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Sreelatha Menon: Buddha at work

Japanese business guru Shoji Shiba has introduced 230 Indian firms to a new business philosophy

Sreelatha Menon  |  New Delhi 

Sreelatha Menon

The logo of his programme, Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing, is a three-eyed Buddha, which symbolises the ideal in manufacturing leadership. Meet Shoji Shiba, the 82-year-old Japanese philosopher-cum-business guru who heads an Indo-Japanese programme to develop managers and help transform the manufacturing sector.

A model leader in the manufacturing sector, Shiba says, shouldn't be busy with his day-to-day work alone; he should also have an eye for continuous improvement and an insight into the future, as these will trigger breakthroughs.

"I introduced the third eye to Indian manufacturing," he says, while drawing with elaborate strokes a Japanese sign on a book. His book, 7 Dreams to Reality, documents the experiences of companies that have embarked upon the path prescribed by him.

What acts as a hurdle for the manufacturing sector is the lack of breakthrough thinking, Shiba says, adding to prepare an organisation for the future, one has to be at least half a step ahead of future trends. Through the years, Indian engineering graduates have preferred the services sector to manufacturing, he says.

To address these challenges and build a vibrant manufacturing sector, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kanpur, IIT-Madras and Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta developed the Visionary Leaders for Manufacturing programme in 2007. This was supported by National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council, Japan International Cooperation Agency and the Indian and Japanese governments. The Confederation of Indian Industries is a partner in the programme.

So far, 230 companies have attended the programme. It is estimated the number would rise to 1,000 by 2016.

How does the programme help leaders? Shiba, who conceived the programme, cites the example of Godrej, which brought out a product called Chotukool, a cooling solution that ran on batteries. This concept of the product, which catered to rural consumers, went beyond profits; it involved developing something sustainable and helpful to many.

Shiba says, "The visionary thinks beyond his company or his immediate profit. He thinks of the larger good. And, that is what makes him different. There is no place for labour exploitation and harassment of workers in such an enterprise," he says.

Through the solution, Godrej tried to aid society, going for an innovation completely outside its line of products. When one dreams of something for society and transforms this into reality, returns will follow, says Shiba.

Through the past decade, he has been trying to replicate the Japanese manufacturing success story in India. He has studied the models in European countries and the US, but feels India has been faster than others on this front.

The trick says Shiba, is to have a "customer-first" attitude, rather than a "me-first" one. The moment one thinks of society, not oneself, everyone, including the entrepreneur, benefits, he says with a smile.

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First Published: Sat, November 30 2013. 21:48 IST