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With the economic fallout of COVID-19 a major threat to livelihoods, many organizations are putting employees at the heart of their response to the pandemic, as they look to safeguard them from the worst effects of the crisis. However, at Kyocera – an electronics and ceramics manufacturer that is one of Japan’s most successful companies – this focus on employees has been second nature for over 50 years.

Chairman Goro Yamaguchi explains how the employee-centric philosophy of the company’s founder, Kazuo Inamori, a celebrated Japanese business leader and management thinker, still permeates the organization today, over 60 years on from Kyocera’s founding in 1959. The philosophy relates to both life and management and its central principle is to “Do the right thing as a human being.”

“Our founder Kazuo Inamori came up with the ‘Kyocera Philosophy’ soon after the company’s founding, and has been disseminating this philosophy to all employees from when the company was still small up to the present day,” explains Goro Yamaguchi. “The philosophy is based on our management rationale, which is ‘to provide opportunities for the material and intellectual growth of all our employees, and through our joint efforts, contribute to the advancement of society and humankind’.”

This determination to ensure that the company’s guiding philosophy is truly embedded in the organization requires a significant effort from the company’s leaders. Goro Yamaguchi is responsible for promulgating the philosophy, which involves him attending employee seminars that take place across the world, including the US, China and Europe. Furthermore, during a dinner that follows his keynote speech, the chairman personally joins tables of employees so as to engage directly in “meaningful conversations”. “It’s challenging to manage this with such a busy schedule,” he observes. “But it’s a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.”

The Kyocera philosophy is also central to the company’s management approach, ‘amoeba management’, which involves breaking down large organisations into small, collaborative units. This technique is not only used at Kyocera, but also taught at leadership schools in Japan and around the world. “We have the Kyocera philosophy first, and then the amoeba management,” says Goro Yamaguchi. “What we often say is that they are two halves of a whole. Only having one or the other is insufficient, and we need both in order for things to operate smoothly.”

As well as being ahead of the pack in terms of employee-focus, Kyocera’s unique approach means that it was also far ahead of the game when it comes to a focus on society and the environment. For Goro Yamaguchi, today’s focus on ESG and Sustainable Development Goals has been part of Kyocera’s DNA for many decades. “We have always valued the idea of ‘Living Together’ and working not only for ourselves but for the world,” he says. “There are three types of co-existence – with society, with the world, and with nature – which we have been maintaining since the 1970s. A company cannot continue to exist without co-existing with society and with nature. We need to be considerate towards our natural environment, and be rooted in each country and each region as a global company.”