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$20 Billion Company CEO… Takes the Bus

With all the talk of corporate jets and massive bonuses for the CEO's of failing companies, here's a jolt of true leadership inspiration.  Haruka NIshimatsu, CEO of JAL (Japan Air Lines), is featured in this YouTube clip, and there are many lessons.  Perhaps this clip should be forwarded to the likes of Wagoner, Mulally, and Nardelli.  Take two minutes to watch this, then we'll return to discuss a bit.

Great story, eh?  Let's see, here's a CEO of about a $20 billion company undergoing some tough times.  Let's count the leadership examples:

  • He takes the bus to work (and not even a private bus!)
  • He works in a large open office area with his staff
  • He eats in the same cafeteria, standing in the same long lines, as his entire office building
  • When he was forced to cut jobs, he cut "every single one" of the executive perks
  • He slashed his own pay to $90k, less than most of his pilots
  • He understands that "businesses that pursue money first, fail"

True leadership is humble.  How many of you see your CEO, let alone eat with him... or even make more than him?  Do you have the guts to forward this to him?

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16 Responses to "$20 Billion Company CEO… Takes the Bus"

  • Michael Lombard
    29 December 2008 - 1:02 pm

    I’m still overcome with relief that real leadership still exists. If the only “leaders” you ever heard about were politicians and Wall Street types, you’d begin to doubt the continued existence of genuine leaders. Nice to see a CEO so close to the reality of his business.

  • Susan Robinson
    29 December 2008 - 5:58 pm

    Phenomenal post, Kevin! How do you find these things?

  • Louis English
    30 December 2008 - 7:48 am

    I believe in many cases the professional manager has become the blight of American industry. As a professional manager your career and net worth become more important than the business you manage. You do not see yourself as part of the process of making things so you do not pay attention to it and may even fear it. If the business does not meet a professional manager’s financial and career goals these professionals are quick to point out they can go to an entirely different business and get more money and perks and be just as “successful”. This explains the extreme compensation gaps and the incessant focus on pay and perks by American management. It also explains why this same level of management hasn’t a clue as to the power of continuous improvement using the working levels of the organization.

  • Jim
    31 December 2008 - 3:00 am

    Leadership is in short supply, at least in our country. The example that you hold up of one man, Nishimatsu, is one that our finest business schools ought to be highlighting, but probably won’t.

    When did CEOs in America became the equivalent of Roman emperors?

    I work for a small nonprofit, and for the first time in a long time, I have respect for the person I report to where I work. Much of that respect comes from his management philosophy, like Nishimatsu’s, which respects those that labor with (not for) him. He also values the ideas and creativity that those who report to him, bring to our tasks, rather than viewing this as a threat. Maybe that’s why I routinely work 50-55 hour weeks and don’t feel I’m being taken advantage of, since it feels like a partnership, rather than a prison.

  • Tina Steele
    1 January 2009 - 8:36 am

    I just left a school where elitism was coveted at the top with 16 directors and the taxpayers dollars were wasted on a regular basis with trips, expensive dinners, etc. The employees below were paid so much less. It was sickening and I was one of the directors. I was glad to get out of there just for my own self-respect.

  • Edward
    1 January 2009 - 9:47 am

    Reminds me of Mayor Bloomberg of NYC. I might not be a fan of all his policies but he works in an open office and takes the subway.

  • Eric
    3 January 2009 - 6:23 pm

    I think the japanese are working in a team orientation culture as compared to the American who are more individualist culture. Therefore when the ship is sinking the CEO (captain) will die with the crew, will the American corporation is all man for themselves.

  • Manohar Chandrashekar
    5 January 2009 - 5:20 am

    I flew JAL in business class last summer and what a wonderful experience. There is so much humility and caring towards passengers that I was surprised. When the plane is about to leave the terminal, employees of JAL get in line, bow and then wave goodbye. It is truly a sight that reflects culture set at the top. CEO of JAL should be the ones discussed in our business schools and offices. American CEO’s are corrupt, fat and most of them are worthless in my opinion, that is not to say that everyone is like that, however the recent turmoil proves that we in America rank number one for corrupt leaders.

  • LB
    5 January 2009 - 10:01 am

    This is a man to hold as an example for all CEOs, not just the ones running intl. businesses. More power to him!

  • Steven Bonacorsi
    6 January 2009 - 7:23 pm

    Outstanding model of humble Leadership, that is admirable, not because he doesn’t follow the path of many CEO’s who model greed and gluttony, but because he genuinely values being a team member. He maintains his authority as CEO but recognizes his team success is more valuable than individual. Lean Six Sigma applies the team approach to improving business processes, and when you have Leadership that committed to the people, it really does aide in creating a culture of team effort and responsibility.

    Warm Regards,

    Steven Bonacorsi, MBB / Vice President
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/StevenBonacorsi
    603-401-7047
    Skype: sbonacorsi
    sbonacorsi@comcast.net
    http://www.theaitgroup.com

  • Ashay Rajoria
    6 January 2009 - 8:24 pm

    The efforts taken are appreciable, but the more important aspect would have been the direction given by the CEO to take the company out of the crises. I am sure such measures would have been taken.

    It is expected that the CEO’s should be making the strategy and executing it for the benefit of the organization.

    This activity looks a small part of the larger strategy. Leading from the front and firstone to site the example..

  • jmacsvard
    7 January 2009 - 2:49 am

    Ingvar Kamprad (IKEA) acts in a similar way also in “good times”. Stories in Sweden about his 20 year old private car, always flying regular flights in economy class etc…as far as I know IKEA is also doing good as a company..

  • Wendy Chen
    7 January 2009 - 1:01 pm

    It’s really a great story. I think the way Japanese people demonstrate leadership is quite different from others. And yes, “humble” is the great lesson we learn from Mr. Maruka.

  • Rada
    9 January 2009 - 10:02 pm

    I am really not surprised. Since late 80s, I have seen many Indian companies talking about following the Japanese way of management and leadership. I don’t know of any that have actually taken a plunge and become truly values driven. Indian companies have only been able to follow the mechanics of Japanese Leadership without understanding the deeper principles which are linked to culture. Further, a number leaders have talked about this time and again, but seldom have they been able to walk the talk. The problem is that an Indian leader invariably is too stuck to his past behaviour of displaying a lot of agression and anger, not having any patience. Coming out of this is a mammoth task, because he/she may be misunderstood by the followers. Maybe someday better sense will prevail.

  • Bob Patel
    18 January 2009 - 8:25 am

    Wow! There is a lesson to be learned here.

  • Sundar Raj
    1 February 2009 - 7:25 pm

    Wonderful. This is a wonderful lesson to be learned. Thanks for posting such a wonderful example.