To Become a Leader in Japan (2): Corporate Growth Equals Human Growth

Many foreigners or non-Japanese in Japan plan to work in Japan for a few years and then return to their home country. On the other hand, there are those who want to live in Japan for a long time and eventually get a permanent residence or Japanese citizenship. There are also people who want to live and work in Japan from the beginning, or get married and live in Japan permanently. Many people who want to live in Japan for a long time want to improve their careers. If you are an ordinary rank and file employee forever, your salary will not increase. If you want to live in Japan for a long time, you must become a leader in your company or organization. What kind of leaders are in demand in Japan? In this series, I will explain what kind of qualities a leader must have and what he or she must do.

In an interview upon assuming the post of president of a well-known company, the new president said, “Our company has recently been accused of arrogance, and I intend to eliminate that image.” It so happened that I had had direct contact a few years previously with the former president of the company, and I remembered my impression that he was a young and very capable businessman but had a personally arrogant manner that might not be too good for the company. Apparently his style did cause problems, with sharp repercussions among the company’s customers and the public, and although the company continued to grow, its image was clearly suffering. That negative image was behind the new president’s comment in his press interview.

A company and its employees are two sides of the same coin; neither side can do without the other. No matter how splendid a corporate business model is, it cannot succeed without staff and employees to breathe life into the enterprise.

Akio Morita, cofounder of Sony Corporation, has written that, either in Japan or in the United States, there is no special secret or formula for corporate success. It does not rest on any kind of theory or carefully drawn-up plan, and especially not on government policy. It boils down, he declares, to the human beings in it. He asserts that if there is any particular source of success in Japanese management, it is people.

Human resources is a key to any business.
Human resources is a key to any business.

Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita recognized this wisdom in the late 1920s, when his business was still a small urban workshop, and took every opportunity to remind his employees: “Matsushita Electric has to make people before we make products.” He told them, “If you are asked what Matsushita Electric makes, tell them we make people first, and at the same time we make electrical appliances.” Part of the secret of his success was that he always placed high priority on cultivating and training people.

In order to make an enterprise grow, people have to be trained and nurtured, but, as is often forgotten, as the company grows, so do the people who work within it. It is not a question of which grows first; they have to be synchronized. The development of a company, in other words, must parallel the growth and development of its people—otherwise the whole enterprise will eventually be at risk.

To Become a Leader in Japan (3): Bringing out the Talents of Your Subordinates

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