Horiba – one of corporate Japan’s quiet success stories

horibaHoriba is featured in the 1st April edition of Nikkei Business (a leading weekly business magazine in Japan) as having kept its entrepreneurial spirit alive over the past 60 years (and also never made a loss during that time).  It has an 80% share of the world market for instruments that measure automobile emissions and has successfully diversified into medical instruments and  instruments for measuring semi-conductors and other scientific and environmental applications.

Around 62% of its sales are outside Japan with a strong presence in Europe – around 23% of sales are to Europe and 31% of its 5500 employees are in Germany (the European HQ), France and the UK. (disclosure, Horiba are a customer of Japan Intercultural Consulting Europe). Horiba has acquired various companies overseas, starting with SPEX in the USA in 1988, and several companies in France and Germany since.  In 2004 Horiba decided on a “one company” brand policy, inserting Horiba into the names of its subsidiaries.

Atsushi Horiba is the second generation Horiba family president, who spent some time in his 20s in Horiba in the USA and also took the initiative to respond to Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn declaring that Nissan would start to buy directly from suppliers rather than intermediaries, to set up Horiba’s own sales network.

My understanding is that Horiba still feels like a family company, and the Europeans rather enjoy the slightly quirky corporate culture “Joy and Fun” – or “omoshiroku okashiku”. “Okashiku”can even mean “oddly” or “strangely” if you were to look it up in a dictionary.  Atsushi Horiba says this unique corporate culture (I think the fact the company is Kyoto headquartered also feeds into its distinctive ethos) is why Horiba has been the exception to the usual view that Japanese companies are bad at overseas acquisitions.  He has even had a company song created, developed by a team of young employees – with rather touching lyrics, which each employee carries in card format.

Atsushi Horiba points out that their markets do not have global standards, so localised marketing and development are critical to success.  While he believes that Japanese people are particularly good at understanding and adapting to local market needs, he is keen to appoint a foreign director to the board as the next step to globalization – French managers are already developing Indonesian and Indian markets, and a Singaporean is heading up the Vietnam subsidiary.  “Whatever country they are from, I want them to feel they can work as an equal member of the same one group”.  Senior managers gather in Kyoto twice a year “to eat from the same pot”.  One third of staff in Japan and 90% of the executives have overseas experience.  Executive meetings have been taking place in English for about 10 years now.

No doubt it has helped that Horiba is far smaller than some of the more famous globalizing Japanese companies, but there is a lesson to be learnt from Horiba’s willingness to be both bold and inclusive in the way they have imposed their brand values and kept their entrepreneurial spirit alive.


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