Will the Real TPS Sensei Please Stand Up?

Tetsuo Hoshino is the Chairman of Gifu Auto Body Industry, a Toyota Group company. He was a student of Taiichi Ohno. Since 1990 he has taught the Toyota Production System to 20,000 senior officials in large Korean companies. Hoshino recently received a medal from the Korean government.
On May 9, 2007 the Korean daily Don-A Ilbo interviewed Hoshino. He didn’t pull any punches:
“Korea’s manufacturing industry is like an amateur and can be likened to a golfer with a course handicap of 20”

“Samsung and LG can make money only because their rivals and their customers are ‘people with a course handicap of 25.’ Therefore, Korean companies should make strenuous efforts to advance.”

“Korean mobile phone manufacturers are wasting enormous sums of money on purchasing unnecessary and expensive equipment because they do not have an eye for effective facilities.”

“Korean companies embrace almost all of the world’s renowned management theories, but continuity does matter.”

Hoshino says the biggest problem of Korean companies is a lack of awareness that they are makers. He said there are only a few business leaders in Korea who are aware of what is going on at plants, while many focus on research and development, planning and finance.

A “maker” is a Japanese-English for “manufacturer”. Hoshino is saying that Korean management don’t go to gemba. They do strategy, innovation, and finance but not gemba. Where have I heard that before?
This is in contrast to the low profile Toyota executives in Japan and the US are keeping, and how they are downplaying the performance of Toyota as they overtake GM. Where a U.S. company becomes number one they might brag or taunt their rival, but Toyota is not at all challenging the sloppy management at their rival US and European car manufacturers. Toyota doesn’t dare say the things Hoshino said, because it would hurt their sales, or cause a political backlash. But this is bad for America.
Toyota’s success is no doubt in part due to Japan’s market being closed to U.S. car companies, and that Japanese companies have less of a legacy healthcare cost burden due to socialized medicine. These are not excuses for poor processes, high costs and poor quality.
What American management needs is a an old sensei from Toyota who isn’t afraid to tell them how bad their processes are. Will the real TPS sensei please stand up?
The Koreans swallowed their pride, took their medicine, and they will get better because of it. Hopefully America doesn’t keep closing its ears to gurus giving practical advice, or like Deming to Japan, the Toyota executives will help the next struggling small economy that listens.
There’s a sentence that runs through my head whenever we’re faced with defensive managers during a gemba walk or when an assessment reveals some unpleasant truths about the current condition. This is a paraphrase of a line from the Bruce Lee character in the kung-fu B-movie (Game of Death II (a.k.a. Tower of Death):
“Remember, kaizen is the art of continuous improvement. I’m not interested in excuses. I just want to prove how bad your processes are.”

1 Comment

  1. Kenneth

    June 8, 2007 - 8:40 am

    Totally agreed. We have a Toyota Sensei whom gave us a wake up call.