Japan Airlines

Kyocera founder Kazuo Inamori builds success on Buddhist beliefs

Inamori turns around JAL in less than three years by sticking to his business philosophy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2012, 4:01am

As Japanese cars were being overturned on the streets of Chinese cities in September and employees at Japanese-owned factories staged shop-floor demonstrations, the atmosphere at Chinese plants operated by Kyoto-based Kyocera was very different.

In Shanghai, Tianjin and Guangdong, there were no violent demonstrations or disruptions to output by staff angered at the dispute over the Diaoyu islands, or the Senkakus, as they are known in Japan.

Kyocera's founder Kazuo Inamori said there was no outpouring of fury because management had conveyed to the staff reliefs that are based on simple Buddhist beliefs.

"We have three large factories in China and we have found that the employees there have willingly accepted these ideas," said 80-year-old Inamori. "Other firms suffered a lot of damage because of the Senkakus dispute, but we saw no demonstrations and no stoppages at Kyocera. The employees were very much focused on working - and we are very grateful for that."

Inamori's beliefs have been a core tenet of his business philosophy since he set up the electronics firm in 1959 - at the age of 27. But the biggest test of his beliefs was when he was asked in late 2009 by the government to rebuild Japan Airlines (JAL).

By the time Inamori took up his post, plans were already in place to cut nearly 16,000 jobs, reduce salaries by as much as 30 per cent, abolish 40 per cent of routes and sell off larger, less efficient aircraft.

While those efforts had stopped the company haemorrhaging cash, they had also left the workforce despondent about the future of the organisation and their careers.

Inamori made only one stipulation when he eventually gave in to requests that he rebuild JAL: that he not be paid. "The fact that I worked for no salary influenced the staff," he said. "They could see that I was desperate to rebuild the company, even though I had no links to JAL previously."

In return, he said, the staff were naturally compelled to do their best and the final result was a visible recovery.

Inamori has introduced a new leadership training programme, done away with much of the bureaucracy and told employees frankly that the company was going to endure some tough times for a couple of years.

But that honesty, coupled with a clear explanation of where he wanted the airline to go and the route it would take to reach that destination, touched a chord.

With blue skies ahead for a company that appeared doomed less than three years ago, Inamori believes his job is largely done. He will hand over the reins to a new president - a former JAL pilot - at the annual general meeting in June next year.