Interview with the President
Inabata's “Fourth Foundation” is with a Spirit of “Love (ai)” and “Respect (kei)”
On the other hand, have you noticed any areas needing improvement?
Let me begin by talking about the situation more than 20 years ago. I joined the company at the end of Japan's economic bubble, when the company was enjoying rapid growth. Five years earlier, Inabata had spun off its pharmaceutical operations, which accounted for about half its employees and a third of its sales, giving birth to Sumitomo Pharmaceuticals. All our divisions then did their best to return to the level of sales prior to the spinoff. Immediately after we achieved that goal, though, the bubble burst and the Japanese economy entered a long recession. Inabata’s results also suffered, and on a non-consolidated basis it took us more than 10 years to exceed the bubble period sales. On a consolidated basis we recovered more rapidly, thanks to the steady growth of our overseas business during those years. To return to your question, Inabata carried out various reforms during the Japanese economy's so-called “lost decade.” Besides implementing reorganization, reforming the personnel system and introducing the executive officer system, we also did painful things such as withdrawing from business areas that had no prospects.
I became concerned that employees might find it hard to understand the company’s sense of direction amid the successive reforms. Inabata’s unique style may have both good and bad aspects, but if we emphasize reform too much, there is a tendency to assume that everything in the past was bad. To confidently undertake reforms, we needed to distinguish clearly between what we should preserve in our corporate culture and what we should discard.
After becoming president, I heard that you organized group discussions in which you talked directly with employees in Japan and overseas.
Such discussions were held in 2006 and 2007. In 2006, we divided employees into rather large groups and had about a dozen meetings. But with so many people the discussions tended to be one-way, so the following year we held 29 meetings over three months with smaller groups. I took this opportunity to convey the company’s direction, but perhaps I wasn't always successful. These discussions convinced me of the need to establish common values for all employees.
Why do you think common values are necessary?
Inabata has many employees of various backgrounds, not just academic and work backgrounds, but also racial and cultural backgrounds. These rich human resources provide a welcome diversity, but diversity alone is not enough to display our true strength. We need common values. With the speed of modern business increasing, top-down decision-making is no longer sufficient. It has become important for each employee in every workplace to be able to make appropriate decisions and act accordingly. But what criteria should they follow? Operating profit is an important management indicator, but it doesn’t mean you can do anything that makes a profit. In fact, companies who think only about making a profit don't last very long. We must all have a common awareness about why we exist as a company that makes sense to all of us.