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East Midlands

Japan targets high quality, from the traditional to the hi-tech industries

29 Jul 2019

Keith Webster, founder and director at KCStrengthsHUB and an IoD99 member, recently attended the G20YEA Fukuoka summit, partnered by EY & Accenture. Here he offers his thoughts on the trip:

This was the 10th summit of entrepreneurs from across the G20 countries, brought together for what was the first G20YEA to take place in Japan. Our base was Fukuoka City, a city famous for its ‘yattai’ stalls in the street, selling Tonkatsu Ramen noodles and other foods, as well as the home of Pokémon.

It is also Japan’s fifth largest city and, crucially for our visit, is also Japan’s leading city for start-ups. Indeed, it is known as a leading start-up city for foreign entrepreneur’s having enacted the ‘Declaration of Start-up City Fukuoka in 2012’. The city is No 1 among ALL metropolises in terms of growth rate in young entrepreneurs and the city is the most advantageous one in which foreigners can launch businesses in Japan.

To make itself more attractive to entrepreneurs, the city has removed bureaucracy, de-regulated and established a start-up culture, to become one of the most advanced cities in Japan for start-ups. The city is sincere in its hope that it will continue to offer more opportunities for start-ups in the future.

The theme for this year’s G20YEA Summit was ‘Imagination Economy – For a Sustainable Future’. It’s all about how creative thinking is shaping the economy of the future in a sustainable way.

The UK delegation was taken from the ranks of IoD99 members and fantastically led by Alex Mitchell and Claire Starza-Allen. It was a diverse and dynamic group, with members running businesses which are potential game changers in their sector, all had a huge appetite to learn.

The summit programme was excellent and began with a series of company visits to world-leading business in the Kyushu prefecture. First up for me was a visit to the largest Lexus plant in the world, employing 7,000 + workers and manufacturing 430,000 Lexus per year. 90% of these vehicles are exported, going out to more than 80 countries, globally, from the ports in the region.

What was so engaging for me was the fact that, despite advances in technology in this state-of-the-art manufacturing plant, the trust to get the job done to the very best standards still lies with the human labour force.

For sure, technology and robots are used everywhere they can add value, however it is the ‘human eye’ that is trusted to ensure that each Lexus model, rolling out of the plant, is of the very best standard.

Indeed, what was most endearing was the culture where ‘Every worker actively encouraged to challenge and say “No”, this can be done better’!

Following that, our group paid a visit to the Muhomatsu Shuzo saké plant. This was a complete contrast to Lexus: a business founded 142 years ago that is still producing Japan’s national drink, saké, in the traditional way, with traditional materials and equipment but nevertheless committed to the same staggering levels of quality.

The days that followed were excellent, with speakers, panels and obviously the all-important networking and cultural opportunities in the evening. There was even a pitch session where we had UK representation.

The final communique from theG20YEA summit was delivered to the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors who met in Fukuoka city ahead of the main G20 summit, which was held in Osaka, in June.

The experience was a wonderful opportunity to meet fellow young entrepreneurs from across the globe, and make what I’m sure will be some good friendships in the years to come.

My take-home message for ALL business is: what can you create and contribute for people and society, and how will it sustain their future and that of all our children?

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