Shinobu Ishizuka: 2 Lessons from Japan’s Values-Driven Companies

Amber Johnson Culture


Shinobu Ishizuka connects Japanese and American companies for mutual learning.

Shinobu Ishizuka of LA-based Dyna-Search helps Japanese companies learn management and leadership strategies from U.S. companies.

At the recent Small Giants Summit, Ishizuka shared two stories that can inform  U.S. companies of the way values are changing in Japanese culture and society, and helping companies win in the marketplace:



Use values to transcend differences.

One Japanese manufacturer* recently transitioned into their third generation of leadership, a status worthy of great respect in Japanese culture. The grandson of the founder now runs the company, and discovered he had a unique problem: because he was significantly younger than many of the company’s managers, the managers did not want to follow his leadership.

The CEO saw an opportunity to shape the culture. He began by establishing a dozen corporate values, and then spent time working with team members to ensure understanding of and respect for the values. Now he is able to tell his managers, “We don’t make decisions based on what I say; we make them based on what the values say.”

By using the values to transcend cultural and generational challenges, the company was able to move from a me-centric culture to a we-centric culture, and the CEO developed a team of leaders who were willing to accept values-driven decisions because of a shared identity.

Find the higher level purpose of your company.

Nagano Chuo Taxi earned its reputation for exceptional care during the 1998 Winter Olympics when, instead of going after the lucrative business of tourists, Chuo decided to maintain and even grow their service to the elderly and infirm of Nagano. They gave up short term profit, but got exceptional customer loyalty and long term growth in return.

While most taxi companies might see their purpose is to get customers from Point A to Point B, Chuo’s mission statement includes the charge to “protect the dignity of people.” They do this through warm greetings, intentionally opening the door for clients, and offering an umbrella service on rainy days. They are small acts of great significance for Chuo’s elderly and disabled clientele. As one regular customer wrote to the Chuo leadership, “You give me courage to live, and it only costs me five dollars.”

Reception from customers has been warm, but Chuo has also found the strategy has financial advantages. Their company is nearly twice as profitable as competitors.

*Ishizuka asked that the company’s name not be shared publicly.


Amber Johnson is the Center’s corporate relations advisor, and an advocate for the Small Giants Community.


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