Accepting Challenges

On August 3rd, there was a exam called "The National Trade Skill Test", which tests the technical skills and knowledge of working people.
This is certified by the government and takes place twice a year.

This time, 4 members from our assembly section took this exam, Grade 1 of "Finishing of Assembling Machines".

Although it seemed the exam got much harder this year, they didn't give up and stayed at our workshop practicing until late every night.

When I popped in the workshop after the work today, I saw Mr. N from company Y among the four.
He was originally in charge of teaching the examinees in his company, but he also supports ones from ISOWA every time.

When I was talking with Mr.N, he said to me,
It's true that they've got a hard task this year, so we should praise them for deciding to take it on this condition.
    Preparing for the test definitely improves their skills.
    It doesn't matter if they will pass or not, because it might be just a matter of luck.
    Actually, it is more beneficial for them to try and practice many times.
    What we should do is to value their challenges themselves."

That made me feel embarrassed. I had only commended the passer so far.

And I asked him how to make the most of "the National Trade Skill Test", he answered,
"If you make freshmen apply for Grade 2 as soon as they joined the company and prepare thoroughly
from April to July, they can set a clear goal."
Thanks for the advice.

He went on,
"The problem is the exam is scheduled during Bon (Japanese ritual ceremony observed around the fifteenth of August)."

Hearing that, I couldn't help saying,
"All they do is getting their routine duties done not caring about examinees."

But complaining doesn't help anything.
I hope all of them will brush up their skill further within the next few days.
That will raise the overall skills of ISOWA.

Passing the test is not essential.
You trying something new like this are our treasure. Thank you.


A Company Valuable for Both Employees and Customers

Last autumn, Mr. Nishiura, who is my senior at the university, approached me about a new book.

He is also the CEO of Attax Group, which is a consulting firm targeting the small or medium-sized enterprises.
On that day, he said to me,

“I’m planning to publish a book, and I would like to introduce ISOWA in it.”

“This book introduces some companies whose customers are willing to pay, and tries to find out the key


I replied instantly,

“No way! We are trying to be that kind of company, but we still have a long way to go.”


However, I accepted that offer in the end, because he still was eager to write about us not as a company whose customers are willing to pay, but as the one which is trying to be.


Mr. Nishiura and I have been developing the relationships since I joined ISOWA. And in recent years I was invited to their seminar as a lecturer. In other words, they know everything about me and ISOWA.


Moreover, Mr. Sugiyama, who is a member of Attax Group is in charge of this project. He is a big fan of ISOWA Diary and familiar with what’s happening in ISOWA and my family every day.


That’s why all we had to do this time was review and make sure they didn’t leave out anything important so far.


Other than that, a lot of ISOWA members were interviewed at their request.

This is what had happened until last December.


And then they said,

“We would like to visit your customer for an interview.”


When I heard this, Mr. Takaoka popped into my head, because it was right after ISOWA Open House where Mr. Takaoka gave a presentation about our new maintenance contract to the guests.


He readily agreed to my request and the interview was carried out in January.


A few months later, Mr. Nishiura and Mr. Sugiyama completed the rough draft and we checked the copy, correct proofs and confirm the contents.

Although I thought it would take a lot of time to actually publish it, Mr. Sugiyama visited soon after that.


“The title is ‘A company valuable for both employees and customers’. The cover design is almost finished.”


I got overwhelmed by this surprising speed, and he explained me why;


“We’ve given it all of our energies. We were all so particular about the details that sometimes we didn’t have much time for sleeping.


When I saw Mr. Nishiura, he said,

“I’ve read the copy so many times that I’m starting to learn it by heart.”


15 years of corporate culture reform.

I think it will take more time to be able to provide value for customers.


But I believe that if employees who provide value for customers don’t like the company, we never realize customer satisfaction.


Can we become a company that brings true consumer satisfaction?


Our challenge has just begun.


This book contains four examples of mid-sized firms including ISOWA and will be put on sale at the end of this month.

I can’t wait to read it.


We Start a Delivery Service!


Mr. S and Mr. T, who joined our technology division last year, have been working on crisis experience device as one of their first projects. It's finally finished and today we held a presentation.

First of all, they explained why they chose this project and how the device functions.

"Nipping accidents account for half of all labor accidents. We'd like every operator to know how it happens and how dangerous it is, in order to prevent these accidents."

Then we got to experience the fear of getting caught in the machine.

Participants tried to insert a cardboard sheet into the device, they were dragged into the device, even when it was just idling. When they increased RPMs, we were all overwhelmed by the machines power, which was way beyond our expectations.

This was just a simple project for our first-year staff, but we are now planning to bring this device to our customer's office and demonstrate it for their operators. It will show them the true meaning of fear.

If someone needs a delivery service, please let me know. 

I want to say thank you to Mr. S and Mr. T for making this amazing device. I hope it will help improve safety for our customers.




Ninety-eight Years in All

We held a retirement party for Mr. M and Mr. I who have made a huge contribution to ISOWA for a long time. I’d like to look back on their histories in ISOWA.
Mr. M joined ISOWA in 1961 and Mr. I in 1967. Together they’ve been working for 98 years in all. That’s remarkable.

When Mr. M joined our firm, the office had already been transferred to Kasugai, but he started his career nevertheless in the former office in Nagoya. At that time there were 30 people. And there were only five employees in the technical division.

My father went to the U.S. and commercialized the Flexo-folder gluer under a technical cooperation agreement. That was back in 1970, and the machine had the functions of a printer and carton former. Since then Mr. M has played an important role as a specialist.

Mr. I joined six years later. He recalled that ISOWA had about 70 employees at that time. “I was so glad I could join ISOWA, because I always wanted to work for a final product manufacturer rather than a parts manufacturer.”

Unlike Mr. M, he went through a lot of different divisions and finally he got to the technical division. He has been mainly in charge of printer slotters.

The other day, he came to me and we had a little talk after hours. He loves golf, but he’s not good at playing golf. We played together several times many years ago and always competed for the lowest position. That’s what I really liked about him.

He started the conversation by saying, “ISOWA has changed.” I was just wondering how he felt about it and was anxious about what he was going to say.

“Meetings between different groups never happened before. There was a great distance between the various groups. On the other hand, it became quite a typical thing for the design and manufacture sections to meet and talk quite frankly.”

I was more relieved than happy to hear that. I have been working on changing our corporate culture, although sometimes I have to ask too much of our staff, especially of veterans such as Mr. I and Mr. M, but he expressed his opinion positively like that. It really was a relief.

I’ve been trying to reduce our company debt. But lately I’m starting to feel that the way we have improved our debt ratio is really by increasing our assets through more efficient use.

This is far from enough, though. We have to push forward with the reform.

Mr. I talked to me at the end of the party and said, “I often see ISOWA’s service trucks around my house. Every time I see one, I will quietly root for it.”

We will do our best so you two don’t have to worry. Thank you so much for your 98 years.


When I decided to work with ISOWA

Last weekend we had a customer at our office who came all the way from Tokyo.  We’ve been doing business together for three years now. That’s not what we'd call a long-term relationship, especially in the cardboard business where equipment sometimes lasts over 20 years.
But he suddenly said, “Actually, we decided to do business with you at your father’s farewell party. I remember you saying at the funeral that your predecessor had been working hard to get Rengo to use their machines someday. And I could see that the spirit was coming down to the next generation, with a clear process of development.


“That was exactly what we were trying to do too. So that was when we made up our minds.”
Those words really inspired me. We will never make him regret it.
We must always cherish such words from our customers. Let’s not forget the great principles of my father and grandfather about manufacturing.


ISOWA Keeps You Going – Always on the Go!

For last two days we’ve been talking about our new goal. The Cardboard Collaboration was a project we worked on from August 2010 to March 2011 where we discussed how to make sustainable profits in the medium-term perspective.

ISOWA Keeps You Going – Always on the Go! That’s the goal concept we set up during this project. If we can do this, we will get our customers to become our fans.

Since then, the concept has penetrated the whole company slowly but surely. Now how can we make that concept a higher priority than conventional numerical targets? That’s what we talked about this time.

Through the discussion, I found that conveying thoughts to someone means repeating it until he or she understands. That’s true for corporate culture reform, in which I’ve always held onto my own belief.

Tonight we had lots of very nice remarks.

Mr. T of the technical division said, “Development for the world, for the people – that’s what I’m always saying. But I’ve realized that I’m really doing it for myself. I can’t help feeling guilty for sitting here.”

No way! That’s just like ISOWA. That sounds exactly like a company where you can work for the happiness of yourself and your family.

Mr. N of sales said, “I think the ultimate goal of that concept is to enable the customers to keep themselves going.” That’s really impressive. You got me!

Mr. Takahashi from SCHOLAR said, “Mr. Isowa is suffering from a gap between heart and sales. Why don’t you just focus on sales that the heart will generate? “

It was a really stimulating off-site activity.




Renovating Our Shinto Shrine

We have a little Shinto shrine on the company property, and it has just undergone a renovation to coincide with Shikinen Sengu, the regular removal of the Grand Shrine of Ise.


Our own little shrine is kind of unique. It is surrounded by an outer structure, which keeps the shrine from weathering, but of course the outer structure got old and worn out. The priest comes to our office every month to read a Shinto ritual prayer, and he suggested renovating the shrine.


There have been a number of twists and turns. Now the construction work is over and the shrine has been rededicated in a magnificent new shrine structure.

Today the cold has moderated, and I feel that spring is just around corner. Red-blossom plum trees in my garden are starting to bloom.

In addition to the shrine refurbishing, the block walls have been replaced by wire fences. Plantings within the wire fences are also finished. The plants look fragile since they were just planted, but I hope they will grow thick and tall to make people feel relaxed and comforted when they pass by.

The roof of the shrine is now covered with brand new copper so it shines in the bright spring sunshine. The fresh scent of the Japanese “hinoki” cypress wafts in the air.

I hope this shrine renovation project will be a good opportunity for us all to reappraise safety.


Managers from Nepal

Today 20 participants in The Program on Corporate Management for Nepal came to visit our office, at the request of the Overseas Human Resources and Industry Development Association (HIDA).

First, Mr. I of the management group told a story about himself including the company introduction.
That was cheerful and vigorous. Some members were so enthusiastic that they were wearing helmets even during the introduction.

After that, we announced that it was time to depart for the Discover ISOWA tour. It seemed they loved that name.

First up was Mr. A from the assembly process management section.
We didn’t have headsets so we couldn’t make out clearly what he was saying, but he said that the IKEA furniture company has a management philosophy similar to ISOWA’s, and that’s why he loves ISOWA even more.

Second up was Ms. I of the electrical technology division.
She showed us the touch panel that she developed herself. That caught everyone’s attention.

Last was Ms. S of our Nagoya sales office.
She spoke passionately about her working relationship with her colleague Ms. N.

In advance of the tour, we asked them to follow some rules written on their welcome cards. Even so, some of them were walking around the factory with their hands in their pockets. I cautioned them: “It’s not allowed to walk with your hands in your pockets, for your own safety. Breaking rules can prevent you from building up a trusting relationship with your staff.”

Then we went back to the conference room for my lecture and Q&A session.
The following is what I said. “Investment means purchasing equipment. But employee salaries are considered as costs. That doesn’t make sense. Human beings have unlimited possibilities, whereas machines don’t.” They gave me applause on hearing this, and I was glad.

Then they were divided into two groups for discussion with us.

I guess our management style looked quite novel to them.

One visitor said, “I’ve never heard that kind of story. That was impressive.” Many others said things like this and asked me lots of questions.

Finally, their representative gave us an appreciation speech and a “pashmina” muffler as a souvenir from Nepal.

At first it was like they were doing sightseeing or something, but I could see that they got very serious during our Discover ISOWA tour and my lecture. The open house as a whole was very successful. The way we welcome guests also got a high rating.

We couldn’t have done this if they hadn’t come all the way from abroad. I’m so glad we can have such a wonderful experience. I am so proud of ISOWA that we can offer a great opportunity like this to my staff.

I hope they will work hard on cultural reform in Nepal. I wish them the best of luck.


Youth, Maturity and Old Age

Today was the last working day of the year. Our year-end ceremony started an hour earlier than usual, and we covered a range of exciting topics.

First up was the power of youth. Mr. I, who will be working in the U.S. from Jan. 2, expressed his enthusiasm about working there.
This term, he actively devoted himself to training in preparation for his time abroad. First he will study at Arizona State University to improve his English, and then he'll take up his work at ISOWA America. I look forward to his triumphant return after experiencing great personal growth.

Next up was the power of maturity. At the beginning of this month, four of our employees gave a presentation at Scholar Consult Co. about the ideal products and services that they wanted to provide. They did such a great job that I asked them to give the same presentation for us.

 They spoke about ideal products and services related to their positions and jobs, sharing the goal of “creating works” that we are now working on.

Some members of the technical division said after the ceremony that they were very glad all four speakers mentioned their project.

Last up was power of old age. They might get angry when they hear this, but after youth and manhood, what’s left but old age? And I know that I also belong to the “old age” category, so please forgive me.

Executive Director Mr. I looked back on the year and spoke passionately about safety in particular.
 Executive Director Mr. K brought the year to a close with “sanbon-jime,” the Japanese custom of performing three sets of rhythmic hand clapping at the end of a special event.

This year-end ceremony made me realize ISOWA’s strength in each generation – youth, maturity and old age.


Answer from the Union

At this time of year, many companies hold negotiations about winter bonuses with labor unions. The union files a request with the company, and then the company makes a response. That is how it usually works. And that was true of us, too. “That WAS? What about now?”
We suggested two years ago that the management first make a proposal and then the union discuss it. And so there is no request from the union now. That’s right – the management suggests a bonus amount to the labor union voluntarily.
We had to get it done by the first half of this week. That’s because it has become a tradition to pay the winter bonus on the first Friday of December. Actually, I intended to have a joint management council last Friday to submit a proposal. But I had trouble drawing up such a proposal.
Though we are doing very well this term, that trend probably won’t continue through next term. Under these circumstances, what amount should I propose and how should I explain that decision? I just couldn’t come to a conclusion. So I asked the union leader last week, “I haven’t made up my mind about what to do. I need something to give me a push. In advance of the next term that’s expected to be hard for us, I want you to convey how I feel to the union members and let me know their thoughts.”
And today we had an opportunity to hear the answer. When I entered the meeting room, I found everyone was standing and chairman A was not there.
“Where’s Mr. A?”
“He was so nervous that he’s gone to bathroom.”
Mr. A came back and the meeting began. At the beginning, Mr. A suddenly brought out those colored message cards that you can see in the picture.
“I decided to get every union member to write his/her thought on these cards after last Friday’s meeting.”
I heard they had meetings during lunch time on Monday and Tuesday in each division, where one of the union officials attended and asked the members to write down their thoughts towards the anticipated difficult term on the cards.
“At first, I worried how many members would participate. But their words filled the cards quickly. I can’t see why it always takes so long for circulars to go around,” said Mr. A.
"If they hadn’t been thinking seriously about it daily, they wouldn’t have been able to write that quickly, especially the freshmen. I’m so embarrassed when I think how thoughtless I was when I was their age.”
“It’s true that there were some who didn’t join us, but as for those who were in this project, I believe their words came from the bottom of their hearts.”
“All we can do is look ahead and work hard, once we have expressed our convictions.”
It was really touching, but I believe that very process of struggling and thinking something through is extremely valuable.
·         The union filed a standard proposal suggested by the governing body.


·         Instead of the standard union proposal, ISOWA’s union made its own proposal.


·         The management side makes a proposal instead of its union.


·         Before the company makes a proposal, the union expresses their intensions for the term to come.
Our negotiations with the union have been evolving over time, as mentioned above. Yet the meeting this time has taken it to the next stage, I think. Certainly those message cards from the union members gave me a powerful push.
After the meeting was over, Mr. N said, “I’m starting to feel that we are now at a new stage with the union officials. It felt like we were doing a cooperative project with them.”
Bonus negotiations will be a great place for us to share our goals, not just settle on the amount of bonuses. A new process has been designed.


International Paper Board Industry Interview

Last September, Mr. David Hayes, a journalist working for a British trade magazine, came to interview me. He also interviewed me four years ago, but this time it was a longer interview. I’ve been looking forward to reading the finished article, and it has at last been published. It turned out to be over five pages long, a voluminous article.
Here is the enlarged photo on the front page.
Behind me are some members of the technical division having a meeting on a corridor that we call “ISOWA Street.” I’ve never had my photo taken from this angle, but I think it looks nice.
The article says, “Isowa Corporation introduces new corporate culture.”
That sounds cool.
As you can see in the table of contents, the last of the five pages was entirely devoted to describing our cultural reform.
“Called ISOWA Street, the interconnecting concourse has created an atmosphere of working in one large office. Meeting tables are located along the concourse to encourage interdepartmental communication.”
Last time, the article mentioned nothing about cultural reform, even though I referred to it a lot, but this time they introduced our corporate culture quite a lot, along with discussions of our machines and status of development.
There’s an inside story I would like to share with you. In the Nikkei Business article, we were introduced as “a company at the center of attention from major companies.”
That prompted them to ask exactly what kind of companies have visited us.
I gave them some examples, and what surprised me was that some companies that are very famous in Japan are virtually unknown abroad.
My interview was at the beginning of September. That’s why I’m wearing a short-sleeved shirt with no tie in the picture.
Although I know it’s an insignificant detail, I’m worrying that Europeans unfamiliar with Japan’s climate might look at that picture and think it’s still summer in Japan, even though the article was published in November.
Cool Japan is a catch phrase not just for “anime” or games. There is also “Cool Japan” in management.