TOP INTERVIEW

"Finding my own themes and pondering solutions"

How Yusuke Harada strove to become an “Engineer with Management Perspective,” and a “Consultant who truly understands technology” – excerpts from an interview with a major recruiting magazine in Japan.

While Steve Jobs gave the world the Macintosh, the technology serving as the foundation for the product was the brainchild of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. If Xerox, which possessed everything from the product concept through to the elemental technology, had been of such a mindset, it might have built the Macintosh itself. However, due to the extremely high profitability of copying machines, which qualified as the mainstay Xerox product line, the company failed to carry out vigorous investment in the personal computer – a product viewed to have uncertain potential at the time.

At Fuji Xerox, Yusuke Harada engaged in R&D of optical semiconductors, the heart of copying machines. Although Xerox of America held the basic patent pertaining to the new technology, the first company to market new optical semiconductors was not Fuji Xerox. This was because it lagged behind in launching such developments due to the presence of existing technology, allowing a rival Japanese company that entered this field as a latecomer to be first. Harada recalls his hands-on experience at that time: “What both the Macintosh and optical semiconductors shared in common, more so than problems relating to the technical development capacity itself, were issues of managerial decision, making it impossible to break away from past experiences of success.” At the same time, he was struck by the thought: “It should be possible to take greater advantage of the sophisticated technical prowess not only of Fuji Xerox, but of such expertize spanning the entire Xerox Group.”

A need for deeper insight

One time, Harada channeled his efforts into cutting the cost of optical semiconductors (a policy subscribed to by the company), and after a considerable struggle managed to reduce its cost. What he found out later, however, was: “The main cause of the high cost was not the development division, but rather stemmed from the manufacturing line design at the production division. Without improvements on that front, it was tough to make broad cost cuts.”

Harada reflects on those days, when he came against such realities: “Even if you keep your attention keenly focused on the technology before your eyes, you will commit serious errors in judgement. I keenly sensed the need for deeper insight and broader perspective in both the business and the company to achieve superior results.” He developed a keen sense of the need to expand his outlook to other fields, even while placing the focus on R&D.

No intention of parting with Fuji Xerox

It was at this point that Harada took advantage of the company’s in-house study abroad program. He decided to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, and study management, technology policy and other subjects. Upon returning to the workplace he resumed his R&D career.

What eventually led Harada to the consulting industry, were the words of a foreign headhunter that he met. During that exchange, he was urged to change jobs to join a foreign consulting firm. The headhunter eventually became exasperated with Harada, who didn’t appear at all interested in the idea, and left their meeting with a sharp parting shot: “This year, you have the option of saying either yes or no. But just remember this – come next year, you won’t have any options at all!”

The comment that, come next year he wouldn’t have the luxury of choosing, stuck in Harada’s mind. He eventually sought the advice of acquaintances employed in the consulting field. He asked those friends about the type of work they were involved with, and conferred about his own career. As they talked, he also made a connection with the areas that crossed his mind during his activities outside the company (contributing to industry and the nation, the importance of multi-faceted perspectives). “At that moment, the feeling of wanting to change careers surged; naturally.”

The work at ADL – three specific cases

Through these developments, Harada came to work at ADL. He listened with great interest to the following comments by the author of Third Generation R&D (a work that was also used in MIT classes when he was studying abroad) who was a partner at ADL in Europe: “I wrote this book from the critical awareness that, for a corporate leader, rather than striving to grasp the technology, it is more expedient to instill a talented engineer with management perspective.” Meanwhile, while Harada has handled a large number of projects over the years, when asked to recollect particularly memorable assignments, he mentions three specific cases.

Case 1: organizational reform

“The first project was in 2000 and involved organizational reform advanced by an automobile company. This was a mission that defined the foundation for generating ongoing innovation as ‘Organization Climate and Code of Conduct.’ At that time, the automobile industry had arrived at a technological crossroads comprising hybrid cars, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) and other developments. This was also a period when innovation in the actual methods of advancing work, based on the use of digital technology primarily by European companies, was beginning to gain attention. Companies were faced with the question of how to deal with this point of inflection in the environment surrounding technology as management. This was a project that began from efforts to work with the management in considering the essence of R&D rooted in a hard look at mega-trends. In addition to products, technology and other ‘results,’ also adopted as the targets of management were the ‘methods of advancing work’ and the ‘organizational climate’ that generate those fruits.”

After that, the automaker steadily expanded its business up until the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the ensuing global financial crisis. Today the company continues to lead the market on the strength of new models armed with innovative technology as their selling point.

Case 2: future vision and new business

“Let’s take batteries as an example. Companies involved in the battery field include manufacturers handling materials, those building electrodes and other products, businesses that assemble those items together into batteries and companies that make the electric vehicles on which batteries are mounted. Furthermore, when likening electric vehicles to storage batteries, it is also conceivable that they will be utilized for everyday lifestyle needs in the home, cities and other venues.

“At ADL, we handle numerous consultations about the forging of future vision and creation of new business, based on projections of the direction in which industry as a whole will move when this series of trends is grasped as a seamless sequence. All such projects have led to work that remains vividly etched in my memory.”

Case 3: the powers of intuition

The third and final example is a project that began from the gut feeling of a company president, who noted: “I have a feeling that the quality of our company’s products has declined of late.” Recalls Harada: “Looking over the data, there did not appear to be any problem with quality. Upon closer examination though, we found definite increases in events that the customer directly sensed as representing ‘trouble,’ problems at the development level that should not have been occurring and other supporting evidence. The president had attempted no detailed analysis, and simply instinctively sensed that ‘something was wrong.’ That impressed upon me anew the importance of broad-based powers of intuition.”

Lessons for selecting a job

There are three key points about selecting jobs that Harada, a man who has built up the extensive career described above, wants to convey to students hunting for work. Namely, choose workplaces where you will encounter sophisticated and challenging work; organizational climates rooted in respect for spontaneity; and environments where it is possible to engage in cooperative high level work with people possessing varied backgrounds and values. “When selecting a job, I feel it is critical to look beyond mere speed, and instead choose a situation where it will be possible to achieve growth in a format effectively secured through depth and balance.”

“The keyword from here on is ‘diversity.’ I am talking about the capacity to accept multiplicity and bring together different opinions and ideas.

“Become able to perform highly intellectually challenging work that will prevent employees from being easily replaced with someone else. Refuse to lock up that capacity within the individual, and instead nurture the ability to develop with diversity. The thinking necessary to define work requires distinctively Japanese concepts and technology - destined to remain in Japan and impossible to imitate overnight in newly emerging countries, and for contributing on the global front. The final point is to avoid selecting a ‘company that will carry you to growth,’ but rather opt for a company that, in the words of a person already working there, ‘I am personally spearheading down the road to growth.’ ”

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Yusuke Harada

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Managing Director
Arthur D. Little (Japan) Co. Ltd.

Completed the Masters’ Course at the Interdisciplinary Graduate School of Science and Engineering, Tokyo Institute of Technology. After going to work for Fuji Xerox, subsequently studied abroad in the United States. In 1994, completed studies at the Sloan School of Management and the Master’s Program in Technology and Policy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

At Fuji Xerox, in addition to research and development, was also in charge of business reform, planning management, technology strategy and operations. Moved to ADL in 1997, where he has primarily provided support in corporate vision, new business development and technology strategies and organizational reform for manufacturers in ICT and electronics, automotive, machinery, industrial equipment, chemistry, and materials. Harada has served many external postings, including a planning and examination member of the Management of Technology Program (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry).

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