YuYu interview, Kazuo Inamori

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What was your dream as a child?

I guess I was a competitive, bossy kid. I was raised at a time when Japan was a very militaristic country, involved in World War II, so I naturally thought I would become a soldier in the future, however, the war ended when I was thirteen. Ninety-nine percent of Kagoshima, my hometown, was bombed out by air raids. My father's printing factory was also reduced to ashes and we had a hard time, barely making a living. For ten years after that, nothing I tried worked, so I was stuck. I wasnユt accepted into the university that I wanted to go to, so I went to Kagoshima University in my hometown, instead. When I graduated, I didn't get hired by the company that I wished to work for, so I started working for a smaller company in Kyoto. Fortunately, I developed an interest in something that would change the course of my life. I became extremely interested in processing technology of fine ceramics and began immersing myself in the developing technologies that were based upon them. Since that time, and for the last 50 years, I have been dedicated to the study of fine ceramics.


—— What led to you founding Kyocera?
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On a high school day, 1950 (left).


In the company I worked for after college, I had a different opinion regarding the development of ceramic technologies than my boss had, so I resigned. There were others, though, who strongly believed that my work would lead to advanced technological developments. With the support of such people, Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd. (now Kyocera) was born. I was twenty-seven years old when I started this journey,with three million yen in capital and 28 employees. But I could never have started Kyocera alone. Many people supported me in found Kyocera and I've just been putting all my effort into its. To be honest with you, when I started Kyocera, I didn't have any great ambitions like venture companies might have today. Although I wanted the company to grow to be No. 1 in the world in the field of fine ceramics, I certainly didn't have the confidence or outlook to accomplish that. While Iヤve kept going, I've realized that the company has come a long way.


—— What was your frame of mind back when you started Kyocera?

As you can imagine, I was full of worry every day. I couldnユt get rid of the fear that the company might not succeed. To escape from my fears, I worked very hard every day. Our efforts paid off and we had gross sales of 26 million yen the first year, generating a profit of three million yen. The business continued to do well during the course of next year, but I still couldn't get rid of this fear that the company might go out of business someday, causing its employees and shareholders great hardship. I believe that's the reason I've continued working so hard to fight this fear. Currently, Kyocera has achieved annual sales of 1.2 trillion yen. Yet, it's not my nature to state, like, this is good; rather, I spend every day focused on my mission of keeping the company going.


—— What are the technologies of fine ceramics from which you have developed a series of new products?
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Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd. is founded, 1959 (sixth from the left in the back row).


Ceramics is the generic term for pottery and porcelain, cement,glass, and others. Meanwhile, fine ceramicsモ refers to more sophisticated ceramics, made with refined ingredients by state-of-the-art technologies. For use in electronics forsterite, a rare gemstone, is one of them. It is a highly purified metal oxide extracted from minerals. When I started studying fine ceramics, the electronics industry had made rapid growth worldwide. In Japan, TV receivers were manufactured by Matsushita (currently Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.) and they requested that we make insulating materials (mostly imported from the Netherlands in those days) for the use with cathode-ray tubes. Consequently, by using new fine ceramic materials, we developed a new product that could insulate electricity from high-frequency waves. After that, we produced a series of new products, including ceramics for silicon transistors and ceramic IC (integrated circuit) packages. Before the Silicon Valley era through today, Kyocera has grown while indirectly supporting the American semiconductor industry.


—— Can you tell us about Kyocera’s corporate motto, “Respect the Divine and Love People"?

This is a favorite proverb of Takamori Saigo, a great man from my hometown. Since my childhood, I've admired his personality, way of life and beliefs. When I started Kyocera, a supporter gave me a sign which read メRespect the Divine and Love People.モ I was so happy that I put it up right away in the visitor's room of our office. Then I decided to use it as the company's motto. Since then, under this corporate motto, "Respect the Divine and Love People: preserve the spirit to work fairly and honorably, respecting the divine and loving people, our work, our company and our global community," we have managed the company, focusing on environment issues, with the management rationale, "To provide opportunities for the material and intellectual growth of all our employees, and through our joint effort, contribute to the advancement of society and humankind." That sign still hangs in my office at our corporate headquarters.


—— Can you tell us about the establishment of the Kyoto Prizes and the process of selecting the laureates?

The Kyoto Prizes are international awards to honor those who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural, and spiritual development of humankind. The prizes are presented annually, one in each of the following three categories: Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy.

Our efforts and the grace of God have transformed Kyocera into a major corporation with annual sales of 230 billion yen in 1984, twenty-five years after its birth. The public now regards us as a rich company, but I haven't worked hard in order to attain this status. As I said, I believe we were granted these achievements by God and nature, and that has made me want give something back to society, through the use of our assets. I also realized that there were no other awards, other than the Nobel Prizes, that honor people who dedicate their efforts to the development and research of technologies. So, I founded the Inamori Foundation in 1984 and launched the Kyoto Prizes, because I wanted to play my small part contributing to the advancement and development of humankind.

The selection of Kyoto Prize laureates proceeds as follows. Upon receiving the thousands of letters of recommendation for nomination in each of the three categories, from research institutes and universities worldwide, the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee for each category screens the nominated candidates. Next, the appropriate Kyoto Prize Committee further screens selected candidates from a broader perspective. In the final stage, the Kyoto Prize Executive Committee examines comprehensive viewpoints, particularly in light of the philosophy of the Kyoto Prizes, and nominates the laureates. Laureates are selected fairly and impartially without regard to nationality, race, or religion. I am very glad that two Kyoto Prize laureates have also been awarded the Nobel Prizes.


—— Who are the major influences in your life?
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On an overseas business trip, 1970 (top).


Over the years, I have met countless numbers of wonderful people. In industrial circles, Mr. Konosuke Matsushita, whom I greatly admire, is one of them. I learned the wish-oriented management philosophy from Mr. Matsushita, who was called the god of management said, if there is no margin available in your business management, it's because you don't seriously wish it. Also, in terms of a way of thinking, I've learned a great deal from Mr. Tempu Nakamura, a Yoga authority. I deeply agree with his practical teaching of understanding the meaning of the existence of human beings and have made use of it in my life and business management. During my childhood, I immersed myself in reading his books when I suffered from tuberculosis just like Tempu and was drawn to the phrase, I have become ill because I have a weak mind that brings illness. I believe this line was the inspiration and foundation of my own philosophy. Upon reaching the age of sixty, I came to embrace Buddhism. In 1998, when I became sixty-five, I was given the opportunity to become a priest in Rinzai Sect Empukuji Temple. Becoming a Buddhist priest itself has not drastically changed my life, but I think studying Buddha's teachings has completed my humanity.


—— Can you tell us about the topic of your speech at the opening ceremony of the “Seiwa Jyuku” management school in Los Angeles?

The Seiwa Jyuku school began in Kyoto as voluntary study sessions in 1983, where young entrepreneurs could gather to learn the philosophy of life and management. We now have fifty-two Seiwa Jyuku schools in Japan. Beyond Japan, we have locations in counties like Brazil, China, and the US. On February 29th, we launched Seiwa Jyuku USA, in Los Angeles, which is our fifth overseas location and the first in the US. At the opening ceremony, I urged entrepreneurs to have a strong desire such that he or she would think of in a dream. A person's wishing something doesn't seem so important, but a strong wish will indeed serve as the major factor in forming and reforming his or her life. To continue running this business, I need to deal with our shareholders and pay our employees. To respond to their expectations, I would like to pass on the fact that the entrepreneur's "strong wish directly affects the business and leads to success.

Also, I commented that I wondered why Japanese have not been very successful as corporate personnel in the US. There are many Japanese here who have been successful as individually as professionals, scholars, physicians, attorneys, and accountants, but I havenユt heard of many who are successful as entrepreneurs. I wonder if it is because of a lack of leadership to bring together, persuade, satisfy, and lead diverse ethnic groups. I sense that Japanese here may believe that Japan is a unique culture located in a Buddhist region and therefore it is difficult for them to be successful among Christians or Muslims. Yet, I believe that if you have confidence that you are right, your wish will reach other people, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Another important approach is to charm the people around you. To do so, you need to communicate with them by expressing yourself in speech. Certainly, Japanese have difficulty with English. Still, overcoming such difficulties and attracting Americans will be the key for success.


—— Do you have a motto for your life?
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At the presentation ceremony of the 19th Annual Kyoto Prizes, 2003.


Recently, I have come to understand that life is beyond our control. The other day, I went to Niigata and visited Reverend Ryokan's temple. There, the reverend has left a few lines that read, "If you have a problem, you should have it. If death visits you, you should die. I totally agree with him. While spending busy days on various projects coming to me one after another and my work schedule is all booked up, I sometimes get angry, like, "You've booked me for this, too!" But I don't feel bad about my daily life. Getting freaked out doesn't help. If I have a tough time, that's fine as it is. No matter what situation I am in or what happens to me, I accept everything without manipulating it. I want to be myself without going against the course of my life." That's what I believe.

(04-01-2004 issue)


Kazuo Inamori ・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・・

Dr. Kazuo Inamori is Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Kyocera Corporation and President of the Inamori Foundation as well as Honorary Advisor of KDDI Corporation.He was born in 1932 in Kagoshima Prefecture. He graduated from Kagoshima University, Faculty of Engineering in 1955. In 1959, he founded Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd. (currently Kyocera Corporation) and after serving as its President and Chairman, was appointed Chairman Emeritus in 1997. In 1984, he founded DDI Corporation (now KDDI) and was appointed as Honorary Advisor in 2001. Also in 1984, he used his personal funds to establish the Inamori Foundation and launched the Kyoto Prizes, international awards that honor significant contributors to the advancement and development of humanity and society every year. As Principal of the "Seiwa Jyuku" management school (52 locations in Japan and 5 outside Japan), Dr. Inamori devotes himself to educating some 3,000 young entrepreneurs. While serving as Honorary Chairman of the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he is also a member of several overseas organizations, including the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences and the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. In 1984, he received the Medal with Purple Ribbon from Japan. In 2003, he received the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, being its first Japanese recipient. Among his publications are: “Nihon eno Chokugen,” “A Passion for Success,” and “The Philosophy of Kazuo Inamori.” Dr. Inamori currently lives in the city of Kyoto with his wife.