Takeo Shiina became president of IBM Japan in 1974, at the age of 45. He joined IBM Japan just after studying in the US in 1953. “In those days, gaishi (foreign owned companies) were seen as bad. A major newspaper wrote a series called “White hands, yellow hands” basically saying white handed gaishi were “dirty” and that they would disrupt the markets in Japan, make lots of money and take it all back to the US.
“The Ministry of International Trade & Industry also did all they could to support domestic computer manufacturers. They passed a special law so that the amount of tax that IBM Japan paid every year was recycled into supporting Fujitsu, NEC and Hitachi.”
Shiina took the brave decision to study in the US, after graduating from Keio University because his father had also studied abroad, in Germany, and so he was not afraid of becoming a foreign student. As for joining IBM, the auditor of his father’s company knew the President of IBM Japan and suggested it to him, He trained at the IBM plant in Canada and was shocked when he returned to Japan, to find that IBM Japan’s main office was in the middle of a bomb site. The factory was also just an old Japanese house, with a strong smell of a cesspit toilet as you walked through the door.
Shiina became head of the factory at the age of 32 and started a new site up as well as inadvertently offering the first ever online system to a steel factory. He assumed that IBM must be doing that sort of thing in Europe and the USA, but actually it turned out there was nothing to copy.
The contract was also tricky, in terms of persuading IBM HQ in the USA to accept it. Due to a mistranslation of “this is no problem in Japan” as “in Japanese this is no problem” IBM HQ finally accepted it, as noone could read the original Japanese anyway.
Shiina is proud that IBM Japan is now seen as a desirable company to work for, particularly in terms of opportunities for women, and having performance based pay. His interview with the Nikkei Online, the basis of this precis, is illustrated by his calligraphy which reads “Building a new country – young people, women, regions, foreigners”.
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