SOCIETY functions well because of the goods and services offered by various entities. These entities do business by the provision of these goods and services, which members of society need, mainly for a profit, among other organizational goals. Businesses, in order to successfully operate, practice management. They ensure the achievement of goals through the efficient and effective use of resources.
I have been in Japan for a little over two weeks now. I will be staying here for a year as a visiting professor. I have bought goods and engaged services of businesses here in Tokyo, from restaurants to supermarkets, transportation and communications and I am very satisfied. Service and product quality is excellent. Management practice is at par with the Western world.
Management practice appears to me to be steeped in efficiency, use of technology, innovation, customer responsiveness and teamwork — hallmarks of business leadership. In fact, currently, Japan is known internationally in the automotive and electronics industries.
Japan’s economy has performed remarkably after Second World War and has continuously grown until the 1990s. Two decades ago, however, the country seemed to have reached a plateau with its real Gross Domestic Product decreasing, unemployment increasing and fluctuating stock and land prices. Japanese labor cost has significantly increased and there is more intense competition for export markets from other Asian countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China.
Changes in the circumstances that occur through time create positive tension to reinvent how we manage businesses. This holds true in Japan. Throughout its history of doing business, its commitment to the demands of development, growth and progress as a nation is unwavering. The country was isolated from the early 17th century to the mid 19th century. When it opened up in 1853, the economic system was feudal and they were resolved to catch up with the rest of the world. The state took on an active role in industrialization and bureaucratization. They engaged in a militarization program in the late 1800s and won over China, Russia and Korea.
Parallel to the development of management thought and practice in the Western world, Japan had its management systems put up in 1885 and the establishment of its first corporations or zaibatsus, ensued. Mass production consistent with the Scientific Management school of thought originally espoused by Frederick Taylor found its way to Japan in 1910. Their Frederick Taylor, father of Scientific Management, is Yoichi Ueno, their very own father of administrative science.
In the 1930s, their industries transformed from light to heavy. Centralization was the mode of organizing and practicing authority. Quality control took root in the late 1940s through American scholars Deming and Juran, among others, too.
The practice of management has kept pace with the demands of the times and markets across time. There remains, however, what is unique to their culture. Japan is philosophically influenced by Confucianism and Buddhism. The Japanese people have a coherent set of values anchored on respect for hierarchy, learning, harmony, and loyalty. They are collectivist, thus holding equality and group membership or belongingness as important.
Indeed, as we move towards a global economy that has freer flow of capital, labor and information amid intense competition, reinventing the practice of management in Japan is a perennial challenge. Amid changes, there should be a stable commitment to develop and adapt while maintaining what is essentially Japanese. How well Japan accommodates these challenges and signs of the times depend on how well they reinvent their practice of management. The history of their management thought and practice continues to unfold.
Maria Victoria Tibon is an associate professor of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University, on professional leave. She is currently a visiting professor to Tokyo City University where she teaches Global Management and Career Preparation for Global Business. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU and TCU, its faculty, and its administrators.