Virtual JKE Day Four

Kent Bradley
VP, North America
It is Wednesday night in Tokyo, after another long day on the Gemba Research JKE tour. Today we visited Hokuetsu Industries, which owns about 10% of the global market for industrial air compressors and has been hammering hard and long –over twenty years–at being a lean enterprise. The companies we’ve seen so far have each been different and each exemplary in living lean.
There is a growing awareness in my mind of a subtle difference between the everyday working lean world according to companies like Denso and Omron; and that same world as it is lived at companies like Toyota and even more so at Hokuetsu. Each is successful, and each clearly successful in world-beating ways. Those are good things.
I am struggling to express in any more meaningful way the details of that subtle difference except by analogy.
Where the Denso’s and Omron’s are represented by a spotless, starched, crisp, and impeccably tailored dress shirt, the Toyota’s and Hokuetsu’s are tough, well made, loose-fitting, somewhat worn but clean denim work shirts. Comfort is an individual thing, but for me, if I was out the door on my way to the gemba to “get down and dirty” in a kaizen event, I know which shirt I would be most comfortable in.
Each day of the JKE so far has presented to the members of our group new and successively deeper and more relevant examples of companies applying lean principles — wait, strike that. “Applying” lean is incorrect. The word “applying” implies that lean is just a thin overlay on the surface of the operation. For companies like Hokuetsu Industries, Lean is at the core of who they are and adherence to the key principles of waste reduction, and takt, flow, pull — even in the absence of data or thorough problem analysis at times, is an unquestioned act of faith on their part.
And each day of the tour, the operational and financial results demonstrated by each of these very different lean companies clearly show that faith on their part is not misplaced.
– Kent Bradley