When it comes to the Mitsubishi group of companies (keiretsu), I did almost literally write the book (A History of Mitsubishi Corporation in London: 1915 to Present Day), although my focus was more on the way the pre-war Mitsubishi Goshi evolved into Mitsubishi Corporation, the trading company, and more specifically, its London office.
It’s generally perceived in Japan that the Mitsubishi keiretsu has been the most cohesive and robust of all the keiretsu (Mitsui, Sumitomo, Fuyo being the other main ones) but as you might imagine, the current Mitsubishi Motors fuel economy data manipulation scandal has put this to the test.
According to Nikkei Business magazine (April 22nd edition, not available online), the cracks are appearing. Whereas in the previous Mitsubishi Motors crises (recalls for various defects in the 2000s) Mitsubishi Heavy, Mitsubishi Corporation and Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ all stepped in and financial support came from Tokio Marine, Mitsubishi Electric and Mitsubishi Materials as well, this time seems different.
Even now, having been hit by the commodity price slump, the automotive sector remains an important profit generator for Mitsubishi Corporation as it is involved in the sale and financing of vehicles in Asia and Europe as well as engine manufacture. Mitsubishi Corporation also seconds quite a few employees to Mitsubishi Motors, including the current Chairman and CEO Osamu Masuko.
Other Mitsubishi companies do not have such ties. Even though Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings supplies products to the automotive sector, its main customers are Toyota and Nissan. Mitsubishi Paper also said “we are busy with our own affairs”.
It’s not just about whether the companies have business together, points out the Nikkei. It’s also an issue of corporate governance. The Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group has been reducing cross shareholdings, where appropriate. Mitsubishi Corporation is also checking shareholdings regularly for rationale and yield and disposing of them as necessary. Presumably it is hard to justify “Protecting the Three Diamonds” as the sole reason for support, to external directors and shareholders.
The Nikkei sees this as a chance for the Mitsubishi group to embark on a delayed restructure [the article was written before Nissan stepped in to acquire a 34% share]. In previous restructurings, there was a discussion about selling off the largely domestic ‘mini-car’ business, so this might be finally realised.
A more recent article in the Nikkei Asian Review points out that a key question is whether Nissan’s CEO Carlos Ghosn’s aggressive brand of reform will suit the corporate culture at Mitsubishi Motors “where change is not exactly a buzzword”. The question I have is what the corporate culture of Mitsubishi Motors actually is, other than a reluctance to change. The lack of a clear definition of values and vision may indeed be one of the causes of the repeated scandals. There are the Mitsubishi Three Principles, but not all Mitsubishi companies showcase them, and they lack the strong philosophy and toolkit of something like the Toyota Way.
Along with my official book on Mitsubishi in London I wrote a further unpublishable chapter, called “The Vague Company”. It talked about the benefits and difficulties of having a vague, unspoken corporate culture. Employees can enjoy the sense of being treated like adults, to work out for themselves what the right “way” is, but it makes global expansion – particularly post-merger integration – highly frustrating, when new, hybrid cultures need to develop. As one frustrated American employee at another Mitsubishi group company said to me the other day “I can’t get a handle on what the Mitsubishi Way is”. It is, as we say in British English, like trying to nail jelly to a wall. I suspect Ghosn may quickly tire of this and use his hammer in more brutally effective ways.
For more on Mitsubishi Motors’ future, I recommend this blog post by my old friend and former head of corporate communications at Mitsubishi Motors in the Daimler Chrysler days, Jochen Legewie: http://www.cnc-communications.com/blog/the-future-of-mitsubishi-motors/
For more on Mitsubishi corporate culture, I have gathered some resources on Pinterest here
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