A Lesson Indeed!


By  Prof.  Rene, T. Domingo

Sime Darbe professor in Manufacture .  

Japanese Management took a hundred years to develop. I do not think I can adequately discuss this subject matter in one brief article. But I will try my best.

I am sure you have heard of the book, in search of excellence. After reading the book, I had mixed feelings. The first feeling was admiration because the book describes very well the best managed companies in America. The other feeling was pity- pity for the authors because they had to search for excellence in America. Had they written that book in Japan, they would not have had to do any searching because most companies there are, in my opinion, excellent. They would have tumbled and tripped upon them in any direction they fell.

In fact, every Japanese company that we hear about seems to be quite successful and a world leader – Sony, Toyota; Hitachi, etc. in fact, many of the things we own use daily are made by the Japanese – the watches we wear, the cars we drive, the TV we watch.

So why are we interested in Japanese Management? Because this seems to be the common theme, the common denominator among Japanese companies. As you may read Japanese – managed companies in America tend to be more successful than American companies managed by Americans.

Good example are the “transplants” the car manufactures in America managed by the Japanese. The Americans themselves admit this fact. These companies can operate well without unions. The Americans are quite surprised how the Japanese can managed Americans without unions and come out with quality cars. I tend to disagree that it is the Japanese who are the common success factor. I would rather think that it is the Japanese style of management. When you say it is the Japanese, then there is nothing to talk about. We cannot imitate the Japanese. So let us talk about management.

Unfortunately, in spite of the many articles and books on Japanese management, it is still not understood very well. People are curious about this because it seems to be the secret of the Japanese. You already know about traits of the Japanese   – they are hardworking they are loyal, they love their employees, they have team work, they tend to make decisions in groups. In this article, I will share with you some of my personal experiences and observations on Japanese management – the fruits of my four- year stay in Japan, studying in a Japanese university and working in a Japanese company. I thought that the best place to study their secret is in their home base. Of course, some people do not like to experience culture shock but I do, because believe that the stronger the shock, the more learning take place. Here are some of those enlightening shocks.


The Japanese are hardworking. But that does not mean that if you work hard, you will be as successful as the Japanese. In fact, many people who work hard still fail. So what does it mean to be hardworking in the Japanese contact? Let me give you ne personal experience.

When I was training with a subsidiary of Toyota in Japan, I joined a group of manufacture managers who were conducting a study of the production line. Late in the afternoon, at about four o’ clock, they told me “Ah, Rene, we are going to study the third shift. We will observe the third shift and determine its problems in quality and efficiency and compare it with the second shift”.

As you may know, the third shift works during the wee hours of the morning. Bu I decided to take the challenge and join the group. At 5.00 P.m, I asked the team leader if I could go home and rest, but the team leader said , “No no: we will not go home . we will proceed right away to observe the second and third shift, and check the changeover”.

That was my first shock. We went on to study the third shift, the transition from the second and third, eating just a few biscuits to last us until the morning. Finally, we finished our observation.

By the way, when say observation” it does not mean sitting down or staying in the office.   I mean standing up for eight hours watching the third shift, taking notes. And this was done by all of us, the members and the leader of the team without exception. Had the members of team not would have fallen asleep. But I seemed to draw energy from them.

At 7.00 am we finished the observation, so I told my boss, ” sir we have been working 24 hours now, can I go how and take a rest?” he said “No, no I ordered breakfast. We will prepare the report now”.

So we had breakfast which sort of woke me up a little. We then I told my leader, “Ah, sir we ate breakfast and finished the report, can I go home now”? I already felt weak. But he was still excited and was still going strong. He said, “No you cannot go home because we will present this report at 9. 00 a.m to the directors” we had to give the impression that we were not sleep, that we were excited about the report.

After a successful presentation at 10.00 a.m, I asked the leader, “Can I go home now?” and he finally said ” Okay, you can go home now. You can sleep, take your lunch, but please come back that afternoon I asked the secretary where my teammates were. She answered, “Oh, ” what time did they come back?” she said “what do you mean come back? They did not go home. They are still working”. Now, that gives you a real perspective of what is ‘hardworking” to the Japanese. Do you think many Asian managers even highly paid executives would do that? And these Japanese were just ordinary managers in an ordinary company. Our team was what is called a productivity SWAT team. And this happens every day, every week in every Japanese company. No complaints, no “buts” Nothing but pure hard work! so you want to be as hardworking as the Japanese? Think first of what it takes to be hardworking in their sense of the word.


Let me share with you all the story about the Japanese working norm. this is one about Japanese salary men or white- collar employees. In Japan salary men do not go home early.   They usually work overtime . that is why they have unwind after working very late. This means they rarely get home early enough to have meals with their wives.

One day one salary man decided to surprise his wife by coming home early. He decided to work harder in the morning and afternoon so he could finish his work early, leave the office at 5.00 p.m. and have dinner with his family. When he reaches his home at 5.50. p.m his wife was shocked. She said, ” I am so surprised that you came home early.

You have to come inside because our ‘neighbours might see you. They might think that the company does not need you anymore so it sent home early”.

In Japan, if you are inefficient you are not given work. You do not have overtime. The husband   said, ” what do you want me to do go work to do there” And the wife said, ” you cannot stay here. Just go away, see a movies or play pachinko ( pinball). I don’t care what you do. Just come back later, at 9.00 p.m do you think other wives would treat their husbands that way? In Japan, there is a strong social pressure for the Japanese to work hard and for his family to make him work hard.


Another trait of the Japanese is loyalty. Many of us may profess loyalty to our companies, but that does not mean we understand the meaning of the Japanese type of loyalty. Let me give you a few examples.

Mitsui and Mitsubishi are archrivals in Japan, just as Toyota and Nissan or Sony and Matsushita are. So if two brothers are working for different companies say, one is a manager in Mitsui, one a manager in Mitsubishi – and they are staying in the same house, they will eat together, they will play together, they will talk about many things, but they will never talk about their work or about company matters. They will never exchange notes about their respective companies. Of course, there is no pressure from the company for one not to talk to one’s brother about his work. How would the company know? But Japanese loyalty to the company know? But Japanese loyalty to the company is so strong it transcends family ties.


Here is another case. I was then training in Toyota. At the end of the training in Toyota. At the end of the day, there was nobody to take me home so I requested the guard to call a taxi that could take me to my dormitory, which was about five   kilometers away. I overheard the guard talking to the taxi company over the phone, ” This is Toyota corporation. We have a passenger here who wants to go the city. Could you please send over a Toyota taxi’?

[[True enough, the taxi that arrived was a Toyota . if a Nissan car were sent, it would never be allowed to enter the premises of   Toyota Corporation.

When suppliers delver their goods to Toyota they also have to use Toyota trucks. They cannot use any other truck or would not be allowed to unload or even get paid. You could imagine the expense of the supplies to different companies. Of course, it is usual, when you enter the house of a Sony manager, to see everything there made by Sony – from the radio to the television to the video cassette recorder. Having a Matsushita radio is a “crime” for which he could get fried.


Now, let us talk about a very important thing – responsibility. The Japanese take their responsibility very seriously. People commit suicide or resign after assuming responsibility.