Japanese business leader applies a management of adaptation

For all the consensus-seeking that Japan is famous for, the basic building block of management strategy must be the individual, according to Ryuzaburo Kaku , president of Canon Inc.

Mr. Kaku is one of Japan's more unorthodox business leaders. His philosophy is reflected in the way his company, the world's largest manufacturer of 35-mm cameras and now known for office copiers and other business machines, has gone about building its overseas manufacturing operations.

In each of Canon's existing overseas plants, and even more in the plants the company intends to build, ''we must first study the local culture, the local civilization,'' Mr. Kaku said in a recent interview. ''If that study shows us some aspect, some portion of the local culture, that might prove hospitable to the good points of Japanese management, then and only then can we try to introduce some of these points. Otherwise we are bound to fail.''

For instance, Kaku is not an unconditional upholder of the lifetime employment system. ''Even in Japan, this system only works well in profitable companies,'' he said. ''So, when we go abroad, we can practice it only where labor conditions are good, productivity is high, and profitability is consequently high as well.''

But Kaku likes the Japanese attitude when it comes to the overall context of labor-management relations. Management should not take the attitude that it is the owner, the capitalist.

''Managers are employees, just like the workers. The minute you start thinking in terms of capital and labor, there is conflict. But if managers and workers alike recognize that the more prosperous the company is, the more everyone in it stands to benefit, conflict becomes unnecessary.''

And management should conduct the affairs of the plant or subsidiary so that the employee feels he is working for a domestic company, not for a Japanese one.

Finally, Kaku says, in Japan as in the United States, the basic factor is the individual. If you expect people to follow you out of some abstract idea of loyalty, you will be making a great mistake. An employee will work hard only if he feels the company's success means benefis for himself.

Mr. Kaku, who was born in China, says he admires Mao Tse-tung for having eliminated starvation and huge disparities of wealth in that enormous country. But for the future, he says, if China wants to modernize and be rich, as the present leadership says, ''then communism won't do.''

''Without a market economy, there is no incentive. Capitalism emphasizes freedom, while communism emphasizes equality. Capitalism permits inequality but capitalist societies overcome this weakness through religion - Christianity in the West, Confucianism in Japan and Korea - whereas a communist society first sacrifices freedom and eventually loses equality as well.

''So what will save the world? The right compromise between freedom and equality. That is what we are all looking for. At Canon, our ideal is to give maximum scope to the individual within the context of equality, within the context of the common ship that we are all riding in. I don't think this is either a Japanese or an American way of thinking - it should be common to every thinking individual.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.