Big business and a humble bowl of rice

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Big business and a humble bowl of rice

The author is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kazuo Inamori, the founder and honorary chairman of Kyocera, who died on Aug. 24, used to dine at beef rice bowl chain Yoshinoya when he entertained guests. Yoshinoya is a cheap restaurant where a rice bowl costs less than 500 yen ($3.60). He met Ruy Ramos, a former Japanese national team player, here to scout him to Kyoto Purple Sanga (now Kyoto Sanga) which Kyocera was sponsoring, as well as when he met politicians. They would each order a bowl of rice and share beef topping, and Inamori always offered the last piece of beef to the other party.

Inamori often dined with employees, but usually only meal costing less than 10,000 won. If a boss treats his employees to cheap meals, people might think, “Are you kidding me?” But those who dined with him claimed that they were treated without being burdened. The chairman had plenty of money, but employees knew that he was frugal. Inamori spent his whole life economically and donated most of his fortune to the community.

I was surprised when I read obituaries for Inamori on Japanese media and social media. He founded and built a large corporation in his 20s and revived Japan Airline from the verge of bankruptcy, earning the moniker the “god of management” in Japan. But people remembered him as a humorous and humble old man. “Before you are an entrepreneur, you should first think what’s right as a human being,” he said. Inamori tried to put that philosophy into practice in business. Beliving that a monopoly was not good, he was known for consistently supporting opposition parties rather than the Liberal Democratic Party, a rare thing for businessmen in Japan.

I personally remember him as the author of dozens of books, many of which were translated into Korean. “Why Do We Work,” which deals with work ethics, is still read widely. “Humans work to develop their innerselves, and therefore, we must do our best.” This might sound like a cliché, but it reverberates with me as that was his realization from working 60 years in management. “It is good for a person to be in a difficult position to the extent that people say, ‘I am sorry for that person.’ As trees that endured a harsher winter have more beautiful blooms, people who went through agony and suffering can grow bigger,” he wrote.

On Twitter, Japanese people demand a “national funeral for Inamori.” A national funeral could be more fitting for someone like Inamori than former prime minister Shinzo Abe. Inamori’s funeral was quietly held among his family. The company also announced his death after the funeral was over.
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