In 1990, five years after I had become president, I implemented sweeping reforms that completely transformed the company and created a new-look Ongen Publishing. Those reforms established the basis for subsequent growth. The employees who had joined us during the bubble period were, in a word, sloppy, and their egoism was glaring. It was a personnel disaster that all Japanese companies experienced at that time. In the end, I got rid of them and set about building a new company.
From that time I introduced more rigorous entrance exams and made double sure in interviews. The "employment ice age" following the collapse of the bubble economy was just beginning, so I went on the offensive. After that, some marvelous people joined our company. Once a week I got all of our employees together to explain the essence of my thinking and discuss the nature of work and other topics with them, thereby creating a sense of unity. As a result, the new-look Ongen Publishing achieved growth for nearly two decades.
Just as everything seemed to be plain sailing, however, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and consequent financial crisis rocked the boat completely. Under the principle of "always beside the customer," we launched strategic planning projects, such as the placement of magazines in stores, but things went from bad to worse with the Great East Japan Earthquake, the appreciation of the yen, flooding in Thailand, and so on. In particular, the incompetence of the Democratic Party of Japan administration wreaked havoc on the Japanese economy and left everyone completely exhausted.
In this column back in 2011, I predicted that the economy would recover from 2013. My forecast was based on an examination of the "yang," or active, times in the world of yin and yang. I firmly believe in this yin-yang relationship, and I was quite emphatic about my prediction.
Lo and behold, signs of a recovery began to appear toward the end of 2012. In December of that year the Liberal Democratic Party scored an overwhelming victory in a general election and took over the reins of power. Much to my delight, the LDP government launched "Abenomics" as its economic policy, and Haruhiko Kuroda was appointed governor of the Bank of Japan. Abenomics began to take specific shape and move powerfully forward toward fiscal 2013. Believing in these developments, at the beginning of 2013 I completed my concept of a new Ongen Publishing, which I had been ironing out since the summer of 2012.
After a long period of negative events, generally speaking there are vested interests eating into the core of companies. This tendency became evident in the reforms carried out by all companies. Ongen was getting close to that state of affairs too, so I decided to reform everything. What we needed was a revolution.
Ongen is a small publishing company with 30 or so employees. Unusually for such an organization, the age distribution of our employees forms an equilateral triangle. In other words, employees aged in their thirties or younger account for two-thirds of the total. Moreover, they are talented people who passed entrance examinations that were incomparably more rigorous than those in the 1990s and before. My concept of a new Ongen was centered on these wonderful employees in the prime of their working lives. As usual, I explained the essence of my thinking to them, spoke about the future, and transformed them into a group of employees capable of thinking and acting for themselves.
Ongen Publishing changed completely from a company that recorded a deficit in fiscal 2012 to one that saw both income and profits rise in fiscal 2013. We had shared these objectives from the beginning of fiscal 2013, and the monumental achievement was the result of a challenging spirit among all of our employees. (Although I should add that while some of our businesses were highly successful, there were others that did not achieve their goals.)
The revolution, however, does not end in fiscal 2013. Rather, this is only the start. We must now set about establishing a structure for sustained growth and building it up further toward the Olympic year of 2020. That must be our "revolution" from now on.