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Dialogue - Part.3 : Thoughts and roots in "the field"

In the third dialogue with Professor Takahiro Fujimoto, we discussed how Japanese manufacturing should be and win in the age of globalization, touching on the background and personality of our Chairman and CEO, Masato Nakao, as well as his thoughts on manufacturing.


A text version of this video is also available.

i-PRO's CEO, Mr. Nakao, has been committed to manufacturing management that can survive in the global age. In fact, his background and personality are quite unique.


Maoko Kotani, Moderator Let's take a look at these precious photos. This is Mr. Nakao, isn't it? How old are you and where was this photo taken?

Masato Nakao, Chairman and CEO, i-PRO Co.,Ltd. (Nakao) I took this photo when I was 24 years old and in Syria. Near the ruins of Palmyra, Syria. It is probably difficult to enter the country now.

Kotani Why did you do?

Nakao I was a backpacker.

Kotani How long did you do at the time?

Nakao At the time, 45 days.

Kotani It was about a month and half.

Nakao I decided to go as far as we could by land from Europe to Beijing in 45 days, and I had just arrived in Syria.


In fact, Professor Fujimoto also had a period of wandering in the United States.


Kotani You were also a backpacker, weren't you, Mr. Fujimoto?

Professor Takahiro Fujimoto, Research Faculty, Waseda University (Fujimoto) Not exactly backpacking, but when I was young, I bought an unlimited Greyhound bus ticket for one year in the U.S. for 30,000 yen at the time and traveled around the U.S. on the buses. I remember how difficult it was to get off the bus and around there.

Nakao It was also unsafe.

Kotani How old were you?

Fujimoto Twenty years old, I think.

Kotani Why did you both decide to backpack?

Fujimoto I was curious. I wondered what was going on in the world. At that time, the U.S. was half "outer space". It seemed to us as if we were outside of the earth.

Kotani Why did you, Mr. Nakao?

Nakao It's the same. I have had a hardcore wanderlust since elementary school. I wanted to see the unknown world. I was obsessed with reading Taichi Sakaiya's stories about Siberia.

Kotani Mr. Nakao, why did you decide to go into engineering?

Nakao I had always loved plastic models, and although I had wanderlust, I also loved plastic models. I would buy craft parts and build them myself with a soldering iron. This led me to become an engineer.

Kotani You eventually became a robotics engineer.

Nakao Electric motor control rather than robotics. How to control motors. The robot is the best place for this adaptation.


Nakao studied robot control at the graduate school of Keio University.
At that time, he had the valuable experience of winning a top international award for one of his papers.


Nakao At that time, there was a great robot control expert at MIT, who solved very difficult mathematical equations to learn how to control a robot. But I couldn't solve such a difficult equation: a 7x7 matrix, a partial differential equation, and I couldn't solve it. I can't solve it. I thought, "You've got to be kidding". The professor and I thought of a way to make it easier. The professor had a theory that it could be solved more easily. I raised my hand and said, "Sir, I'll verify it".

Kotani That's amazing.

Nakao That's how I got the paper award. At that time, I said, "Let's do it," and I did it. I did it and got the answer. When I presented the answer, I became number one. This was my original experience.

Kotani How did you go from there to managing a manufacturing business? You could have taken a different path, couldn't you?

Nakao I could have become a robotics teacher there, but I changed my path and became a regular office worker. I joined Tokyo Electric Power Co. It was a very bureaucratic organization that emphasized order within the organization. I felt a strong sense of discomfort at the fact that I could see a stable future in that organization. Probably 80% of the people in the world think that "the more you can see the future, the more stable it is".

Kotani With the old Japanese values, yes.

Nakao I couldn't stand the fact that I could see 20 or 30 years into the future.


Nakao then went to the U.S. to study and obtained an MBA.
He then left the company and entered a completely new field of management as a strategy consultant at Boston Consulting.


Nakao It was a world so different from that of a normal, traditional Japanese company that I was taken aback. Repeated hypothesis testing. This was similar to what I learned when I was an engineering student, and it fitted my way of life and way of thinking.

Fujimoto Many top-tier strategy consultants have engineering or science and engineering backgrounds. About half of them are.
They experiment with hypothesis testing as a matter of course. Many of them are accustomed to the idea of hypothesis testing.

Kotani In your mind, does being an engineer make your management even better, Mr. Nakao?

Nakao I think there are. If there are 100 managers, there are 100 different artistic styles.
I come from an engineering background, and I like the idea of hypothesis testing, and I like to think of new things anyway. Something that didn't exist in the world. In other words, I invent.
In my case, I take an engineering approach, so I try to invent new things. I try to invent new things. I'm the type of manager who thinks, "Well, let's do it this way.


Nakao's longstanding passion for manufacturing is expressed in the following...


Kotani Mr. Nakao himself has an extraordinary passion for manufacturing. This photo book has no title or anything, but we were surprised to hear that Mr. Nakao made it himself. He took all the photographs in the book himself.

Nakao This is a company called Nippon Oil Pumps that I used to run. This company made hydraulic equipment.

Fujimoto It is really a "integral" architecture.

Nakao How do you beat the competition with a nondescript hydraulic product? We were doing almost the same thing we are doing now.

Kotani Nowadays everyone takes pictures with iPhones and such, but you didn't. You took pictures with a real, authentic camera using a stop in the lens.

Nakao A camera the same age as mine, made in the 1960s.


Japan is proud of its meticulous manufacturing...
Knowing Nakao's passion for this field, Professor Fujimoto...


Fujimoto This is a strong respect for "integral". There is a difference between such a person who does modularity and a person who says "modular is fine" or "everything is modular. Leave it to Silicon Valley to say "everything is modular.
People who respect the Japanese "integral" say, "But, this is modular. That is where the Japanese modular business wins.

Kotani Does that mean we can win in the world?

Fujimoto Then you can win, and you can't win by copying the US. This is true when you look at the companies that are actually growing now. I have not seen any company in Japan today that has both a very clear architectural strategy and a strong on-site flow-oriented approach that is losing.

Kotani What is amazing is those phrases at the very end.

Nakao Recognizing each other's skills, people in close proximity are connected.

The technique is applied to the bare material without interruption.

Instead of making a technique and leaving it there, one person adds a technique and the next person immediately adds another, and the next person immediately adds another, and the next person immediately adds another. I am talking about creating a flow.

No time wasted, no resources wasted.

We quickly produce what people around the world need, when they need it, and in the quantity they need.

This, I believe, is "manufacturing in the age of globalization".
It's not just about mass-producing iPhones and the like. I wanted to say that this is manufacturing that wins with wisdom.


There we saw a determination to evolve Japanese manufacturing.


The END.

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