[FOUNTAIN]A human face needed in the marketplace

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[FOUNTAIN]A human face needed in the marketplace

Carlos Ghosn, Nissan Motors’ chief executive officer, is being treated like a hero in the Japanese business world. Since taking over the company in 1999, Nissan has gone from being 13 trillion won ($11 billion) in the red to more than 1 trillion won in the black. As his nickname, “Le Cost Killer,” suggests, he effectively carried out drastic restructuring unheard of in Japanese business, closing five plants and laying off 21,000 employees, or 14 percent of the entire work force. Following Mr. Ghosn’s efforts, other Japanese companies began a full-scale restructuring.
But Nissan Motors claims that no one lost a job from the restructuring. While 21,000 workers were laid off, they were either hired by a subsidiary or a contractor company or offered a position with a lower wage. The company arranged for the employment of every single laid-off worker.
Asahi Beer’s adviser Yuzo Seto is the figure that brought an earthquake to the Japanese beer market. While running Asahi Beer from 1992 to 2002, he made the perennial second-place Asahi the top seller in Japan, moving ahead of Kirin Beer.
His secret was making dry beer as its marquee product. When I interviewed Mr. Seto in Tokyo last week, he said that as a manager what he valued the most was the “happiness of the employees.” The happiness of the employees would be translated into the benefit of the customers and the shareholders, and the healthy cycle is the ideal of a corporation, he emphasized.
To Mr. Seto, layoffs could only be an option in a labor market where the workers can easily find new jobs.
Hiroshi Okuda, CEO of Toyota Motors and the chairman of the Nippon Keidanren, or the Japan Business Federation, claims that a layoff is the worst choice a businessman could ever make. He advocates “the market economy with a human face.”
In Korea, where layoffs became a routine practice since the financial crisis of 1997, it sounds like a story from a distant country.
Japan is recently coming out of the shadow of the prolonged recession. They are saying sayonara to the lost decade. We could certainly learn from the Japanese-style restructuring that shuns layoffs. Was it the reason for the lost decade or the driving force that has supported the economy and promises the comeback?

by Lee Se-jung

The writer is a deputy business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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