How Katsu Uno promotes a culture of continuous improvement at Hirotec America

Katsu Uno

Katsu Uno, chairman and CEO, Hirotec America Inc.

Katsu Uno believes in changing things, even when nothing is broken.
Where most CEOs might be hesitant to adjust cogs in a well-oiled machine, Uno operates with a different philosophy at Hirotec America Inc., a $90 million automotive component supplier that he heads as chairman and CEO.

Known by the Japanese terms kaizen and kaikaku, Uno runs Hirotec with an eye toward constant and revolutionary change to the company’s organization and processes.

Smart Business spoke with Uno about the importance of facilitating change, and why evolving and adapting is a must for any business.

How do you promote an environment of continuous change and improvement?

One thing I do is constantly change the organizational structure. Sometimes I drive my operational managers crazy because I like to make changes. One day I show up in the office and show them a piece of paper, showing them how the new organization and team will look like. And I tell them it will work. It will be a good development for you. Even right now, I’m continually working on new changes within the organization to meet the current business environment. So I constantly try to see what is the best way to utilize our employees, and depending on the business environment, I shuffle people around and create new environments within the organization.

I constantly adjust the company’s organizational structure to meet the demands of our customers, and try to integrate each employee’s unique skills. Our company succeeds because we work well together.

Why does this constant-change model work for you?

The first thing I should probably explain is that we have this concept called ‘K2.’ K2 stands for kaizen and kaikaku. Kaizen is a concept of continuous change and improvement. Here in America, we describe it as, ‘If it’s not broken, let’s make it better.’ A lot of people might say, if it’s working, why bother to change? But we believe that through change, you can make it better.

Kaikaku is a Japanese word for revolutionary change. It’s the idea that you always think outside of the box. You hear those words here a lot, because that is what we think is important. It’s what differentiates our company from our competitors. Those are unchanging components for our company. We change vision and strategy, we could change all kinds of stuff, but driving change is something we never change. 

We believe this is the right company for people who enjoy change. We are looking for people who want to challenge and be challenged, and if you don’t like change, it is going to be very difficult to survive here.

Do you have an example of constant change and improvement in action?

It could be a product or how we do an engineering process, the organizational structure, and how we do all kinds of stuff. We have a core product called hemming solutions, and internally we have meetings where everybody gets together and discusses how we can change it, how we can we can improve it to meet the demands of more customers. Constantly, we’re trying to do that, drive change and make our products better.

How does change serve as a motivational tool for people?

The people we hire, the people we train, are people who like a challenge, and like changing and learning, so it’s not our system or our company driving them to change. We have people who enjoy changing and make it better. So it’s not a company where people are pushing the culture. We have people who create it; we have people who enjoy changing. I don’t’ need to motivate them. That’s what they enjoy, and they see the better product, a better financial result due to the changes they made.

What are the dangers of stagnating and not cultivating a change-oriented mindset?

You lose your competitive edge.  Our reputation is that we are in a constantly changing industry, constantly needing to introduce new products and introducing new ways to do business. If you don’t change, you lose that reputation, and people in the company are going to lose motivation, because that is what is driving the team.

So that is the danger. If you don’t continue to change, really your company is no longer the same company if you have built your reputation on changing with the needs of the marketplace.

How to reach: Hirotec America Inc., (248) 836-5100 or www.hirotecamerica.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *