January 28, 2009,08:40 +0900(JST) President Obama's inaugural address

On January 20, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. Some two million people in attendance listened as the new president delivered his inaugural address. In it, he straightforwardly described the severe situation of the United States and emphasized the arrival of a new era of responsibility, in which the entire nation must tackle numerous problems to get through this difficult period. He urged the people to regain their pride in being Americans and move forward to realize their dreams. The audience's enthusiastic response was truly overwhelming.

In his address, President Obama spoke of eight values that are earnestly needed:

"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths."

If I recall correctly, the former President Bush referred to four virtues in his inaugural address: civility, courage, compassion and character. Retrospectively, we rather hesitate to say whether these virtues were truly acted out under his administration.

At home, business has entered a long dark tunnel, and everyone is desperately looking for a first ray of bright light, as in the United States and elsewhere. Some say that the current enthusiasm for President Obama is like bubbles that are bound to burst and disappoint everyone. Yet, we can't help hoping that the Obama effect will somehow dissolve this once-in-a-century economic crisis, restore confidence to the financial markets and regenerate demand in the real economy.

Of course, as a business manager, I'm not simply being optimistic without squarely facing the reality. I know you can't survive in a severe market economy by just hoping for the arrival of some saviour with a miraculous cure-all. It is vital that all of us heighten our awareness and take action. Accordingly, at Sumitomo Electric, on the basis of a shared constructive and healthy sense of crisis, we have renewed our determination to further solidify our corporate constitution and conduct thorough human resource development in preparation for a future phase of growth so as to overcome this crisis, under the slogans "keeping our organization appropriate to our abilities and reconstructing our cost system," "expanded and deeper internal solidification" and "educational rearmament."

January 27, 2009,09:20 +0900(JST) Asashoryu's comeback in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament

I love sumo. When I was stationed in Nagoya, I used to go to Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament without fail. I'm not able to watch sumo live on TV on weekdays. Still, I manage to watch the day's major bouts in the sports news almost every evening at home.

About this year's New Year Grand Sumo Tournament, most sumo fans' attention was focused on Yokozuna (highest-ranking grand champion) Asashoryu, who had missed all or part of the previous three tournaments because of an injury to his left elbow, and whose days in the sumo world had been said to be numbered. Yet the grand champion, contrary to the general public's expectation, won 14 bouts in a row from Day 1 and had a playoff against Yokozuna Hakuho on the last day of the Tournament on January 25. I was able to watch this at home on TV.

Before the Tournament, I was not expecting Asashoryu to do this well. Given Hakuho's recent excellent performance (winner in three consecutive tournaments), I had thought that Hakuho was simply the more likely winner. Yet the question remained as to whether Hakuho could win two bouts successively against another Yokozuna. So I thought there was a fifty-fifty chance for both. On the final day of the Tournament, as expected, Hakuho won the initial bout against Asashoryu in a largely one-sided way. In the playoff, however, Asashoryu triumphed with yorikiri (frontal force-out), winning his 23rd Emperor Cup for the first time after four tournaments. The Tournament proved Asashoryu's mental strength in a critical situation.

While Asashoryu made a great demonstration of his comeback, he continues to be the sumo world's bad boy. On Day 1 of the New Year Tournament, in his bout against Komusubi (fourth highest-ranking junior champion) Kisenosato, he gave powerful yet unnecessary blows to his opponent on both sides of the face when Kisenosato was already outside the ring. On Day 11, the Yokozuna fought Ozeki (second highest-ranking champion) Kotooshu, waving around his left arm - a gesture frowned upon in sumo. The controversy over his "character" as a Yokozuna is likely to continue for some time. Nevertheless, I was in awe of the strong determination and invincible spirit he demonstrated as he won the playoff immediately after losing the initial bout in those generally unfavorable circumstances (the mass media used to say that the majority of spectators came to watch Asashoryu lose). His victory was greeted with thunderous applause and cheers, proof that the Yokozuna had won back sumo fans' hearts. The TV audience rating, which had been dropping due to a succession of scandals involving the sumo world, was over 15% throughout the 15 days of the Tournament, largely thanks to both Yokozunas' great performances. Sumo's popularity seems to have made a comeback as well.

Turning our eyes to the business world in the middle of the unprecedented economic crisis, we can't help but notice the continuously worsening situation, with the so-called "evaporation of demand." Most expect this situation to continue for some time. For our part, we at Sumitomo Electric, with our aim of becoming a Glorious Excellent Company, will use this time to further strengthen ourselves, emulating Yokozuna Asashoryu's mental strength and concentration, sticking to Sumitomo's business spirit "Virtuous ones cherish wealth. However, they choose the noble way to it," and hoping to offer excellent new technologies and products that will bring greater happiness and wealth to society at large.

January 9, 2009,09:39 +0900(JST) New Year's parties

Scene from a New Year's partyEach year, the Sumitomo Electric Group organizes New Year's parties in three locations, starting in Osaka and moving to Tokyo and Nagoya to exchange good wishes.

As I wrote in my previous entry, we've been in such an extremely challenging business environment this year that we weren’t exactly in a cheerful, celebratory mood on those occasions. Almost everyone with whom we personally exchanged New Year greetings was talking about this year's severe situation with a particularly strong sense of crisis, stemming from the ongoing recession that is completely different, both in scale and nature, from previous ones.

Nevertheless, this is no reason for drowning ourselves in pessimistic self-pity. The higher the bar is set, the more adrenaline we can get. So, together with all the participants, we turned kagami-wari (a ceremony of breaking open a wooden cask of rice wine with a hammer that signifies new beginning), a ritual performed each year in our New Year's parties, into an occasion for renewing our resolve to fight the recession and make this the best possible New Year we can.

We also used those occasions to present the Sumitomo Electric Group's recent developments. I'd also like to briefly introduce them to my blog readers, to do a bit of PR for our Group.

As our latest technologies, we presented a superconductivity-driven automobile that we have successfully manufactured on a trial basis for the first time in the world, and water treatment membrane that promises great future potential.

Regarding our new facilities we presented our Technical Training Center, established on the premises of our Itami Works, as our new center for instruction and training in manufacturing, so as to reinforce our SEQCDD campaign, a major theme for this year, and carry out our human resource development programs. We also presented Sumiden Friend, Ltd., established as part of our CSR activities to promote the employment of handicapped persons.

January 5, 2009,15:43 +0900(JST) Welcoming the New Year 2009

Happy New Year to you all!

I hope you all had pleasant New Year's holidays. As for me, I was able to have an unusually long break this year, all of nine days away from work.

Holidays are often the same: they come and go very quickly. Toward the end of your holidays, you start feeling somewhat down. This year, however, I felt differently. In fact, I didn't have the mental leeway to feel down, in view of the current pessimistic socioeconomic situation we’re in. I was feeling eager to get back to work as soon as possible, to do what must be done to keep the company's performance from going bad, and so not cause trouble to our many stakeholders. The ongoing worldwide recession is unlike any recession that we active managers have ever experienced. This one is definitely having the largest, fastest-expanding impact, with no way out in sight.

Chronologically, in recent years we have experienced some major economic downturns, including the one caused by the first oil crisis from 1973 to 1975, the recession triggered in Japan by the bursting of the property speculation-related economic bubble in the early 1990s, and the much smaller recession caused by the IT bubble around 2002.

What clearly sets the current recession apart from the previous ones is the shared understanding on the part of governments around the world regarding the gravity of the situation, which understanding has resulted in concerted efforts to avoid the worst possible scenario: protectionism.

Given the way the things are at the moment, I expect that the impact of this financial crisis-triggered recession on the real economy will continue throughout 2009, and that it will take at least a year for the financial markets to regain general confidence, backed by a somewhat normalized US property market. Then it will take yet another year until general consumers, the main players in the real economy, start spending money. That means that we have to work with perseverance until the end of 2010 at the earliest, doing what must be done, putting our house in order and orienting our business correctly, so that once the period of recovery arrives, we can jumpstart with a vengeance.

In Chinese astrology as interpreted by Masahiro YASUOKA (1898 – 1983) based on WANG Yangming's neo-Confucianist teachings, 2009 is the Year of the Earth Ox (tsuchinoto-ushi), the year for clearing confusion through honest, hard work. As for us in the Sumitomo Electric Group, I'd like to see us tackle some tough challenges by engaging in new restructuring programs starting from January, to solidify our corporate constitution, always keeping in mind Sumitomo's 400-year-old business spirit (banji-nissei: do your sincere best-- not just in business, but in every aspect of your life; shinyo-kakuzitsu: place importance on integrity and sound management, and fusu-furi: do not act rashly or carelessly in pursuit of easy gains). Specifically, we shall aim at keeping our organization appropriate to our abilities, reconstructing our cost system, thoroughly working on managerial issues to which the Group has not yet been able to find optimal solutions, and conducting reinforced human resource training.

In closing, allow me to renew my sincere New Year's best wishes to you all.

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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