Sumitomo Electric Group The Professionals Featured person 11 Naoko Tani

Be Positive, Happy, and Energetic! — Universally Applicable Relationship of Mutual Trust as the Cornerstone of Manufacturing

Traveling Abroad 70 Times as a Manufacturing Supervisor

After joining Sumitomo Electric Wiring Systems, I worked as a manufacturing staff member of an assembly line in the wiring harness manufacturing division. My first turning point came when I was 27, the 10th year since I entered the company. At that time, I was enjoying my work as a line leader. I was strongly encouraged by my boss to make a business trip to the U.S. I was assigned the mission of stabilizing product quality and increasing productivity by supervising local employees’ operations and introducing improvement activities. At first, I was surprised that I had been selected for the role. At the same time, I felt greatly worried about whether I could accomplish the mission in an environment that involved a language barrier. In these circumstances, I flew to the U.S., where I repeated dialogues with local employees tenaciously to share their problems, and supervised their skills and proceeded with improvement activities in order to address the problems. I was pleased that local employees accepted me and understood my intentions. I stayed in the U.S. for only about one month, but their product quality stabilized steadily and their productivity also increased. This experience gave me great confidence and conviction that I could do well even abroad, as long as I had sufficient skills. After this business trip, I also visited plants in Thailand, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Romania, Poland, Egypt and South Africa to supervise local employees. It was rare that my supervision was completed during only a single visit, requiring me to visit each country many times, so I have traveled abroad about 70 times so far.

While having experienced some confusion due to various countries’ differences in values and culture, I have accumulated valuable experience. I have a particularly impressive memory of a plant in Romania. The plant was messy, with many components scattered on the floor and items placed at random. I began by telling local employees to keep the worksite tidy and in order, which was the fundamental activity to raise their operational efficiency. However, I could not gain support or empathy from local employees, who claimed that they had their own way of doing things, preventing the improvement activity from spreading throughout the plant. In addition, I reduced each employee’s workload to increase their operational efficiency, causing a conflict with them because they felt that I was trying to steal jobs from them. Moreover, local employees refused to accept any direction unless it came from their plant director. So I strived to involve the plant director and emphasized to him the importance of setting a good example of clean-up, tidying up, maintenance, etc., and establishing regulations and having them observed. He understood my enthusiasm, which eventually spread among local employees, with signs of changes in their awareness and behaviors appearing gradually. From around that time, they began to accept me and other staff from Japan. (I was accompanied by six subordinates.) I went back and forth between Japan and Romania several times for two years, finally achieving my original mission of stabilizing their product quality and increasing their productivity. This experience gave me a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.

Setting an Example to Staff, Having Them Try, and Giving Them an Experience of Success

At present, Sumitomo Wiring Systems manufactures and sells wiring harnesses in 31 countries. Striving to manufacture products of the same quality around the world, we promote Pika Pika (brilliant) Activity in all the plants. This is based on our fundamental manufacturing philosophy of “pika pika” products coming from “pika pika” mindset, behaviors, skills equipment and plant facilities. Wiring harnesses are distinctive in that they are mostly handmade, labor-intensive products. This means that each individual employee’s skills sustain their manufacturing site. Human resources are the determinant of “pika pika” products, or high-quality products. “Products are manufactured by people” — this is the fundamental point that I emphasize as a supervisor. Accordingly, it is extremely important to begin with understanding other people’s culture, values and views. The key lies in listening to other people and understanding them from their perspectives on an equal footing, without forcing Japanese styles or assuming an arrogant attitude such as “I’m an instructor!” In addition, it is also important to find an instruction method that will suit local employees and to try the method together with them. Setting an example to staff, having them try, and giving them an experience of success — this is my guiding style.

After returning from Romania, I got promoted to team chief, but I was not pleased with this career path, because I did not have confidence to fulfill my mission as team chief. Actually, the team chief’s responsibilities were quite different from my previous operations. I was required not only to improve employees’ skills and raise their operational efficiency, but also to engage in the management of human resources and costs from the perspective of a person responsible for five manufacturing lines, namely the management of the plant operations. Hard times continued, but I saw the assignment as a new exciting challenge, established a plant management method in cooperation with the assistant chief, and implemented it in my own style. As a result, I found that there was no difference, regardless of my position, in the essentials — striving to ensure mutual understanding through dialogues. This made me convinced that relationships of trust based on such mutual understanding would lead to “pika pika” manufacturing.

Supervising local employees in Cambodia
Supervising local employees in Cambodia

Human Resources Directly Connected with Manufacturing

After joining the company, I continued to work in the field of manufacturing and traveled around the world as a supervisor. At present, by taking advantage of my expertise accumulated so far in the field of manufacturing, I’m in charge of the examination of wire harnesses for new car models and the preparation for their mass production. An example is designing a new production line for wire harnesses used in a new car model. I strive to contribute to achieving stable operations by identifying challenges and important points that cannot be seen on paper, and incorporating them into designs. Recently, I was engaged in the launch of a manufacturing line at a plant in the Philippines. Fostering supervisors like me is an important part of my responsibilities. My work motto is to “be positive, happy, and energetic!” I feel that this is universally applicable and constitutes the basis of work.

Sumitomo Wiring Systems is a company where products are manufactured by human resources. Fostering human resources is directly connected with manufacturing products. When looking back on my career, I find that I have been committed to HR development, leading me to emphasize the importance of understanding other people. Leaders are required to foster human resources. Those who can respect dialogue, understand other people, feature flexibility with which they can take action in any environment, and establish relationships of trust based on these qualities, can grow themselves into leaders. I hope that I will continue to foster human resources through a wide variety of opportunities, and return to the field of manufacturing in the position of manufacturing section manager or plant director. I hope that I will be responsible for a manufacturing site or plant someday and to make manufacturing plants even more exciting.


Naoko Tani

1990: Joined Sumitomo Wiring Systems Ltd.
Assigned to the Team of Trial Manufacture for Mass Production, Production Engineering Unit
1999: Made first overseas business trip (to the U.S.)
2002: Leader, Assembly Group, Manufacturing Section
2008: Chief, Assembly Team 1, Manufacturing Section
2011: Received the Taiichi Ohno Special Award, Japan Management Association (in recognition of her commitment as a supervisor in the field of manufacturing)
2013: Chief, Manufacturing Engineering Team, Manufacturing Section
2016: Production Engineering Division
Received the Excellent Safety Supervisor Award from the Minister of Health, Labor and Welfare
2020: Manufacturing Engineering Department 2, Manufacturing Engineering Management Division, and was appointed to current position