Kazue Inamori Says Beer Helped Revive Japan Airlines

18 Jan

Kazue Inamori, founder of Kyocera, has credited beer as helping him turn around the failing Japan Airlines (JAL), which had filed for bankruptcy when he took over—for no pay—just three years ago. The company had over $25 billion in debt when the government chose Inamori, then 77, to lead it back to profitability.


Inamori was hesitant because he knew nothing about the transportation industry, but he was willing to give it his best shot. “If we couldn’t revive JAL,” he said, “It would have been a huge blow to Japan’s economy which was already struggling.”


Luckily for Japan, Inamori found success and JAL is profitable once more and has officially relisted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. After three years of taxpayer dollars, company reform, and strong leadership, JAL is no longer in danger of completely collapsing.


When he took over, Inamori said his biggest obstacle was changing the corporate culture. JAL had been a government entity until 1987 and didn’t function efficiently as a private corporation. The staff was divided and unhappy, so the first thing Inamori set out to do was remedy that problem.


“My simple philosophy is to make all the staff happy,” he said. “It has been my golden rule since I founded Kyocera when I was 27… Many people were skeptical if such a simple philosophy would work but in the end, it did.”


It’s a philosophy that many of the top U.S. corporations have started putting into place, as well. When employees are happy, companies become more efficient, turnover goes down, and the company is healthier overall.


Of course, Inamori faced some reluctant workers. He battled that with a simple tool as well. He handed out booklets of his philosophies and had staff attend mandatory meetings. It was there he made his move: he handed out beer.


“I brought six cans of beer after these sessions or to people who were working late,” he said. “After a beer or two, people opened up and told me their honest opinions.” These informal chats allowed Inamori to have open discussions and find out how best to improve employee relations and heal the company’s deep divisions.


“It really feels that all of our employees are united now, which is the key to the company’s revival,” Inamori says.



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