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The New Challenge of Long-Established Sumitomo Rubber Industries

Sumitomo Rubber Industries recently established their “Philosophy” of becoming a purpose driven organization. Natsuko Mukai from the Corporate Strategy Department discovered the concept of Purpose a few years ago. She instantly recognized the unifying potential of having an organizational Purpose and saw it as something necessary for the future of her company. She convinced her superiors to begin working on establishing such a Purpose. In this interview, we asked Ms. Mukai about the process of pervading the concept and the steps she took to establish Sumitomo Rubber Industries' purpose.


(Interviewer:SMO Miyauchi)

 




Miyauchi: You were already working on a Purpose before we at SMO got involved to help in the actual expression of it. What stood out to you during the process?


Ms. Mukai: This project started with the idea of creating Vision2030, but we decided to reorganize and re-evaluate our corporate philosophy. We interviewed other staff members to hear their opinions on our rough draft of our plan, and received criticisms and opinions. Listening to such feedback made me realize that it's incredibly difficult to come up with something that everyone can be satisfied with.


Miyauchi: Was there something you wanted to solve other than making the corporate philosophy more understandable?


Ms. Mukai: After conducting hearings and reading questionnaires, I realized that the issue of corporate culture was much more monumental than I thought. As someone from the HR department, I was called by the Corporate Strategy Department to solve this issue. We felt that everyone's direction of ideas were separating as the number of people increased due to the extreme speed of globalization. While we were searching for solutions, we came across the concept of Purpose. Having a Purpose brings people together, and that was something our company needed at the time. Finding the concept of Purpose really filled me with hope. I believed that if we implemented the concept of Purpose, everyone's direction of thoughts would align, and we would be able to make a more unified, stronger corporation. So one of the issues we wanted to solve was related to the idea of corporations and people. Also, we felt that our current corporate philosophy, SRI WAY, and vision were all different and didn't combine well with each other. If we base them all around Purpose and inform the employees that “This is why this vision and “WAY” exists,” then they can relate to the goal that the company is aiming at. Eventually their direction of thoughts would align as well.


Ms. Mukai: When we published our Purpose, we received a lot of positive feedback, even from our overseas branches. I think it was the most influential in Brazil where they took no time to make a Portuguese version of our philosophy book and also made company goods.

In Japan, we hosted workshops that were open to all employees. They were influential to even those with management posts.

I think on the management side, there was a lot of satisfaction with the process of clarifying purpose since management gets easier when you have a central, core concept to rely on. The same couldn't be said for regular employees as they aren't involved in the management aspect of business and some expressed concerns that the new purpose concepts didn't really resonate with them or were un-relatable. We try to keep the words vague in our corporate Purpose and Philosophy so that it can be easily applied to the many different areas of work that goes on in our company. Yet some divisions still had a hard time applying the ideas to their work so we're taking time to further explain and localize our greater corporate vision to fit in with the smaller subsections within the company. We're doing this through questionnaires and meetings with executives.


Miyauchi: Workplace content all starts with the higher-ups actually understanding the concept and teaching their subordinates. With many meetings being held online, how did that affect the process?


Ms. Mukai: Within the secretariat office, we talked about how the workshops were able to do so in such a speedy manner because we were online. If we had done offline workshops I believe it would've taken us a whole year because we'd have to book rooms and organize people.


Miyauchi: Even still, the speediness of the operation was remarkable. When I heard that you were able to involve the thousands of people within the company in a matter of months I was impressed!


Ms. Mukai: We were able to reach out to around 2000 people in the first three months. The training team worked with the secretariat office and things worked out because of their original knowledge. One good thing about doing the events online was that it brought together people who normally wouldn't work together. We received opinions such as “It was good that I was able to meet people from new departments” and “I was able to gain new insights and perspectives” so I believe it helped supplement the lack of communication that occurred due to COVID.


Miyauchi: How's the implementation going in the overseas bases?


Ms. Mukai: We're planning to host workshops in Russia soon, and we're receiving requests to host workshops in the U.S. and other locations as well. I believe that by gathering people from all over the world and uniting them through ideas and also the SRI purpose, we can get everyone including those abroad on the same page.


Miyauchi: That's really interesting. I think that such things are the unique benefits that you get from doing it online. So you mentioned that there was an issue you wanted to solve at the start of this interview. How's that going for you?


Ms. Mukai: We're currently working on an inter-company project called “Be the Change” to improve and change our corporate culture. By implementing policies such as 360 degree feedback and executive coaching ,those in management positions have put in more effort into communication and to turn our workplace into a better working environment where new ideas are assimilated more smoothly. However, we received reports that the results are different for each division and some people do not feel any change. We are a big company, so we have to work on a wider scale of implementation.


Miyauchi: What is something you'd like to accomplish next year?


Ms. Mukai: We'd like to establish separate Purposes among each department and individuals with the help of SMO. We heard voices that expressed how they are unsure on how to tie the company's Philosophy and Purpose to their own work. That's the challenge with setting up such ideas in a large corporation like ours, so I think having individualized Purposes for different departments and people will be able to give more meaning to their work whilst also unifying them as a company.






Miyauchi: We call the idea of managing a corporation around corporate philosophy, “Purpose Branding” and that is precisely what we did to increase SRI's brand value. Your company owns multiple brands such as Dunlop, SRIXON, and FALKEN, so what's your idea of a “great” brand?


Ms. Mukai: I think a great brand is one that has a relatable concept or purpose, one that has the power of showing them through their actions. I really like the brand MOTHERHOUSE, as they have a strong philosophy: “We spotlight the potential of developing countries through our products to establish an international brand”. Consumers can understand and relate to the story of how the founder found and developed the philosophy. I think the fact that their philosophy and actions compliment each other, leads to trust. This brings out the best abilities of their workers following their purpose. Not only that but the shopkeepers are all passionate about the philosophy, which shows the success of its implementation. I really enjoy their brand and want to support it and I often recommend it to those around me.


Miyauchi: As a brand, it's important to have passionate consumers, and relating to philosophy is definitely an important key concept. It's also important that they follow through with their actions. Do you think that with the implementation of this new Purpose, consumer needs are changing?


Ms. Mukai: I don't think consumers' demands are really changing, because the basis of the brand mentality lies on the brand “Sumitomo,” so people have expected a sense of trust and reliance from the very start.


Miyauchi: Is the hurdle of trustable action getting higher as consciousness towards sustainability rises, especially as a company that produces rubber?


Ms. Mukai: Yes, I think so. It is the same for OE makers in the automobile industry and that expectation trickles down to us in the supplier industry. Sustainability is something we need to keep in mind even more than before.


Miyauchi: What is something that's remarkably changing within the rubber industry?


Ms. Mukai: Other than sustainability, the automotive industry itself is currently going through a once-in-a-century level revolutionary stage. As things become increasingly digitized, we need to be more adaptable to change. As EV cars require different sorts of tires, new automobile makers have appeared and an even higher standard of tires are being required now. So we need to be able to produce tiers that can meet the expectation of the makers.


Miyauchi: Many corporations are implementing Purpose to become a part of their corporate philosophies. What is something you'd say to those in charge of establishing and spreading the concept?


Ms. Mukai: I definitely think it depends on the scale of the company itself. For larger companies, those who are in management positions are typically the older generation, so it's difficult for them to understand and relate to the concept of Purpose. I think the reason why this project succeeded was partly due to the younger staff. The upper generation were all probably thinking, “Well, if that's what the younger generation thinks…” and reluctantly agreed to implement the concept. I think it's the younger generation’s role to lead the direction of corporations.


Miyauchi: In a world where many companies flat-out reject the ideas of its younger workers, I believe it was the flexibility of those in the corporate strategy division that enabled your new idea to develop, but even with your wonderful communication skills, did you go through any troubles with convincing your superiors?


Ms. Mukai: I first had to convince my bosses in the corporate strategy department. At first, they were all confused, like “Purpose? What is that? Pampers?” But because I was passionate, they all understood that I was serious about this project. Recently one of my bosses told me that they can't forget my eyes and how furious I was at the time. I was also pushed by my strong belief that I had to start something new to tackle this problem so I think in the end your own passion and belief is important.


Miyauchi: I think this message is very influential for those eager to cause bottom-up change in their company. What is something that is important in the actual implementation of ideas?


Ms. Mukai: For this project, because the time was very limited, I was only able to talk to a few people within the company and use their ideas and opinions. If I were to involve the entire company to create a new corporate philosophy, I think the phase of implementation would've gone more smoothly. When carrying out plans, I think the background and also your thoughts are things that are incredibly important. I think it's crucial to explain in more detail the reasoning behind creating corporate philosophy and Purpose, because its benefits can only be reaped by those who truly understand it. It's important to increase the number of people who relate, to create fans of our philosophy.


Miyauchi: It would be marvelous to see your philosophy be delivered to those outside the corporation. What is something you'd like to do when delivering the corporate philosophy outside the corporation?


Ms. Mukai: As much as I want the philosophy to be understood by those outside the corporation, I think right now my top priority is to spread it within the company. I think that once every employee understands it, it would reflect in their work, like how store staff respond, how they sell our products. Then, our consumers and those outside the corporation would understand our philosophy.


Miyauchi: Lastly, SMO's Purpose is “Create great brands for the generation to come.” What's Sumitomo Rubber Industries', as well as your “authentic truth” that you want the future generation to know?


Ms. Mukai: I think something our corporation wants to leave to the future generation is the joy and well-being for all that is created through our innovation. And as an individual, I want to make sure that our company can provide individuals with great experiences.

I hope that we can provide those with experiences that would fulfill their lives, or experiences that lead to self expression or confidence. I mentioned earlier that belief is important, but I think that our lives would be a lot more enjoyable when we believe in something, and that is accomplished through our work. I hope to make our company a place where everyone's individual purpose and SRI's purpose overlaps with each other.


 


Natsuko Mukai

Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. Corporation Development Department


Enters Sumitomo Rubber Industries’ Human Resources & General Affairs Department in 2016 and manages human resources (transfers/evaluation). Transfers to Management Development Department in 2019 and manages a project reevaluating and reorganizing the corporate philosophy system. Establishes the new corporate philosophy system “Our Philosophy” as well as implementing the concept of Purpose. She is recently involved with spreading her idea of Philosophy as well as managing the Be the Change project, and aims to reform the organizational culture of her company.







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