As I have mentioned before, the Japanese culture is one of poles – the very ahead and the very behind.
The sense of honour in Japan is one for the “very good” column and last week I gained some first hand insight. To understand the business culture of Japan you need to understand what happened after World War II, as the US and Japan partnered to rebuild the country, companies came together to rebuild in the form of Keiretsu’s. Via.
Keiretsu are groups of companies that work together, trying not to compete with one another and cooperating in order to make more money together. After many years of this sort of collaboration, Toyota has become the world’s number one automobile company. Toyota’s lead is so strong it made five times more money in 2006 than the sum of the profits made by its eight most direct competitors.
Over the six big keiretsu (each of them controlled by one important bank) is the MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry). The MITI is considered the ministry with greatest direct influence over the country’s economy, because it has the standing to give direct orders to certain keiretsu, asking them to double their production for the following months or to help this or that sector come out of a crisis.
In practice, the Japanese companies work together and often talk about the greater good. They will compete, but at their core they think about their country and the success of all.
To illustrate, I was speaking with an executive from a large Japanese manufacturer and I mentioned that I owned many of their products but had also bought an “add-on” from one of their competitors. His response was surprising. He thanked me for buying their products and encouraged me to buy his competitors products.
Why? Because that company had a factory in the earthquake stricken Japanese north and had decided to keep their factory open to support the people of the region. It was a very honourable thing to do, with a great leader who make great products. He was very happy that I had bought their products.
In that way, we can learn much from the Japanese. Their sense of the group over the individual is admirable.