Part of our DNA Nurturing the Next Generation
Long after one's official work at Komatsu ends, the company's founding spirit of commitment to community growth lives on in each employee and the lives they touch.
Komatsu's founder, Meitaro Takeuchi, established the company nearly 100 years ago in Komatsu City, Japan, to sustain area residents dependent on the depleted Yusenji Copper Mine he previously managed.
Inspired by the leading-edge technologies he saw in Europe, Takeuchi began focusing his efforts on developing industrial technologies and the resources to create them, locally.
He knew the importance of education," said Akinori Maeda, who worked at Komatsu for 42 years. "He knew the Yusenji Copper Mine would eventually be depleted, and he had a vision of what to do - how to move society forward."
Akinori Maeda, who retired from Komatsu in 2004 and now volunteers at the company's Komatsu-no-Mori site for children and families, said he and other retirees feel a connection to Takeuchi's vision through their work teaching local children about science and nature.
"Our motto is to teach children while we enjoy ourselves," said Susumu Yoshida, who retired from the company in 2000. "We use the site's Genki-Satoyama nature preserve to help knowledge take root."
Ranging in age from 65 to 93, the members of Yoshida's Komatsu retiree group are all connected in some way through familial ties. Yoshida's father worked at the company, and now his son is also "a Komatsu man."
These close family and business connections are common in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan; home to Komatsu-no-Mori, the KOMATSU Way Global Institute and the company's manufacturing plants in Awazu and Kanazawa.
To see these connections continue to grow and thrive nearly 100 years after Komatsu's origin is a fitting tribute to Takeuchi, who founded Komatsu Ltd. with a passion for developing people.
"We have grown with the company," said Junji Kawasaki, head of the Kushi neighborhood district association. "Community and company growing together. From the viewpoint of human development, Komatsu is fulfilling that connection to the founding principles. Person to person, an exchange is built."
As set forth in The KOMATSU Way, the company's guiding principles handed down through generations, the core of Komatsu's founding philosophy includes contributing to the sustainability of local economies through technology development and job creation.
For Masayuki Itao, the president of Itao Iron Works, a Komatsu supplier, the company has been influential in both aspects. Itao's grandfather and father both worked at Komatsu before founding and incorporating, respectively, Itao Iron Works. Itao went through a three-year Komatsu training program at the company's Osaka plant, during which he and the other trainees "received a lot of support from senior members of Komatsu," he said.
Learning about process management, machine engineering, sales and production systems "laid the foundation for the rest of my career," Itao said, "Komatsu has a real commitment to training its employees."
Some of the people he was in training with went on to become the next generation of Komatsu leadership, who he then continued to work with through his work at family's company.
"Having colleagues and business associates that started at the same time as me and went through the same training has been very valuable," Itao said. "We share the same mentality."
It's a mentality that relies on the Monozukuri spirit essential to Komatsu. Though it literally translates as "manufacturing," Monozukuri encompasses teamwork activities performed by all members of the Komatsu family, including internal divisions and external partners. It includes the wisdom collected and shared by all.
"In order to maintain quality, it's important to learn from senior members," said Tadahiro Naka, who spent 50 years as a welder at Komatsu before retiring. He now instructs high school students, teaching them the welding trade senior members of the company taught him.
"I succeeded in this business because of the enthusiasm from older generations," he said. "Those who are motivated can learn quickly. I was told, 'Don't fear making mistakes. The gemba should always be the best place to improve.'"
Though technology has changed significantly over the years and the welding shop he once ran at Awazu is now automated in some areas, the wisdom collected from years past remains invaluable.
"There are robots doing some of the work now," Naka said. "But it is indispensable to still have the basic understanding of how to do things. It enables the best use of cutting-edge technologies."
The desire to share Monozukuri learning inspired Kouji Orimoto, who retired from Komatsu in 2009 after 45 years at the company, to start offering free science classes for children at Komatsu-no-Mori. Starting in 2011 with 20 retirees, Orimoto and his peers each came up with topics they could teach and developed a curriculum.
Classes are held at the Waku-waku Komatsu Kan, a recreation of the company's original head office building, which features classroom space upstairs, and a children's museum and play area below. The facility was built at a former Komatsu plant site, in honor of the company's 90th anniversary in 2011
"We want the children to work at Komatsu someday," Orimoto said. "Through Monozukuri learning we share with them about quality, reliability and manufacturing craftsmanship."
An average of 240 students in grades 3 through 6 attend science classes at Komatsu-no-Mori each year. They recently added an advanced class for select 5th and 6th graders. The program's retiree instructors also volunteer at other schools approximately eight times a year.
In advance of a Japanese educational mandate set to take effect in 2020, the Komatsu-no-Mori instructors also started coming up with ways to teach the children about programming.
They use basic models of the company's hydraulic excavators and mining trucks that students can program to move; incorporating Komatsu's end products with foundational learning.
For Mr. Yoshida, getting the chance to nurture the next generation at a place where the original Komatsu factory once stood has a certain romance to it.
"We want kids to come and be interested in science and nature," he said, "to blossom.