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Topics 2008

An Interview with President Wakui Posted as Part of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun Advertising Campaign

January 22, 2008

The morning edition of the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on Tuesday January 22, 2008 featured an interview with President Yasuaki Wakui in a section dedicated to the newspaper's advertising campaign entitled, "Message to Today's Youngsters-Learn from Our Experiences." (in Japanese)

Get Involved and Be the Master Wherever You Are
Collaboration will Accelerate and Expand Your World

President Wakui said that he decided to enter Kuraray because of the attractive personality of the top executive when he was trying to find a job in his younger days. Now he is in the same position as that person who made him decide to enter the Company, and this is his rather direct view on finding a job and is addressed to today's youngsters: "It cannot be better if you can say, 'I will be able to take on challenges on my own terms because that kind of person is the president of my company,' or if you can see that the company you are about to choose has a kind of corporate culture based on freedom and an appropriate level of informality." Reflecting on his own experiences after entering Kuraray, President Wakui went on to reveal what he expects from today's youngsters.

Self-Taught PDCA Cycle Bringing a Sense of Achievement

I was a quasi-serious class-taker when I was a university student. This means that I spent most of my time in the school library, reading tons of newspapers, magazines and books, literally shelf to shelf. Naturally, my academic performance was not spectacular. I did neither any university-approved club activities nor particular part-time jobs. Nevertheless, I sounded like a snob when I talked. Come to think of it now, I cannot help laughing when I remember the time when I was trying to find a job. Considering how I was then, I must have been the least-attractive candidate for any job.

Given the kind of person as I was, I somehow developed some interest in Kuraray, and I clearly remember what attracted me. It was Soichiro Ohara, who was Kuraray's president at the time. He was, of course, a corporate manager. However, he was more famous as a cultural figure that often wrote articles for newspapers and magazines and frequently appeared on television and could be heard on radio programs. Even from back then, he often talked about subjects like environmental issues and corporate social contribution activities.

Around the autumn of 1963, I came across an article in a magazine called Sekai (literally translated as "The World"), published by Iwanami Shoten Publishers. The article discussed the first export of KURALON manufacturing facilities to China from Japan, a post-war, free-economy country. This article was actually contributed by Mr. Ohara. At the time, I was just a university student who was not even familiar with the term "facility export." However, I strongly sympathized with his rationale behind such corporate activity. In the article, he stated that he just hoped that the benefits from facility exports to China could compensate the devastation and miseries that Japan caused there during the war time. I was honestly intrigued by the attitude of this private corporation that was not driven just by profit-taking, and consequently, I entered Kuraray, having wanted to work under a leader with such philosophy.

But sadly, my first assignment was at a plant in Saijo City, Ehime Prefecture. In the plant's payroll department, I was performing routine work using the abacus. I really wanted a transfer, telling myself, "What a waste, using somebody like me here!" Looking back, I can do nothing but laugh at my youth and arrogance. I ended up working there for about two-and-a-half years and was finally transferred to a resin plant located in Nakajyo-machi (current Tainai City), Niigata Prefecture. At this new assignment, I was mostly involved with general affairs, which included recruitment, employee training and employee benefit programs. It was great that I gained more opportunities to mingle with other employees. However, it was really difficult to attain a sense of achievement by planning and administering potato harvest festivals and field trips in autumn for children who lived with their parents in the corporate housing nearby. I don't mean to degrade such type of job, because it has a significant function in supporting the organization, even if indirectly. I just thought that that kind of job did not excite me enough.

But it was also true that I gained indispensable experience there, by interacting with my colleagues and people from other departments. Indeed, working with other people requires various applied processes.

It was about 14 years after my having joined Kuraray that I was at a turning point in my life. I was appointed to an unprofitable Kuraray subsidiary selling soft drinks. There, I found the subsidiary's employees new positions elsewhere in the Kuraray Group and sold the business to a third party to enable Kuraray to successfully withdraw from the unprofitable operations. Before this assignment, all I had done was deskbound planning and operations. It was there at this subsidiary where I was placed in a position, for the first time, where I had to self-start everything and lead all the negotiations involved. It was a medium-sized company, so I was naturally charged with multiple tasks at the same time. Furthermore, since the withdrawal plan was to be kept a top secret, I didn't have anybody around with whom I could discuss these matters. This solitary environment, however, forced me to learn to solve a myriad of problems on my own. In other words, I finally felt a sense of achievement by completing a self-taught Plan-Do-Check-Action (PDCA) cycle in my job.

Let me put my case here into Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Through my endeavors in fulfilling my occupational responsibilities described above, I think it is fair to say that I have satisfied "esteem needs" that involve "respect of others" and "respect by others." It is the second highest category of needs in the hierarchy according to the theory. I have felt a full sense of achievement by winning the respect of others, and this eventually made me realize that such a sense of achievement generates motivation for new tasks. It was after this realization that, I think, I have stopped seeking ideals blindly. Just for your information, the highest category of needs in the hierarchy is defined as "self-actualization needs." A company has its targets, and its employees have responsibilities according to the targets. It would be great if, in this kind of structure, everybody involved is able to accomplish self-actualization.

Your Strengths and Relations with Others

What is important in the process of self-actualization is to get deeply involved with whatever job or role you are assigned to. A Zen phrase says, "Be the master wherever you are." What this phrase tells us is to proactively get involved with anything, be open to the opinions of others, coordinate your actions based on your own and others' ideas and face the consequences when you fail. If you live by this kind of principle, you will be able to nurture your ability. This is what I would like to call the ability of achievers. This ability should not be viewed the same as being self-righteous or being analytical, like critics. I always face a person, looking for signs of this ability.

Also important is to excel in anything-anything whatsoever so that you don't fall behind anybody. If you have something like that, you feel confident about yourself to start with, and moreover, you may establish connections with your peers. In today's and tomorrow's business world, collaboration with other parties will accelerate the pace of what you do and expand the scope of your field. I would like to see today's youngsters constantly be aware of this tendency and be the masters, wherever they are, by actively employing all they have.