quick to make excuses. Tell me the secret to winning over your employees.”
The old man replied, “There’s no secret to winning hearts and minds. You have to convince them with all your heart, appeal to them with your blood, and then get them to work from morning till night, whether anyone is watching or not. That’s how you grow a company.”
A worker welds at a ship block manufacturer in Tongyeong, Gyeongnam. /Photo=HankyungDB
Kazuo Inamori, the ‘God of Management’
Who is this old man who is so generous with his advice to the young boss? Kazuo Inamori, the founder of Kyocera, the company most admired by Korean CEOs and revered as a “management god” in Japan. Alibaba founder Jack Ma and SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son have also been inspired by his management philosophy.
Inamori was born in 1932 in a poor rural area of Kagoshima. In 1959, at the age of 27, he founded Kyoto Ceramic, a ceramic parts venture, with ¥3 million in capital, and grew it into a global company with annual sales of ¥1.6 trillion. The company has never lost money since its inception. In 1984, he founded Daini Denden (now KDDI) against telecommunications monopoly Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) and grew it into a ¥5 trillion company with annual sales. It is now Japan’s second-largest mobile operator.
He later stepped down from the front lines, but returned to management at the age of 78 at the request of the Japanese government. The octogenarian’s skills are far from rusty: He took over Japan Airlines (JAL), which was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, and turned it around, erasing ¥2.4 trillion in debt in just eight months as chairman.
A view of Kyocera’s headquarters in Kyoto, Japan. /Photo: HankyungDB
Inamori’s “12 Articles of Management
“A company can never be bigger than the vessel of its manager.”
Inamori believed that the more a company grows, the more important the manager’s skills become. He cited selflessness as the most important thing for a leader: “A company cannot grow bigger than the vessel of the manager. A company is a group of people, and the leader must be able to capture their hearts. The motivation must be good, not selfish.”
Inamori’s business philosophy has inspired countless young entrepreneurs, and his “Twelve Rules of Management” (Kazuo Inamori, “How a Company Gets Stronger”) were published during his lifetime.
- clarify the purpose and meaning of the business.
Set specific goals. Share them with employees.
- Have a strong desire in your heart.
- work harder than anyone else.
- maximize sales and minimize expenses.
- Setting prices is management. It is the job of a manager.
- Management is determined by a strong will.
- Be fiercely committed.
- Work with courage. Do not act cowardly.
- Always work creatively and constantly improve.
- Work conscientiously with a caring heart.
- Always be cheerful and positive,
with dreams and hopes and a pure heart.
The ‘vessel’ that is Elon Musk
Model Y parked in front of the Tesla building in Austin, Texas, U.S., in May. /Photo=AFP
When it comes to managing a global company in the 21st century, Apple is the company to watch. Tesla, the biggest “problem company” of the 2020s, overtook Toyota in July 2020 to become the world’s largest automaker by market capitalization.
Toyota is the No. 1 global automaker, selling nearly 10 million vehicles a year, and yet its market capitalization is now three times larger. The market has recognized Tesla, which sold 1.3 million vehicles last year, as the leader of the “future mobility revolution.” Toyota belatedly announced in April that it would change its CEO and focus on electric vehicles.
How did Tesla, a 20-year-old startup, become a role model for the automotive giants, and at the center of it all is founder and CEO Elon Musk? There’s a word that never fails to come up when describing this relentless and sometimes seemingly arrogant innovator. It’s “grandiose vision” – the size of the man’s vessel is unimaginable.
There are many visionaries. The founders of big tech companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc. But the ones who created “things” that captivated consumers and attracted loyal fans?