Workforce selection, utilization said key to modern industrial success

When Skymark Airlines was established last November by a group of venture companies, including discount air ticket seller H.I.S. Co., people accustomed to more traditional ways of doing business were shocked by the new style the carrier introduced.They were amazed because nobody has dared to challenge the three existing major airlines for almost 40 years, but they were also stunned because the new domestic carrier plans to rent almost everything for its flights — aircraft, crews and maintenance workers — from existing airlines. “Unlike the 20th century, a company no longer needs to have everything such as a certain number of employees, resources and money to conduct business. What is more important for a company is to have speed and information,” said Hirokazu Hasegawa, president of Global Venture Capital Inc., a venture capital firm that invested in Skymark Airlines.Hasegawa sees Japan’s vitality lying in venture businesses instead of big corporations, and his company selects venture firms with potential and supports them with finances and management until they debut on stock markets. Faced by global borderless competition and a graying population at home, none of Japan’s industries can expect to grow spectacularly in the 21st century.Scholars and economists say the system that functioned and supported the growth of corporate Japan during the postwar era seems to be no longer working, and unless various systems connected with Japanese business, education and society adjust to the new era, the country may lose its strength on the world’s markets. Many giant corporations that grew steadily and once played a core role in the Japanese economy are also struggling to reform their employment and management systems to maintain strength. “In the field of economics, companies must constantly move forward to catch up with the rapidly changing world. If they fail to do so, they will not be able to survive in the future,” said Naohiro Yashiro, a professor of economics at Sophia University.Sony Corp. is one of the pioneers behind bringing fresh ideas to its employment system. While most big corporations rushed to recruit young graduates from prestigious universities, Sony, in 1991, stopped asking what universities their graduates attended. To raise strong corporate leaders, the firm was also divided into eight institutions with independent settlements of accounts in 1994. Sony’s eight institutions, which now number 10, operate like independent companies.Following Sony’s lead, Omron Corp., a Kyoto-based electronics company, last October also shifted authority for some cash flow and personnel management from the president to leaders of six internal groups. For example, each group leader will have authority over 1.5 billion yen to invest in equipment. Each group leader will also be responsible for managing the group’s personnel and balance sheet starting in April, according to Yoshio Tateishi, president of Omron. “Once the size of the company expands, it would be difficult to decide things speedily and flexibly,” Tateishi said. “Unless we introduce the new system and respond quickly to changes in the market, we will not survive the international competition.”