Dr. H. Shinto re middle management

One of the most extraordinary characteristics of the late Dr. H. Shinto, the former President of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries (IHI) of Japan, was his willingness to assist competitors even while some of them were hoarding what they believed to be trade secrets. He knew that IHI’s unmatched shipbuilding effectiveness was due to organization of people, information and work per a product work breakdown, as advocated by the management guru Peter Drucker, combined with methods for statistical analyses that were introduced to Japanese industry by the famous statistician W. Edwards Deming.

The effect of the combination, Dr. Shinto knew from his own experience, was a constantly self-improving manufacturing system wherein ideas for improvements from whatever source and no matter how big or small their impacts, were as a matter of regular work, constantly evaluated and, when confirmed, quickly established as part of the ever-changing system. With confidence justified by at least a 20-year head start, he identified IHI’s trade secret:

“Only America can surpass Japan in shipbuilding. But, we do not worry because America has a human problem, not enough college educated people in middle management.”

“Only America has the resources to surpass Japan in shipbuilding. I mean large numbers of intelligent people.”

Dr. Shinto made those statements when I interviewed him in Tokyo on 30 October 1979. He had just retired from IHI. His demeanor reflected absolute respect for American industrial potential and confidence that American shipbuilders could be as effective as those in Japan.

He supplemented the two statements as follows: He put his left fist at about eye height and said, “This is IHI.” He put his right fist about six inches below and said, “This is the shipbuilders we helped such as those in Italy and Korea. As they improve,” he said while representing their improvement by slowly moving his right fist upwards, “it is no problem for us to do this.” His left fist moved up so as to stay on top. Then dramatically, as his right fist moved around and over his left fist, he said, “Only you Americans can do this to us, but we don’t worry because you do not have enough college educated people in middle management.”

One year later Dr. Shinto participated in a shipbuilding short course at the University of Michigan. Without opportunity to prepare questions in advance, I was conned into interviewing him in front of a camcorder. Per the transcript he said, “The Behavior of the American worker is excellent. The only thing necessary is to change the mind of management, that’s all.”

As if that wasn’t enough, according to the 10 April 1983 Washington Post, Dr. Shinto added, “It’s that simple. High intelligence is the only source of competitiveness.”

Dr. Shinto could not have given us sounder advice.

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