Business / Corporate

Tech arrogance behind scandals in manufacturing, professor says

Kyodo

Overconfidence in technology and the arrogance associated with it is behind the misconduct recently brought to light in Japan’s manufacturing industry, an academic who formerly worked in the sector says.

“I think there was an attitude that made them believe it’s OK to slack off a little because the quality of Japanese products is high,” said Atsushi Osanai, a professor at the business school of Waseda University in Tokyo and a former Sony Corp. employee.

His remarks follow revelations that Mitsubishi Materials Corp. subsidiaries falsified data for products sold to over 200 firms for use in automobiles and aircraft in a scandal similar to the one at Japan’s third-largest steel maker Kobe Steel Ltd. Nissan Motor Co. and Subaru Corp. have meanwhile admitted to letting final inspections be carried out by uncertified staff.

Osanai said the business models still in place at automakers and electronics firms have “yet to be converted to match the changes of the times,” such as China’s ascent, and are another factor behind the irregularities.

“The Japanese automakers and electronics firms used to be able to increase profits just on the strength of their technologies, but they can no longer win in competition with Chinese and other foreign firms only with technology,” said Osanai, who spent 10 years at Sony before becoming an academic.

“As a result, the Japanese companies were pressured to reduce employees and implement excessive cost-cutting measures, and it probably led to the misconduct,” he said.

Tsutomu Yamada, a market analyst at kabu.com Securities Co., echoes the view that cost cuts triggered the scandals.

“(These) resulted from the companies overcutting fixed expenditures during the 20-year-long period of deflation in Japan,” Yamada said.

Some critics say the data falsification at the Mitsubishi Materials units could offset the favorable reputation the parent company earned last year when it concluded a settlement with Chinese groups that had been negotiating for compensation over its use of forced labor during the war.

The document covers 3,765 Chinese, the largest number of people subject to postwar compensation from a Japanese company.

As the scandals surfaced, the public began wondering whether misconduct is rampant in the manufacturing industry now.

“It’s important for the entire manufacturing industry to share the problems,” industry minister Hiroshige Seko said Friday at a news conference.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5