Employees who never stop learning are our source of innovation, Bühler Group, Switzerland

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I have learned from a friend of mine familiar with Swiss industries that there is a company that sends young apprentices of 15 to 16 years old to China for six months. (Note for Japanese readers: “Apprentices” is a part of professional training system unique to Switzerland. They are not employees of a company but students of professional schools. They work in a company, which provides on the job training for 3-4 days a week. They thus obtain professional skills on the shop floor through work.)

This company sends apprentices to overseas for as long as six months, though they are not its employees. What company is it?

Those personnel who carry on international business are indispensable for the Swiss industries as they largely address the markets worldwide. It is also true that the industries owe much on personnel for innovation, for which Swiss companies incessantly strive to stay competitive in the international markets.

That said, why does this company invest that much to grow its personnel? What is the management philosophy behind?

With these questions in mind, I interviewed Mr. Dipak Mane (Photo), Director of Global Human Resources of the company, Bühler Group (https://www.buhlergroup.com/global/en/home.htm).

 

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mr.dipak mane

What company is Bühler?

Founded in 1860, Bühler continued developing over more than 150 years as a family-owned company.

Based on the original strength of iron casting and roller mills based on the iron, the company developed to become the first-class company in the world markets for the its excellent technologies. During the course of development, Bühler steadily enlarged its business areas to include those areas related to its core competence of iron casting and roller mills.

“The company presently provide machines and solutions indispensable for food industries, ranging from raw materials such as grains, rice, cacao and coffee to medium- to end-products, and livestock feed (Source: https://premium.ipros.jp/buhlergroup/). Bühler further extends its business edge to support sustainable mobility and the total solutions to ensure production of the healthy food.

What are policies of the HR department to ensure competitiveness in international markets?

Two things are most important. One is the sense of purpose, i.e. to be always conscious with the purpose of technologies. The sense of purpose has been the spirit of our company since its birth. To serve this purpose, we have been investing 4 to 5 per cent of turnover in R&D.

The second important thing is the profit.

We must hold these two things together.

The family-management enables to maintain these two essential points. Top managers may manage the company in line with their own management philosophy and make decision swiftly without interference by external stakeholders.

The HR policy is to put the management philosophy into practice. The purpose of Bühler’s HR policy is to maintain employees motivation high. Those are people who always improve their skills and knowledge and who are interested in doing better job all the time. Such employees continue self-improvement all the time by participating in training opportunities. In this sense, our company is a training company, such as a university.

We invest much in trainings. One per cent of Bühler’s personnel costs is spent in training and we plan to raise it to two per cent by the year 2020. In Swiss Francs, the investment is about 6 – 9 billion Swiss Francs per year.

One employee takes 1,85 days of training per year. We plan to increate this number to be 2 in the year 2020.

As for apprentices (those young women and men of 15 and 16 years old) who just stepped in the professional lives, Bühler has a history of 100 years of their trainings. The total number of the apprentices we trained adds up to 7,700.

We started an overseas training program about ten years ago. About 600 apprentices who come to work in Bühler every year are sent to various countries as a part of the training program. One half of them stays in Switzerland and the other half go abroad, such as Austria, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

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Bühler’s young apprentices in China

What are reasons of such a HR policy? What do you think of a risk that those employees who obtained higher skills and competence may leave the company for better salary?

Our CEO thinks that we would have to keep a number of employees with low skills and competence who may not leave the company, if we do not provide them with training opportunities.

In fact we see positive results. An employee retention rate of Bühler is as high as over 73 per cent. One thousand apprentices out of those who came to the company for training join Bühler as formal employees.

We witness significant results in the young people who leave their hometowns to meet the new people in other countries with different cultures.

In general terms, many people wish to stay in the company that provide trainings, as they may improve their competence and obtain new skills such as management. Young apprentices watch during their training period how long-lasting employees develop themselves, and project their own future over the elder workers. This makes the young to wish to continue working in Bühler.

What does the company obtain from this unique training?

We obtain the diversity and inclusion (D&I), which are indispensable for innovation. Bühler has a built-in system for people with a wide variety of background to work together.

Though it is surely a large investment to send apprentices to overseas locations for several months, the return is huge. The young learn through their day-to-day work cultures, languages and the market needs.

We not only send apprentices to overseas. We also provide an online program for them to stay in touch with the Swiss Headquarters during the overseas training period. It is a remote sit-down training based via video conferencing (ClassUnlimited). The program is available starting from Switzerland and China to become available in other countries.

Such a training lies in the centre of the company. Apprentices obtain skills and leadership in order to brush up the sense of purpose.

We do not expect a return on investment (ROI) in the short terms, because it is our belief that the smart employees are the core resource of a company.

We always seek ways to improve competence of employees. Means to do so is not limited to trainings.

We are aware that training is a long-term investment and continue increasing the variation of the training.

It should also be noted that those who enjoy benefits of trainings are not limited to a small number of employees who are expected to take senior management positions in the future. It is Bühler’s management philosophy that we address all the employees for trainings.

In what ways would HR department contribute to the innovation?

The birth of innovation requires a certain ecosystem, or a chain of various factors. The HR department is an integral part of the eco system of innovation. For example, the HR provides the office environment that enables employees to communicate better with each other, encouragement of collaboration with Universities, and sponsor some research programs in Universities.

In Bühler, we organise an innovation competition participated by 2,000 employees worldwide. This means 15 per cent of all the employees participate in the competition.

We must find those needs which market has not yet found. Our Chief Technology Officer (CTO) always tells us that 99 per cent of knowledge is outside the company. We must continue looking for good ideas all the time. For this purpose, we will continue working with those outside the company, including start-up companies.

What kind of company would Bühler want to be in the future?

We want to see Bühler for which employees want to work most in the world. Young employees know well what such as a company is all about. They wish to work for a company that has social purposes. They want their company contribute to something that help people, such as to alleviate adversarial consequences of the climate change, etc. Social contribution is Bühler’s tradition. We wish to continue investment in R&D. Going beyond Industry 4.0 is only a part of the company’s future.

We want to see Bühler running the top of the industry worldwide.

One example of our contribution is a new innovation centre, Cubic innovation centre (Photo), to be open in February 2019. We invested CHF 65 million in Cubic. Cubic is a contribution to the industry. We have been organising an event called, “the Networking day”. The event is to open factories to people from outside. We will be able to invite the public all the time after the opening of Cubic.

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Cubic innovation centre

Notes by the author

We know that people are essential resources of a company but rarely see the one like Bühler that provides opportunities for the young apprentices to experience the world and for all the employees life-time training programs. This would surely create employees with eyes wide open and who may produce products, systems and services with the sense of purpose.

It is said that Diversity and inclusion (D&I) is essential for the innovation. Bühler proves this is true. The company’s success in the innovation owes highly motivated people with diversified knowledge and background, and an environment that enables them to work together.

  • The article is originally prepared in Japanese for News Letter published by Swiss Business Hub Japan, Tokyo, Japan, December 2018

(Photos provided by Bühler Group)

広告

Dutch formality in Japanese eyes

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【This wouldn’t happen in Japan】

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Please take a look at the photo below. This is the shot that impressed me most during my stay in a conference held in the suburbs of Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

The session was attended by Professor Geert Hofstede, who is well known to the world for his work of the Six Dimensions of the National Cultures. His theory is taught as the basis of international management in business schools worldwide. He is the man on the right side in the photo.

Inviting the great Professor, the session must be formal, at least if the same happens in Japan.

This was not at all the case the Netherlands in my Japanese eyes.

Amazing point 1: Do you see a red package at the bottom of the lectern? This is the gift for the Professor just passed to him a few minutes ago. As the gift is heavy, the MC of the session (the lady in the middle of two men in the photo) took it from him and put here.

I knew she did it for kindness but couldn’t believe it. In front of the distinguished Professor, putting the gift for him on the floor? If it were in Japan, she would have carried the gift with both hands in respectful manners and put it on the distinguished cushion placed on a side desk prepared for this purpose.

What amazed me more was the fact that The Professor was not upset at all. Look at how calm he was in the photo.

Amazing point 2: The second gentleman from the right in the photo is a senior executive of IBM BeNeLux. He was a keynote speaker of the session. He was dressed in jeans in such a session in front of the great professor!

I know I was looking at this scene in the Japanese value set.

I know I shouldn’t judge the Dutch culture applying the Japanese criteria.

It’s a great fun to see in what ways attitude to the power and authority appears in different countries.

I enjoyed the relaxed Dutch ways!

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Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 provids an opportunity to raise interests in foreign countries for Japanese children

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Pick of the week from Japan, 17 – 21 July

20 Jul. Learning world national flags and anthems in a class in connection with Tokyo Olympic Games, in a junior high school in Tokyo

Leaning the national flags and anthems worldwide leads to awareness of the world diversity — based on this thoughts, a class was held to learn world national flags and anthems in Oshima Nishi junior high school in Koto-ku, Tokyo (the number of enrolled students 385). The class was a part of “the world friend project” promoted by the Board of Education of Tokyo. The project is intended to provide impetus to learn the countries in the world before the Tokyo Olympic and the Paralympic Games will be held inTokyo in 2020.

Japanese society is still homogenous compared with European countries. People have limited opportunity of direct interaction with foreigners. It is a good idea to use Tokyo 2020 event to give opportunity for children to raise interests in foreign countries.

For majority of the Japanese, it goes beyond imagination to know that having more than two passports are legally allowed in most of European countries, over 25 % of population in Switzerland are foreigners, meaning those who do not have Swiss passport, or I can walk over national border between France and Switzerland in the woods outside my village.

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  • The news items referred here are picked up from “Asahi Digital”, and translated by Europe-Japan Dynamics. The cited titles or articles are not an official translation by the Asahi Newspaper.

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Would joint-economic activities in Northern Territories be the first step for Japan to build a way to wisely live together with its neighbors?

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Pick of the week from Japan, 26 – 30 June

27 Jun. Departure of the group for site investigation for the Russian-occupied Northern Territories, looking into possibility of joint-economic activities

A public-private joint investigating group to move forwardjoint economic activitiesin the four northern Islands left Nemuro-shi, Hokkaido by boat on 27th of June. The group will visit  three islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan until July 1. They will investigate a way to develop businesses in three areas of “fishery and food processing”, “energy and infrastructure” and “Tourism, real and medical services”.

It is a good idea to pursue economic solutions that would benefit both Japan and Russia.

The Northern Territories have been over dispute between the two countries since the WWII. While there has been sensitive power politics involved, this is a high-level story. People on the ground needed industrial and social development, as well as means to benefit from the rich resources from the sea.

The national border has been an absolute barrier for the Japan as the country is surrounded by the sea. The sea protected Japan from foreign invasion for centuries, while kept Japan isolated from the rest of the world at the same time.

Those days are gone.

One can easily travel over the sea by airplanes. One enjoys information exchange over the Internet without traveling over the sea.

It’s time for Japan to learn how to better live with neighboring countries.

In this regard, the Japanese have much to learn from Europe, especially small countries. The Europeans, especially those in small countries, know how to live with strong neighbors well having learnt from the history.

For example, the Canton of Geneva is surrounded by French territory by 80% of its border. Geneva is connected with the rest of Switzerland for only 20% of its Cantonal border. Naturally about 70,000 people commute to Geneva from neighboring France everyday. These people are called “Frontiers”, are granted with their proper work permit  and have a special tax status.

In terms of politics, national boundaries are soft in Europe. Boundaries have been changed over centuries. They are never solid iron walls.

It is often economic benefits that softened boundaries, the EU a typical example.

It is time for Japan to learn how they may benefit from the region by sharing benefits with its neighbors.

  • The news items referred here are picked up from “Asahi Digital”, and translated by Europe-Japan Dynamics. The cited titles or articles are not an official translation by the Asahi Newspaper.

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  • Interested in our cross-cultural trainings, coaching and consulting to move forward business with Japan? Please talk to us.

How can a non-native English speaker be a Grammarian at a Toastmasters Club meeting?

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【I defined my role as a Grammarian】

“I’ll take a Grammarian’s role next time.” —   I came to know that I had encouraged other non-native English speakers, when two people said it to me after the meeting of Geneva International Toastmasters Club tonight. It was an unexpected surprise!

I was a Grammarian of a Club meeting. Grammarian however was the last role I would take. I thought I couldn’t do it.  “How can I correct English grammar being non-native speaker?”

I however did it tonight.

I set my challenge to be a contributor of the meeting in the way I can. I’m not the right person to correct English but there must be something else I can do well.

I redefined the role of a Grammarian.

I  listened to each speech & evaluation carefully and thought in what way I could help the speakers.

I picked up good expressions and sentences that gave life to the speeches. 
After the meeting, I found my evaluation by Christina as a Grammarian super! It went far beyond my expectation.

Why did it happen?

I concentrated in listening to the speeches tonight. It was the only way to pick up good points and share them with the meeting. Concentration allowed me to notice good expressions.

It was respect to all the speakers to listen each speaker very carefully. Every one in the meeting room got what worked well in my comments.

I didn’t have to be afraid of doing bad, being a non-native English speaker.

There is always a way to utilize my resource to help others.

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Japanese business culture for international students

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I delivered a class on Japanese business culture to a group of international students studying marketing in a course lead by Professor Masahito Toriyama at Graduate School of Management, Ritsumeikan University.

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In the class, I introduced a method of case exercise based in a real issue. This was a trouble between a Japanese client and an Indian information technology system developer.

Though the Japanese business culture was not a major theme of the students, they did good discussion on the questions associated with the case and reached excellent solutions; such as “I’ll put myself in the Japanese customer’s shoes”, “I’ll make it a habit to talk to my subordinates much more frequently so that our communication will go well.”, etc.

The students deepened their own thoughts through discussion. What a wonderful ability they have!

The real business is full of questions without one correct answer. This even is the case when people having different cultures work together, i.e. the international business. I found that the case exercise was useful to develop a mind-set to look into these questions and find creative solutions that will allow 1 + 1 = 3, 4, 5 … This is the power of discussion, or collective thinking. This attitude is essential for us to benefit from society where a large variety of people live and work together, or diversity in society.

Please find here for your information a power point file used in the class.

Note: The case used here is cited from “Case exercises for business communication, collection os the cases” by Kondoh,Kim et al. (Koko Publishing, 2013).

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Amazing Japan! (1) No one takes it away

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I stayed in Japan for a few weeks in Dec. 2016 – Jan. 2017 and come across some amazing scenes. I’m noting them here to share my surprise with the readers of my blog, who’d be interested in knowing more about Japan. Please enjoy!

Do you know what’s going on in the snapshot below?
This is the scene I saw on the top floor of a major department store in Ginza, a major shopping district in the middle of Tokyo. A group of three people grabbed a table, left their bags to signal that someone has taken this table, and they went away to buy coffee.

I just couldn’t believe it.

This would not happen in Europe. If it does, someone would take the bags away in a moment.

How safe Japan is and how trustworthy Japanese people are!

銀座三越の最上階、フリースペースで信じられない光景を見ました。ここに休憩に来た3人組の人々、荷物をテーブルにおいてさっさとコーヒーを買いに行ってしまいました。こんなこと、ヨーロッパでは、まずあり得ません。
こんなことしても、荷物を誰かにとられる心配のない日本、安全なんですねえー。

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