The Spiritual Foundations Underpinning
Kansai Paint’s Business Operations
Our Founders: Katsujiro Iwai and Nagaoka Zen Juku (Private Tutoring School)
Kansai Paint was founded by Katsujiro Iwai in 1918. Katsujiro Iwai was born in Kameoka, in the outskirts of Kyoto, in April 1863. During his childhood, the modernization of Japan finally got underway through the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Before that, Japan had passed through a long period of feudalism.
Early in his life he left his hometown to live in Osaka, where he began his career as a merchant. He was mostly self-educated, acquiring business skills and foreign languages all by himself. However, his parents gave him words to live by. His father taught him: “Become a human being who benefits the nation.” His mother taught him: “You must bear all difficulties, no matter what.”
During his youth, Japan was an extremely poor country in comparison to developed countries in Europe and the United States. Japan based its industrial policy on importing products and raw materials from foreign countries, processing them, and exporting the finished products. Katsujiro Iwai was originally a trader. However, he understood that only importing foreign products would not be of much benefit to Japan’s development. He wanted to create Japanese-made products that were as good as foreign ones. To achieve this ambition, he invested the profits he earned through trade into founding six manufacturing companies, including Kansai Paint.
The foundations of his business emphasized both morality and public-spiritedness, based on his belief in the necessity of pursuing both profit and the economic development of society at the same time. To carry out this business philosophy, he had to undergo many bitter ordeals. During the turbulent decades of the 1920s and 1930s, many of his businesses were on the brink of being swept up in nationwide panics, and Kansai Paint was no exception. Many companies were closed down and withdrew from business. Katsujiro Iwai maintained an unwavering belief that businesses should never swerve from their course in pursuit of temporary gains or because of temporary problems.
During those trying times, his faith in Zen supported him. The ultimate goal of most Buddhist philosophy is said to be to gain spiritual enlightenment about life and death. The key characteristic of Zen Buddhism, however, is to gain enlightenment through a practice called Zen meditation. Katsujiro Iwai made constant efforts, through Zen meditation, to carry out his business philosophy and stay focused on his main mission. He practiced meditation whether he was busy or not. In later years, he arrived at the belief that good human resources are the core of business, and that the more spiritual and mental training a person has, the better business manager he becomes. Believing that Zen training can form personal character, in 1933 he invested a large amount from his private fortune to establish Nagaoka Zen Juku (private tutoring school) in the outskirts of Kyoto.
Today Kansai Paint has a large number of employees, commands unmatched engineering and development capabilities, and supplies desirable products world-wide. However, the real defining trait of Kansai Paint is more than just its products and technology. Rather, it is something invisible to the naked eye, something that stimulates employees, enhances products, and improves skills.
What is that? It is a business philosophy rooted in the morality on which Kansai Paint’s founder based his life. As such, it is a legacy that lives and is practiced even today. He always said, “If your opinion will benefit the Company, then state it frankly, regardless of your position within the Company.” He thought that a company was truly democratized when each and every employee who constitutes the Company could state his views, bringing in a breath of fresh air. The more open a company is in this way, the more vitality its employees have. That was Katsujiro Iwai’s thinking.
This approach is now deeply rooted in Kansai Paint. In fact, it is a fountainhead of the Company’s corporate culture. To this day, our employees continue to express themselves – a tribute to the inspired thinking of the Company’s founder.