Murata is one of Japan’s most quietly successful companies, with a 40% share of global sales of the tiny ceramic capacitors that are essential to the electronics industry.
Tsuneo Murata, 3rd president from the founding family, says in an interview in Nikkei Business that the bursting of the dotcom bubble in 2001 was a turning point for the corporate culture. They had become too arrogant during the IT bubble of the 1990s and had stopped listening to customers. They did not recover as quickly in the early 2000s as rivals did. Tsuneo Murata, who was then EVP, asked board members and employees for their views on the company culture and what was preventing recovery. He was told the company had become conservative, cautious, inflexible, bureaucratic and slow.
So he set up an organisational cultural reform committee It was tasked with ensuring that the culture became one which adapted rapidly to a changing environment, where the genba (shopfloor) had autonomy and people could freely discuss, create and challenge.
The need for persistence in cultural reforms
Murata became President in 2007. Even with the Lehman Shock walloping profits shortly after, he insisted on continuing with cultural reforms. He went back to the founding philosophy of Akira Murata, to rediscover the sense of freedom that Murata used to have. Actually the philosophy does not mention freedom. In translation it says pretty much what many Japanese corporate philosophies say – contributing to society through innovative technology, building trust, working in partnership, etc. The one part that isn’t translated into English is the word “yorokobi“, meaning to enjoy. To me that’s the most important bit – a lot of Japanese companies have lost their sense of fun since the 2000s.
It sounds like the success of Murata is as much to do with Tsuneo Murata’s personality. Since becoming President he continues to eat in the same canteen as workers in the headquarters in Kyoto and does not use the executive elevator (unless in an emergency). “I don’t think there’s a single employee that does not like him” says one employee.
He is asked by Nikkei Business how he ensures a common understanding of corporate culture when Murata acquires other companies – for example, IPDiA in France in 2016. “It takes time, especially when it’s a foreign acquisition, because generally overseas employees are not as loyal to their companies as in Japan anyway. But if we introduce our corporate philosophy to them, they have empathy with it. I think it’s important to communicate it thoroughly.”
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