TOKYO, Jan 21 – The man chosen to spearhead the daunting task of rebuilding Japan Airlines is a respected entrepreneur, management guru and ordained Buddhist monk who admits he is a novice in the airline business.
Kazuo Inamori, who turns 78 this month, is being parachuted into JAL’s cockpit by the government to replace Haruka Nishimatsu, who is set to step down as chief executive after failing to halt JAL’s financial tailspin.
"I’m a complete amateur about the transport industry," Inamori told reporters last week after accepting the job, adding: "I would do my best."
Inamori is one of Japan’s most well respected business executives, having founded both electronics maker Kyocera Corp. and a company that later became part of KDDI Corp., now Japan’s number two telecommunication company.
"He’s a great entrepreneur, and perhaps entrepreneurship is what JAL badly needs," said Geoffrey Tudor, a principal analyst at Japan Aviation Management Research and former JAL employee.
Inamori is a champion of deregulation and a philanthropist who entered the Buddhist priesthood at a temple in Kyoto in 1997 after retirement.
The Kyocera founder created his own "amoeba management" theory whereby each unit of a company makes its own plans under the guidance of an "amoeba leader."
Members of the unit pool their knowledge and effort to achieve business targets, giving all employees an active role.
In one of his books, "Respect the Divine and Love People," Inamori says his management philosophy is based on the many obstacles he has overcome.
"In both my professional and personal life, I have struggled with many dead-end situations which caused me endless agony," he wrote, according to excerpts on his website.
"In those difficult circumstances, I would always go back to the fundamentals and ask myself, ‘What is the right thing to do as a human being?’ Everything I do in my work is based upon this fundamental principle."
After contracting tuberculosis at age 13, when his home was also destroyed in a World War II air raid, Inamori went on to study engineering and started a small ceramics company that he would transform into a leading high-tech maker.
Now he is Japan’s 28th richest person with an estimated wealth of 920 million dollars, according to Forbes Rich List.
Inamori is "a very successful man in his own right. He didn’t have any personal connections with important or influential people. He worked hard. He has a great personal ability," said Tudor.
"I think Mr Inamori will help boost the morale of JAL employees," he added.
Inamori faces a major challenge turning around JAL, which is expected to file for bankruptcy protection on Tuesday to make it easier to overhaul its debts and implement other measures likely to include about 15,000 job cuts.