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11 December 2023

Management guru takes charge of ailing Japan Airlines

A Japanese management guru and Buddhist monk who admits he is a novice in the aviation business took the helm of bankrupt Japan Airlines Monday to oversee a major overhaul including 15,600 job cuts.

Kazuo Inamori, 78, was parachuted into JAL's cockpit by the government to replace Haruka Nishimatsu, who stepped down as head of Asia's biggest carrier after it filed for bankruptcy protection on January 20.

"I'm a complete amateur about the transport industry," Inamori told reporters last month after accepting the job, but adding that he would do his best to revive the carrier's flagging fortunes.

Inamori was due to hold a news conference later Monday to outline his plans for the airline, which collapsed with 26 billion dollars of debt in one of Japan's biggest ever corporate failures.

JAL, a once-proud flag carrier, has reassured passengers its flights will not be interrupted during the bankruptcy, which is similar to the process used to revive US auto giant General Motors.

The airline, which carries more than 50 million passengers every year, will slash 30 per cent of its workforce and receive almost $10 billion of public funds and emergency loans under a three-year turnaround plan.

The stock will be delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange on February 20 or earlier, a move expected to wipe out shareholders' investments. Its share price Monday stood at a paltry two yen (two US cents).

JAL said last week it had picked Masaru Onishi -- the 54-year-old president of a small subsidiary that handles regional flights -- to become its president and chief operating officer working alongside its new turnaround boss.

Inamori is one of Japan's most respected business executives and management gurus, having founded electronics maker Kyocera and a company that later became part of KDDI, now Japan's number two telecoms firm.

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.

"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 Kyocera.

Now he is Japan's 28th richest person with an estimated wealth of about $920 million, according to Forbes Rich List.


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