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Combi, as one of the first companies in Japan to establish Purpose

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

SMO’s first Purpose Branding project was for Combi Corporation. Eiji Kobori, who had played a key role in introducing the concept of Purpose, when it had not been common at the time, was appointed as CEO in 2021. We asked Mr. Kobori how it was after setting “Innovating Baby Care” as their Brand Purpose Statement, as well as their plans for the future.


(Interviewers: SMO’s Hisashi Aoyama and Justin Lee)

 


Aoyama: It was around 2014 when we worked together, wasn't it? Purpose has been a topic of discussion in the media a lot recently, but at the time it was completely unknown and many were wondering what it even meant. But Mr. Kobori showed interest during that time. Wasn’t Combi Corporation the first to become a Purpose-established corporation?


Mr. Kobori: I don’t think they really existed before. So that’s why SMO offered to start one.


Aoyama: I think it’s incredible that you were even on board with our idea. At the time, there were no companies that came up on the internet searching for "Purpose". What made you want to implement a concept like Purpose even though Combi Corporation already had a brand value, mission, or values?


Mr. Kobori: I was feeling very strongly that we were forgetting the spirit of the company's founding. In order to bring it back to life, I thought that the Purpose that SMO introduced to us would really stick, so we worked together to create Purpose together. Ever since our company was first founded 64 years ago, we had a history of using new, uncommon technology to create new products, like using plastic to create swan-motif potties for families when potties weren’t really around or creating light-weight strollers when wheelbarrows were much more common.


Aoyama: So we dug up the thoughts that went into founding the company. Combi must have had many obstacles regarding managing a business, like how to be innovative and create good quality products. From there, we discussed the company’s history, why they took part of the business and where their passion and thought lies, what the consumers expect from the company, and ended up with the Purpose of “Innovating Baby Care.”


In addition to the original mission, vision, and values, we also incorporated the concept of purpose as a word that clearly shows ourselves, so we made a purpose book together.






Mr. Kobori: Our brand statement has been around for a long time and has gone through several changes. It was created with the wisdom of the workers at the time, but as time changed, it didn’t really stick with us. Our global members were saying the meaning of receiving love is way too vague. And there were voices that demanded a more precise statement.

It was difficult to implement Purpose within the already established vision, mission, and value, so we created a Brand ‘Purpose’ Statement from something that we already had as our Brand Statement, and it bundled up the three pillars of our brand. Since then, the Purpose statement has been always printed under our company logo.


Justin: Was there anything that left an impression on you when establishing Purpose?


Mr. Kobori: To me it really felt like the process of discovering new things from old wisdoms. As we participated in workshops, we often reflected back on the beginning point of the company, which helped us understand that Combi Corporation innovated its industry greatly. The reason why our company exists today was because of the history the company holds, whether it’s good or bad, and the fact that it was established through that history, not just all of a sudden, is something that is helpful as well as influential to us.


Justin:So you really dug through “Heritage.”


Mr. Kobori: Three company members including myself attended the workshop. Of course, we considered that there would be a diverse range of opinions with more participants, but we thought that it would take too much time explaining to others what Purpose even is. I still believe that working with just the three core members through the process of selecting words and music was the best decision. If we had too many people working on the project with us, our ideas would be too dense and we needed that rough edge.


Aoyama: I’m sure that deciding Purpose, something that is heavily impactful, with only a few people was a great challenge. Wasn’t it difficult to gain the approval from the company after the whole process?


Mr. Kobori: The corporate structure at the time was much more simple at the time. We were considering the globalization of our company, but the group’s Control Headquarter was located in Japan. I contacted them that I will be in charge before the project, but also checked in with them along with descriptions of our process.

Currently, the Global Committee is located in Hong Kong, so if we were to conduct this project now, it would take a lot more time, and we wouldn’t be able to have that rough edge. This project is really thanks to the corporate structure at the time.

A corporation’s greatest value is its brand value. And the Purpose is about the brand value which is the most important, so we would have to discuss it from many points of views, and it would take a great amount of time. But if we cut corners during that process, it would cause great damage.


Aoyama:Well, what do you think is a “strong brand”?


Mr. Kobori: I think it’s whether the brand is loved or not. In other words, whether you’d become a fan of the brand or not. We have to make sure that the consumers buy our products not just because our prices are cheaper or our quality is better, but because they love Combi Corporation, and they’ve set their heart on Combi Corporation from the very start. We have to keep it that way and we also have to proceed with that mindset. I think that’s the biggest point with continuing a company. Our management policy of “Emotional Creation” is related to this idea.


Aoyama: You established “Emotional Creation” in 2021 when you became the CEO. Can you tell us more about this?


Mr. Kobori: As the core of innovation which became the management policy when I became the CEO, I declared that we’d be number one of becoming an “Emotional Creation Corporation.” Not needs but insight, not conscious but the subconscious mindset. Under the conscious needs, which is like the 5% of the iceberg floating on the surface of the ocean, is the 95% of the iceberg, which is the subconscious mindset. There’s an important element that leads to decision making, but we don’t really notice it. The demand that we could already see is already met, and the spec battle is taking place there. But we want to deliver something that consumers are intrinsically wanting. We want to deliver not satisfaction, but emotion. That’s the idea of “Emotional Creation.”

To drive off other competitors, Combi Corporation needs to offer service and products that fulfills deep emotions. In order to do that, the employees need to be the ones who are moved with emotions, so we have this internal program called “Emotional Post Contest.” It could be anything, like “I was moved by this movie I watched,” “The rainbow I saw after the rain was beautiful,” or the recent Olympic games. We have employees post whatever it was that moved them, and give each other likes on their posts, and whoever has the most likes wins the MVP. This is what brings out the subconscious mind. This project started as something to change the corporate culture, but it also brought benefits in other fields. For example, as the pandemic impacted people’s working habits, this project helped with the lack of communication and helped bring back the liveliness of the workplace. Once the workplace becomes more lively, we have to go through the process of emotional creation to provide insights. That emotional mind is embodied in the creation of the development department, for example, or in the way workers interact with our customers. We want to make sure that our clients are satisfied when working with us. If all our workers are all happy to provide that kind of work, it would be wonderful. And as of now, it’s starting to become that way.


Aoyama: As a corporation that focused on Purpose much earlier than others, do you have any advice for those who are struggling to implement it?


Mr. Kobori: I don’t really have much to say as the predecessor, but I would advise to not take action just because you were told to do so or because it’s trendy. If you have already had the awareness of the issue and you believe that Purpose can lead you to solving that issue, then you should do it. If not, you shouldn’t.


Justin: I’d like to ask how the corporate culture changed since you established your Purpose titled “Innovation,” as well as how the idea spread throughout the workplace.


Mr. Kobori: This may not be the answer you were looking for, but to be honest, our Purpose hasn’t really been spread yet.

We thought that everyone would understand the concept as well as its necessity, but they haven’t come to the point of implementing it in their work. You can’t really expect it from just explaining it once or twice. Continuing is key, often reminding those in different fields. That’s really the core structure of what culture is.

A common problem in most companies is that once the workers change, the workplace also changes. The official statement of “Innovating baby care,” was actually discontinued once when I changed departments. The implementation process stopped.

But my issue awareness hasn’t changed, so I think it’s easier to advance and implement the idea than before. The reason why I stated “emotional creation” after I became the CEO was because it wasn’t sufficient. If it was, we would be moving on to the next stage.


Aoyama: As you are the very top of the company, the CEO, to be more specific, I think your dedication to what you are passionate about is something that is reflected in Combi Corporation’s products. Lastly, about being moved emotionally, what was something that moved you recently?


Mr. Kobori: This is probably not the most recent thing, but “Demon Slayer” really moved me. My favorite film as a film lover.

As my 80-year-old mentor of oriental thoughts said, “There’s no way you can’t be moved because the true nature of humans itself is the concept. You can really sense all of the five Confucian virtues in the film ‘Demon Slayer’.” I think the same goes for business, because it’s an interaction among humans. It’s not “This stroller is this many grams lighter than that one!” but “Combi Corporation really puts 100% of their effort in raising a child, and we would do anything we can to support you! If you face any obstacles, we will solve them!” If that attitude is shown, we would be a good brand, and it is definite that our customers would buy from Combi Corporation because they love Combi Corporation. Our customers would live a good life, and they’d be able to make an essential choice.


Aoyama: And everything leads up to the Purpose you established seven years ago. Thank you for sharing your valuable story.



 

Mr. Kobori Eiji

CEO of Combi Corporation Born in 1966 in Saitama Prefecture. After graduating from University of Tsukuba and working in two corporations, he joined Combi Corporation in 1992. He experienced working in different fields such as sales, marketing, development, logistics, global, and corporate planning and dedicated his time and effort in developing the company. Lead the establishment of the brand statement “Innovating Baby Care”. Became the CEO of Combi Corporation in January 2021. Started his work as CEO with his management policy of “Becoming the No.1 corporation in providing emotional creation.” His hobbies include watching films and traveling. His Purpose of life is “altruism.”







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