Following my most recent column, I heard someone talking about Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic. It is well-known that he never even finished elementary school, because his father went bankrupt and he started an apprenticeship at the age of 10. Living on the premises of his employer in the Semba (commercial district of) Osaka, the neighbors on both sides and the three across the street were all merchants. Young Konosuke’s daily routine started by arising early and sweeping the front of the shop he worked for as well as those of his neighbors, and sprinkling water to keep the dust down. Soon, his neighbor apprentices also arose earlier and began to sweep their own storefront. But Konosuke was not to be outdone, so he arose even earlier to do all the sweeping and watering. After that, the later-rising neighbor apprentices would express their appreciation, saying, “Thank you for always doing this.” So from the time he was 10 for a period of five years, he continued to this mundane task of cleaning and watering the storefront, as well as his neighbors’, and receiving their thanks. It is said that this is where he learned the basics of business.
Thinking back on my own life, I didn’t have a clear vision of my career when I was in my 20s or early 30s. In fact, I thought about quitting accountancy, again and again; I’ve told my staff that, “I’ve thought of quitting being an accountant 100 times!” I thought for a quite some time that accountancy was the very definition of a job that is mundane and monotonous, tightly bound by legislation and regulations, with no room for self-expression. And, if that were the case, I figured that I wouldn’t worry too much about work, and spend the rest of my time doing things liked. I wasn’t especially serious about my job during that period of my life, spending lots of time on hobbies and sports. That, of course, is one way to spend one’s life, but somewhere deep down I knew that I wasn’t utilizing 100% of my talent. On the other hand, even though I was aware of this, I really didn’t understand the significance of my work. It was during this time (I believe it was my third year after starting work as an accountant) that I happened to encounter a truly wonderful boss. He didn’t just show me the basics of my job; he often talked to me about the significance of work and the significance of life in general. He had doubts about the typical one-dimensional environment of American accounting firms with their exclusive focus on numbers and performance. He would say things like, “You’ve got to help your clients understand their own companies through the lens of accounting,” or, “Bosses have to work hard for the sake of people working under them.” He was concerned with more than just the work-related know-how; he thought about what it means to be beneficial to other people, and he taught me about those things. He often arranged to have me work with him even though I had only been with the company for three to five years. I still had far to go as an accountant (and as a human being), but I can say that when I worked with him, I was faithful to my work. Whenever I finished a project that I had worked on diligently and faithfully, even if it was late at night, I felt a sense of refreshing satisfaction on my way home. Those were the times too when I would receive good evaluations, which made me even happier. I didn’t know where my career would lead me or what the future would hold, but I had a sense of responsibility in terms of being careful that nothing about my work would let my clients or my colleagues down. I feel like this particular boss probably thought, “Young Mr. Takano still has a long way to go, but he’s the kind of guy who will respond sincerely if I take the time to teach him what to do.” Later, I moved to Seattle and my boss was assigned back to Japan, but we continued to keep in touch at least once a year.
About three years ago, there was a situation where our revenues were certain to fall precipitously. A major client had decided to pull out of the U.S., and we would lose that work. It was going to be a major problem and I was worried about it. But who should come along to save us but my old boss! It had been 10 years since I had launched our company, and 13 years since I had last worked with him, but my old boss had been posted to Los Angeles for whatever reason. In our time of need, he introduced us to some business management work for a prestigious client, which kept us from falling into the red for the year. What miraculous timing, for him to have come back just when I was having problems! As it had been 13 years since we had last worked together, I can’t imagine that he would have known much about the state of my abilities. However, he probably thought something like, “Young Mr. Takano will surely take this job seriously,” in deciding to introduce us to this important client.
When I was in my 20s, I certainly never thought about when my boss might introduce me to a client. I was simply working to the best of my ability at the time. Back then, even a good evaluation would only result in an annual raise of around two or three percent. If that were the only difference, I might well have slacked off and used the extra time as I pleased. But if I hadn’t worked at that time to the full measure of my talents, I don’t think my old boss would have extended his hand to help me when I was in trouble later on. Working sincerely as hard as you can has a value that lives on beyond the moment.
I think it must have been the same for Konosuke Matsushita. He surely was not thinking about becoming a world-renowned entrepreneur back when he was getting up early to do the sweeping and watering for his neighbor apprentices. But by doing the best job he could as a youngster in his early teens, and earning the thanks of those around him, he set off on a path of selfdevelopment. I’m embarrassed to say that there were plenty of times in my younger days when I let my work slide. Even now I reflect keenly on the difference between Konosuke, who never failed to pursue his work sincerely from the age of 10, and myself who often slacked off. In the end, the slacking off comes back to you. Meanwhile, the results of working to the best of your ability also come back to you, across the span of time, magnified manyfold. Even now, I often relate the story of my old boss to my employees. That’s because I want them to be the kind of people who don’t become frustrated if things are not going their way after just a year or so, but who do the best possible job that they can, even when they don’t have a clear vision of the future. One of the guiding principles of our company is to, “Deliver the best possible performance in the given circumstances.” I want our young staff members to know that by doing the best that they can in the situation in which they find themselves, and with their own particular talents, they are benefiting the client, benefiting the company, benefiting society, and in the end, it will come back around to their own personal benefit.
I work longer hours now than I ever have in my life. But at the same time, I have less stress than ever before. That’s because I have a wholehearted desire to build a great company for my employees, and I’m working wholeheartedly to that end. I came to this wholeheartedness about management rather late in life, but I feel that, little by little, our employees are coming to appreciate what is good about our company. That’s because I have no doubts putting in the effort to build a company where our employees are genuinely glad to work, based on a proper philosophy, starting with my old boss telling me back in my 20s that, “Bosses have to work hard to for the sake of the people working under them.” Now that I think about it, he had a strong influence on my decision to found a new firm and to pursue these ideals. I will continue to work towards building a company that is truly excellent, contributing to [the wellbeing of] everyone involved, and I humbly ask for your understanding and cooperation.