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[Opinion] Learn From Toyota

Posted March. 14, 2006 03:37,   


The Japanese automobile maker Toyota will set up what it calls a “Kaizen Dojo,” or “improvement academy,” in Korea. The academy is designed to fulfill customer service requests.

Although it is part of a sales strategy to sell more cars, the meaning of “improvement,” Toyota’s motto, is interesting. For Toyota, improvement is eternal and infinite. There is always a need for improvement, and ways to improve what has been improved. Improvement that is implemented in such a way has been one of the formulas for Toyota’s success.

Factory lounges have slogans that say, “Good thoughts make good quality.” The number of ideas submitted by Toyota employees surpasses 60,000 per year. And the company pays bonuses ranging from 500 yen, or 4,000 won, up to 20,000 yen, or 160,000 won, depending on the value of the idea.

The main component of improvement is eliminating waste. One of the key factors of Toyota’s production line is synchronization, so that necessary parts will become available when necessary and in necessary amounts. This reduces stockpiles and returned auto parts, eliminates warehouses, lowers prices of cars, and facilitates market access.

Toyota’s spirit of improvement is also imbued in its labor union. The Toyota union designs financial investment plans based on family size and salary for all of its 270,000 members. They tell its members how much they need to save in order to prepare for retirement through simulation models. In other words, it is a union that does not demand wage increases from the world’s best company, but a union that reduces waste in the households of its members. The stable future plans of union members are reflected in the plant’s productivity.

Another Toyota ethic is “Gu-Choku,” or “honesty.” Toyota’s management know-how has been transferred to the Japanese government, local governments, airports, hospitals, universities and even bakeries. About 360,000 visitors come in every year just to benchmark Toyota. But why do they choose gu-choku? When one is employed by Toyota, the first thing he or she learns is “Hanbaitensama.” Sama is a title of respect, and it means respect sales, both modestly and honestly. The modesty of powerful companies is fearsome.

Kim Chung-sik, Editorial Writer, skim@donga.com