President Kazunori Ishii Engineering HQ,
Automotive Division, PMO
Satoshi Ashida

Satoshi Ashida is a member of the Engineering HQ, Automotive Division, PMO. He is responsible for project management for a wide range of manufacturing, sales, and technology projects in the company’s automotive business segment, one of the segments Hirose is focusing on as a central business area. He met with President Ishii as representative of the Future Creation Study Group’s C Team. They discussed the “small company of smart people” corporate culture cultivated through the company’s long history as one of its strengths. Satoshi Ashida asked President Ishii how can Hirose’s “small company of smart people” culture be leveraged as new personnel numbers rise dramatically due to business expansion, and about the potential of new AI technology, which is drawing attention as a new technology for personnel utilization.

The potential for applying AI technology to operations

Ashida: One of the topics we debated in the Future Creation Study Group was “What are Hirose’s strengths?” A strength we all agreed on was our “small company of smart people” culture. One of the positive aspects of this culture is that it makes work broader-ranging and more interesting, and creates a sense of accomplishment, as, for example, sales personnel also become involved in quality and manufacturing. However, we are rapidly bringing in new people as we take on the challenges of the automotive and industrial device segments, and there are some areas in which we will not be able to maintain this “small company of smart people” approach. I wonder if there are new approaches we could use, such as leveraging new technologies like AI. What do you think?

President Ishii: As you say, we are bringing in many new personnel for our automotive business, but the reason for this isn’t that we can’t survive by maintaining our “small company of smart people” approach. We’re adding new people merely due to a lack of resources, and the issues of increasing our workforce and engaging in “small company of smart people” management are two completely separate issues. In other words, I believe that increasing our workforce, having personnel engage in various activities, and creating a “small company of smart people” environment are extremely important issues. As you say, one of the strengths of the “small company of smart people” approach is that individuals can feel a sense of accomplishment from their activities. I’m very happy about that, and I believe it contributes to both personal and corporate growth. That’s why I believe it’s so important for Hirose.

Ashida: What do you think are the important aspects of this “small company of smart people” culture? I personally think that part of it is that you become familiar with everyone, whether they be in manufacturing, sales, or technology.

President Ishii: In a certain sense it’s true that the “small company of smart people” culture is created because everyone knows each other, but I don’t think that’s enough. That’s because in this era of globalized business you can’t have an organization in which every member knows every other member. What is important is their communication abilities. In other words, it’s not that you know others, but that you communicate well with them. Overseas, there are many employees who have grown up with different languages, cultures, and environments. That’s precisely why it is so important to have communication skills, developing deeper mutual understanding and appreciation.

Ashida: And what do you think about AI?

President Ishii: We will further deploy IT to assist with our “small company of smart people” approach, and I believe that effective use of AI will be extremely important. AI’s importance will rise in improving the efficiency of various work, such as improving communication skills and productivity, and I think if we can skillfully use it, AI will also help enhance our “small company of smart people” approach. I don’t think it would be feasible for us to be able to survive in the market if we were to completely ignore AI.

Ashida: I think what is important in the AI introduction process is what to teach the AI. As we deploy AI we will need to identify Hirose’s core activities, and I think that this process itself, not the results AI produces, is what will be the most important. I see a lot of energy being put into all operations, even in areas which are not core activities.

President Ishii: Gathering information and collecting data takes a lot of time and effort, and sometimes you get a feeling of achievement just by finishing the collection process. The analysis and investigation that follow are what is important, so it will be important to consider how we should use AI in a manner that fits Hirose, such as using AI to prepare for this work. The specifics are still a long way off, and I feel like we’re just starting out with our efforts to use AI.

Ashida: For example, newly hired employees can’t get used to working at Hirose in just three months – there are a lot of operation processes and rules that aren’t explicitly set down, so getting used to working here takes time. I think instead of expending energy there, AI should be used to make the process more efficient. I realize that suggesting AI for this is a bit off the wall, but I think we need to start thinking about what constitutes Hirose’s core, and what kind of data needs to be collected for this core. If we don’t start thinking about this soon, it may be too late.

President Ishii: I agree.

Hirose’s “small company of smart people” approach, one of its strengths

Ashida: I’d like to ask a little more about the “small company of smart people” concept. I think there is a growing number of employees who don’t really feel this “small company of smart people” culture. This is one area where I disagree with you, but I think if there’s an increase in the number of unfamiliar people, that translates directly into a feeling of distance. I also think it is sometimes really difficult to figure out what information other departments are acting on, and where they are focusing their efforts. What do you think?

President Ishii: We have increased our workforce in a short period of time, so I can see where you are coming from. In an extreme example, roughly 5% of the workers at the Yokohama Center are non-Japanese, which is quite a change from a few years ago. There are some departments which are growing month after month, so of course these environmental changes may be making it harder to get a good sense of those around you. I’m sure there are people who doubt that it will be possible to maintain a true “small company of smart people” culture while bringing on all these new people. I feel that some measures will need to be taken to ensure that it is.

Ashida: You and all of Hirose's executives have excellent communication abilities. However, I think that instead of devoting energy to those skills, we should create an environment in which it is possible to see the company’s activities and leverage the strengths of its “small company of smart people” culture. That said, talking with you today has impressed on me that you are truly dedicated to remaining a “small company of smart people.”

President Ishii: Regarding the strengths of being a “small company of smart people,” I remember an upperclassman explaining the “centipede race” (a multi-person race in which participants run in single file, each person attached to the runner in front of and behind them). The more people there are in a centipede race, the slower the running speed becomes. Of course, it is easy for two people to match their strides, making them fast. I strongly feel a need to create an environment in which everyone communicates and works together to keep this “small company of smart people” status despite growing numbers. This is a very important topic, and I hope that everyone, as they carry out their work duties, also thinks deeply about how we can spread the benefits of our “small company of smart people” philosophy.

Ashida: Any job will become boring if it is narrowed down too much, and I think one of the things that makes Hirose better than a typical large company is this “small company of smart people” mentality. I hope we can maintain that culture going forward, but the automotive segment I’m in is massively understaffed. I would be very happy if we were provided with more resources. Thank you for your time.