February 27, 2008,09:09 +0900(JST) Our Contribution to Hokkaido (2)

As I wrote in my previous entry, we had the great honor of receiving a visit from Governor Ms. Harumi Takahashi of Hokkaido and Mayor Mr. Ryoji Kita of Naie Town at our two Group companies, Hokkaido Sumiden Precision Co., Ltd. and Hokkaido Electric Industries Ltd. both located in Naie Town, Sorachi County, Hokkaido. The day of their visit was unusually cold, with snow on the ground. I felt very grateful indeed for their coming to inspect our facilities.

I had met Governor Takahashi and Mayor Kita on many occasions before and I know them very well. However, to receive them in our Hokkaido premises is a special occasion and I wanted them to get a better understanding of how both the companies were doing.

The Governor and Mayor along with other members of the visiting party took great interest in our operations. What we are most thankful about is the fact that both companies are doing well in terms of business growth and have been able to leave some record of contribution to the local community in various forms.

Visit by Governor Takahashi and Mayor KitaThis photo shows the tour of Hokkaido Sumiden Precision. This company deals with metal powders that need to be produced and stored in low humidity environments. Hokkaido’s dry climate is perfectly suited as the location for manufacturing the right quality of powder.

To remain operational as the world’s top manufacturing plant of cemented carbide cutting inserts, the company has now built an additional facility for the manufacture of metal powder, deploying state-of-the art technology.

“Powder” may be a little difficult to imagine. The facility manufactures powder comprising a mixture of extremely hard metals such as tungsten and cobalt that are pulverized into fine round particles.

Ultimately the powder is compacted and sintered to make cemented carbide tools for metal-cutting machines such as numerically-controlled (NC) lathes and machining centers that cut or grind industrial materials like iron.

Start-up ceremony of the new factoryOn the occasion of this visit, we held the opening ceremony of the new factory extension. I said an earnest prayer for the further development of the company in this location.

Manufacturing that exploits the latest powder technology is a technology full of potential: it has developed and expanded even into the manufacture of synthetic diamonds. I hope that the Hokkaido plant will continue to push the boundaries of new technology and raise world standards.

February 22, 2008,08:58 +0900(JST) Our Contribution to Hokkaido (1)

If you hear the word “Hokkaido,” what image does it conjure up in your mind? I referred to the beauty of the Kushiro Wetlands in an earlier blog entry. Many people will think of the vast terrain and landscape and think of Hokkaido as a place of scenic beauty.

Then, Hokkaido is renowned for its rich blessings from the sea. Some of you may think of the tasty sushi, barbecue, even beer and whisky, which whet their appetite.

The Snow Festival and Yosakoi Soran Dance Festival are distinctive events of Hokkaido. Another thing that is special to Hokkaido is an aphid family known as snow bug because of its cottony snowflake-like appearance when it flies just before the first snowfall.

Despite these positive images, the Hokkaido economy unfortunately has been under a severe strain. Notably, the ratio of active job openings to applicants is around 0.5, only just above half that of the national average.

Publicity about the Asahiyama Zoo and many other tourist attractions and facilities has led to a healthy number of visitors coming to the prefecture. However, if the vital employment figures are struggling, the Hokkaido economy itself may even gradually decline.

Hokkaido Governor and many other people concerned are hard at work applying suitable countermeasures but one of the most important issues is structural change of Hokkaido’s industries and the attraction of new industries and companies to Hokkaido. If a broad-based industry can be created in Hokkaido, its spin-off effect will be huge.

At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I’d like to say that the Sumitomo Electric Group isn’t forgetting our own contribution to Hokkaido. With regard industrial restructuring, there is the issue of site reutilization after the closure of coal mines. In Naie Town in central Hokkaido, the Sumitomo Electric Group has tried to do our part in operating Hokkaido Sumiden Precision Co., Ltd.*(1) since 1972. It is a top company in the area. Next door to it, we set up Hokkaido Electric Industries Ltd.*(2), which is a company with a different business portfolio. We are shipping out industrial products made in Hokkaido to customers in Hokkaido and beyond by drawing on the native strength of Hokkaido.

At the end of May, when the flowers of Moss Pinks that grow in the grounds of the two companies start to open, we hold a festival together with the local community. It seems to have become an established seasonal event now. I hear reports that an increasing number of people look forward to it each year. I am very happy that the companies are making their contribution as local enterprises.

Another member of the Sumitomo Electric Group located in Hokkaido is the Hokkaido Sumitomo (SEI) Steel Wire Co., Ltd, which was established in Muroran city in 2005.

Actually, Hokkaido Sumiden Precision and Hokkaido Electric Industries had a visit recently from Hokkaido Governor Ms. Harumi Takahashi and Naie Town Mayor Mr. Ryoji Kita. However, I’ve already written too much today so I will tell you about this next time.

*(1) Hokkaido Sumiden Precision Co., Ltd; Established in July 1972 as the first business base in Hokkaido for the Sumitomo Electric Group. It is today the global production center of Sumitomo Electric’s indexable cutting tool inserts, supplying products throughout the world.

*(2) Hokkaido Electric Industries Ltd: Established in May 1987 as the only manufacturer of electric cable in Hokkaido. Today, in addition to electric cables, it manufactures and sells electric storage heaters and optical products.

February 19, 2008,09:12 +0900(JST) My Enjoyment of Art (2)

I was posted to London to be in charge of operations there. I bought our own business premises on a street backing onto Baker Street of Sherlock Holmes’ fame, in the northwestern part of central London.

The vendor was a businessman from Liechtenstein. The 150-year old Georgian building had five floors above ground and one basement floor. The building had formerly been the private residence of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who had to resign eventually over the Profumo Affair.

From business proper to the daily management of the workplace, I worked hard day and night in the best way I could. The office was rather bare and empty and I realized that I should pay some attention to its furnishing so as to raise employee morale. Of course, I thought carefully about it first but I did take decisive action. I took a bold leap and bought a few paintings that were on sale.

The North America” by Montague DawsonHonestly speaking, although I had properly completed the company’s purchase procedures, these paintings had cost a considerable sum in those days and I was very nervous. Fortunately, nobody complained about it to any degree and I managed to decorate the walls of the London office. Each time I looked at the pictures, I felt prompted to take up new business challenges.

Well, you may ask what kind of paintings would make one feel such an urge. I’ll tell you about just one painting here.

There is an oil painting hanging in my present office. It is The North America by Montague Dawson. The paintings by this professional maritime artist are highly popular. Our painting is a large one, measuring more than 1 meter across. It is a very impressive picture. Its current price is up to you to imagine but I think it was a good investment. I think I’d be allowed to blow my own trumpet about this one.

I bought other paintings by Dawson but this one is my personal favorite.

Our London office moved and it was difficult to hang the paintings in the new premises so we shipped them back to Japan and they are now displayed here. I think they were all well worth the purchase.

February 15, 2008,09:46 +0900(JST) My Enjoyment of Art (1)

I received a question the other day about my taste in art. I always find art appreciation very exciting in general because art is an area in which a man can exercise his infinite potential. As regards paintings, it isn’t that I disliked looking at them but I didn’t use to go to art galleries out of choice.

That changed dramatically. I became hugely interested in paintings during my seven-year posting in England, which started in 1985.

My stay in England was quite a memorable one, looking back through my entire working life. I can recall many unique experiences, but why did I come to enjoy art appreciation? One of the reasons is the late Sumitomo Electric President Masao Kamei, as I wrote in an earlier blog entry.

I was in charge of the local office, which meant that an important part of my job was looking after head office executives when they visited Europe. President Kamei really looked forward to touring art galleries in between his heavy work schedule. In England, he went to the British Museum and the National Gallery, in Paris, he visited the Louvre, Orsay and Orangerie Museums. He did not spare any minute, or rather, until he ran out of time, he stood in front of his favorite paintings, enjoying them.

As a young local representative with inadequate knowledge of paintings, I was completely lost for an answer, when the President first explained to me about the paintings with his semi-professional knowledge and then asked me questions. I really didn’t know what to do.

After the President went back to Japan, I wanted to be able to answer him properly and get some praise the next time he came, though I knew that I would never be able to discuss art on the same footing as he. So I visited art museums all over Europe and collected their catalogues. I tried the best I could in my own way so as to please Mr. Kamei.

Surprisingly, in my learning curve, I started to appreciate paintings and my interest grew deeper.

Being a company president is a busy business. These days, I only manage to go to art galleries when I suddenly get the urge to go and view a real painting, asking my wife to accompany me.

The famous art exhibitions that are held in Japan, whether be it Oriental or Western art, are always heaving with viewers. It’s impossible to fully savor the works of art. I sometimes wonder if there should be some way like a reservation system to allow you to take time to fully appreciate the exhibition.

I’m afraid I’m not answering the question properly. I don’t have any particular period or painter or even region that I like, but because of my stay in England, I think I feel special affinity towards post-Renaissance Western art up to the work of the Impressionists.

When I lived in England, I had to use “a discriminatory eye” – but I’ll tell you next time about that and the work of art that was the result of this discriminatory effort.

February 12, 2008,09:16 +0900(JST) Creating a Good Workplace

I made a request to all heads of divisions at Sumitomo Electric about creating a good workplace.

Do you remember that in my New Year message I mentioned the need for a global company to have a spirit that can be described in words such as respect, love and compassion, the need to foster a spirit of caring for other people?

For a corporate body that has more than 130,000 workers and 400 affiliated companies, it is far too easy to put performance first and focus narrowly on individual business results rather than to try and achieve the optimum for the entire corporate body. The organization may get pervaded with a harsh and uncaring atmosphere that way. There is an undeniable risk of contracting such a mega-corporation disease. (Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this is the state of affairs in the Sumitomo Electric Group.)

To avoid such a pitfall, each corporate member must always bear in mind the spirit of caring about others, speaking and acting with due consideration for other people’s position. I asked all employees to do this as they tackle their own work in earnest.

Sumitomo Electric has adopted appropriate measures to support individual efforts. We have workplace surveys carried out by third-party organizations. We have a variety of structural reform drives, especially “town meetings.” We use the results of these actions to constantly deliberate what improvements are necessary to create a better workplace.

It is my consistent organizational management goal to create a good workplace through better communication, a place where it is easy to work because the atmosphere is frank and open. If I survey the entire Group, I may sound hard but I cannot say that we’ve yet succeeded in this. Still, I want to move steadily forward towards this goal.

Please note especially that we are manufacturers, and our work is rooted around the shop floor, so to speak. Any vitality boosting programs for workers in the manufacturing plants must not be one-off measures but constant action. We must always clearly state any new moves in an easy-to-understand manner so that workers can set about their work charged with energy. I have great hopes that all those concerned will show how much they care about each other.

It goes without saying that we must pay full heed to appropriate management of working hours. Meanwhile, by thoroughly improving communication, we should create a good workplace where work is enjoyable. I will take the leading role in this drive.

SUMITOMO ELECTRIC President CEO Masayoshi Matsumoto

Born in 1944 in Hyogo Prefecture, Masayoshi Matsumoto joined Sumitomo Electric in 1967. After serving as General Manager of Chubu District Office, Managing Director and Senior Managing Director, he assumed office of President and CEO in June 2004.

His leisure activities include jogging, reading and art appreciation. Also a seasoned athlete, he played baseball in junior high school and practiced judo in senior high school. In university, he threw the javelin competitively and participated in all-Japan inter-university competitions.

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