DISAPPEARANCE. Founder of the Kyocera group, “savior” of JAL airlines, Kazuo Inamori died on August 24. Back on a unique journey.
He was revered in Japan as a legendary patron, management mentor, philanthropist, and Buddhist monk. Kyocera, the company he founded in postwar Japan, announced Tuesday that Kazuo Inamori died on August 24 at the age of 90. He left discreetly, in his beloved city of Kyoto, which he had given the name to Kyocera, to Kyoto Ceramics.
On this day in 2015, The Figaro attends, in the vast hall of the Kyoto International Conference Center, a ceremony, a mixture of the Oscars evening and immersion in the thousand-year-old Japan of the shoguns. Nothing is missing, tea ceremony, Nô theater number and philharmonic orchestra. Dressed in a white kimono trimmed in gold, on stage, Princess Takamodo, cousin by marriage of the Emperor of Japan Akihito, concentrates her gaze during this thirtieth edition of the award ceremony of the prestigious Kyoto Prize, endowed with 150 million yen (1 million euros at that time). Beside her, discreetly stands a small man with gray hair, dressed in a tuxedo.
This is Kazuo Inamori, president of the homonymous foundation that awards the Kyoto Prize since 1984.
The founder of two industrial empires, Kyocera and KDDI, who had become a management guru, discreet in the foreign press, gave an interview that year to the Figaro. For most Japanese, the “Dr Inamori” is above all the savior of the national airline Japan Airlines. He was about to turn 78 when, in 2010, the government called him to try to straighten out JAL, which had just declared bankruptcy, crushed by debt. mass layoffs had been decided before his arrival. With an iron fist in a velvet glove, Kazuo Inamori will impose great sacrifices on the part of the employees but, in two years, the miracle is there, JAL is saved. By the way, the providential boss revolutionizes company, exclusive customer of Boeing JAL places its first order with Airbus Commercial common sense dictated having two suppliers instead of one, but another factor weighed into Inamori’s choice: “I met Fabrice Bregier (the head of Airbus) in Davos. He made a good impression on me, it seemed to me that he had personal integrity”, justifies the octogenarian. The choice of men. It is the act that he considers the most important in the life of a boss. “If you are a poser, if you are not humbleconfirms a Kyocera executive, it will be difficult to please the Dr Inamori. »
At JAL, Kazuo Inamori applied “his” management method, the “amoebic management”. In French, the term amoeba pejoratively evokes parasites. The best translation would be “cell management”. The Japanese entrepreneur managed his companies by dividing his staff into small autonomous teams, responsible for their budget and their objectives, the “amoebas”, capable of dividing as the company evolved. The change at JAL has redoubled the appeal of D’s teachingsr Inamori. He has published several books, lectures in Japan and China in front of hundreds of SME bosses.
cathode ray tube revolution
Kazuo Inamori developed his management philosophy in the field, in half a century of entrepreneurship. He did not come from the “boot” of the great universities like Todai or Kyodai, but more simply from that of his native region of Kagoshima (southern Japan). Diploma in hand, he preferred the proud, imperial and industrious Kyoto, where thousand-year-old palaces and temples, artisans and students rub shoulders with reference equipment manufacturers such as the Rohm transistor manufacturer, the Nidec motor manufacturer.
At the age of 27, a chemical engineer, he left his first employer -something rare in Japan-, married the day after his resignation and created his own company, Kyoto Ceramics, the future Kyocera. The company is one of those groups little known by the general public with respect to assemblers such as Panasonic or Toyota, but which perhaps form the true industrial aristocracy of the Archipelago, clandestine, capable of producing an infinity of sophisticated parts essential for consumer products. The first product of the SME Kyocera will be a small ceramic tube, an insulator for a television. We are in 1959, at the dawn of the home invasion of the cathode ray tube.
Unknown to the general public outside of the Japanese archipelago, Kyocera is nonetheless omnipresent in the world. Its high-precision ceramic components are found in cars, computers, and even the Hubble Space Telescope. The company has declined ceramics in tens of thousands of referenced products, kitchen knives, solar panels or surgical prostheses. In 2015, the conglomerate employed more than 70,000 people worldwide.
This success is not enough for Kazuo Inamori. In 1984, at age 50, he created his second company: a telecommunications operator that would challenge the public monopoly. KDDI is still the second biggest player in Japan today. Majority shareholder of Kyocera, the Dr Inamori found himself almost a billionaire in dollars, according to Forbes. That same year, 1984, he created his philanthropic foundation and the Kyoto Prize, a way of giving back what he felt he had received, awarding two researchers but also an artist each year. “Because science and technology are not enough for true happiness”, philosopher Kazuo Inamori. Among the many winners are the musician Pierre Boulez, the sociologist Bruno Latour and the director Ariane Mnouchkine.
His unique political positioning also makes him a stranger. If a great Japanese leader was close to the opposition, it was Kazuo Inamori. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has remained the centerpiece of the ruling majority since the war. It maintains the best relations with economic circles, forming, with the bureaucracy as a third point, what the “Japanologists” have called an “iron triangle”. However, Dr. Inamori had chosen to stand outside that triangle, supporting the opposition so that his country could become a true two-party democracy. In the early 2000s, it was he who brought together, with forceps, the scattered opposition forces across the political spectrum within the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). There was his Trojan horse: a young Kyoto deputy named Seiji Maehara. In 2009, his efforts paid off: the DPJ achieved the unprecedented feat, never repeated since, of overthrowing the PLD. A year later, Japan Airlines, the country’s main airline, went bankrupt: it was to Kazuo Inamori that Seiji Maehara, who had become Minister of Transport, left the handle to straighten out the situation. Bet held in two years.
Alms, shaved head
However, the common thread in Kazuo Inamori’s life is not politics. Rather Buddhism. The Buddhist precepts were transmitted to him by his mother and his father, a small printer from Kagoshima, in the south of the Archipelago. Young Kazuo really discovers religion in his teens when, struck down by tuberculosis, he believes he is doomed. He immersed himself in philosophy books that marked him forever. At the age of 65, he took a break from his hectic life as a businessman to briefly retire to a Rinzai Zen sect temple in Kyoto. He became a monk and, with his head shaved, gave alms for a while. But his spiritual teacher tells him that his mission is in the city. This mix of genres, friar and captain of industry, even in Japan, is not trivial. “It earned him criticismexplains a friend, was criticized for not choosing. »
This unfolding spirituality, savored by Japanese polite society as a “soul supplement” in this austere industrial environment, did not work for everyone. “After Kyocera took over KDDI, the company was taken over by a kind of nasty cult of personality.recalls attorney Stephen Givens, who was working for the operator at the time. “When we dined together, I saw more of a businessman than a priest or a philosopher. He treated his staff horribly.», reports a European industrialist. Dr. Inamori was not an easy boss, multiple relatives confirmed in 2015. “If he doesn’t scold you, he doesn’t believe in you”confided a former US executive of Kyocera. “He is the toughest man, with the biggest heart”added a friend who hadn’t left him since his debut in Kyoto. In the Japanese collective memory, he will continue to be the benefactor through the Inamori Foundation.
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