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)

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Audio, Why are cross cultural skills crucial for international business with Japan?

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【My business life started improving dramatically
after a cross-cultural training of Japan】

Please enjoy an interview of Ms R, an executive of a major Japanese company in Mexico, who enthusiastically talked about the reasons why the cross-cultural training is a major key to success in international business with Japan.
(By the way, this is my first interview in the audio file!)

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Robots supporting the elders being tested

 

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Pick of the week from Japan, 11 – 15 September

11 Sep. Field experiment of robots supporting the elder

The day may be coming close when robots support a comfortable living with security of the elders. Fujita Health University (Toyoake-shi, Aichi-ken) has just opened a filed laboratory of a small robots for the life support. It is planned to improve the robots integrating the voice of the elder who will have used the experimental ones.

The rapid aging of the Japanese population is known to the world but not known so well that a quarter of the household is inhabited only those who are over 65 years old, of which a half is a single household. Hence robots are expected to support millions of the elders living alone.

Japan has much to contribute to the world. Drawn upon its manufacturing capacity based on craftsmanship coupled with the aging of the population fastest in the world, a robot supporting the elders’ lives is an excellent example.

The aging is a fact of life for everyone. I hope that Japan will find a brand new area of its competitiveness using the country’s resources, including the elders, who have not been valued in society.

  • 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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Pick of the week from Japan, 4 – 8 September

5 Sep. Falling short of night entertainments in Japan? A number of shows being offered to overseas visitors

An increasing number of night entertainment is being offered in Japan in response to demand of overseas visitors who miss enjoyable night life, amid saturating volume of expense by the visitors. A variety of ideas are being put in place, organising drama that integrate traditional arts, or those with simultaneous interpretation. The Government starts pushing forward the creation of tourist attractions, too.

I see it as an import of international habits in Japan. Habit of international visitors motivated Japanese entertainment industries to create variety of night entertainments.

Films, concerts, theaters and other various night entertainment exist and form an industry of substantial volume in Japan. A major problem for international visitors is that almost all are available in Japanese language only and not taken into account the international audience. Although there are some traditional arts that provide comments and interpretation in English, such as Kabuki performances, these are rather exceptions.

The entertainment industry involves various professions and services, such as music, literature, theater management, etc. These will have to be performed taking into account international customers. This will be a substantial change for a homogeneous country such as Japan. The internationalisation of the entertainment business will inevitably spill over to a large number of various services involved in the business. Such kind of grass roots demand for the development of international orientation in domestic business may eventually make the Japanese more outward-looking than now.

  • 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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Are women member of the Diet abandoning their duties if they are pregnant?

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Pick of the week from Japan, 14 – 18 August

15 Aug. Takako Suzuki, a member of the Diet, “I cannot consent” to be accused of duties abandonment, because of pregnancy

A female Diet member who reports the pregnancy is often criticised as the duties abandonment in Japan. Against background that the country has a very small number of women involved in political decision-making process,  some advocate need for maternity and parental leave for the members of the Diet to facilitate women to join in the policy debates.

The ratio of the Congresswoman of the Japanese House of Representatives is 9.3%, and it is the 164th of the world, according to a survey of the Lower House undertaken by an international organization “Inter-Parliamentary Union” announced in July.

It is surprising that there is no official rule of maternity or child-care leave for members of the Diet or assemblies of the local governments in Japan.

It is even amazing that it is not unusual to see some people criticize those women members of the Diet who are pregnant, because “they are abandoning the duties”,

Why do women still have to be criticised because of pregnancy in the country where the gender equality is established in the Constitution?

Good news at least is that women members of the Diet started fighting against those criticism, as Ms Suzuki does. It is a sad reality of Japanese society but one must admit that women must stand up and raise their voices against unreasonable criticisms that block their professional development, even in the 21st century.

  • 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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JR East is acquiring operation rights of a British railway company

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Pick of the week from Japan, 7 – 11 August

11 Aug. JR East to strengthen its overseas business, acquiring operation rights of a British railway company

JR East (a major railway company in Japan) announced that the company had acquired the operation rights of a railroad network of approximately 900 kilos of the central part of the U.K. owned byWest Midlands in cooperation with Abellio, a railway company of the Netherlands and  Mitsui & Co., Ltd., a major Japanese trading company. JR East will be responsible for train operation management and organisation of a railroad diagram for approximately ten years from this December. It is naive that JR East participates in the operation of the railroad service abroad.

JR East has been a part of the state-owned railway company for decades., even since its privatisation and divestiture in 1987.

Now the time for a big change is arriving. Japanese specialists of railway operations will be working for a UK domestic railway company. From one domestic business to another– what a leap it is. This is a fundamental change for the staff transferred to the UK. While there are ample professional skill sets for JR East to bring and apply to operate the British company, the way of doing would be largely different between the two companies.

Exposure to other cultures is the last thing which a domestic giant, such as an ex-monopoly national railway company, would experience.

Globalization is reaching little by little but steadily to the most unexpected companies snd their people in Japan. A number of such events, large and small, will drive the Japanese population to look outside the country as their partners and 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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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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