It was in June 1994 when I met His Royal Highness, the Emperor of Japan. His Majesty had come to visit the Japanese Garden at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and, as director of marketing and communications, I was in charge of his visit. An ordinary guy handling an extraordinary guest.
During that time, I worked closely with a wonderful man named Hiroshi — an advance man responsible for liaison and protocol for the Imperial family. We spent many hours together planning every detail of the visit over much sake and too much sushi. Talking about our professional lives, our families, our time in school, our love of baseball, we became friends very quickly. From him, I learned a great deal about Japanese business customs and cultural traditions. It was from Hiroshi I became enlightened on kyosei.
Kyosei is a Japanese word that can be interpreted as “living and working together for the common good.” Hiroshi explained that for enlightened thinkers, the definition has a grander scope: "All people, regardless of race, religion or culture, harmoniously living and working together into the future." Unfortunately, the presence of imbalances in our world in such areas as ethnic hatred, poverty, illiteracy, trade, hunger, corruption and disregard for the environment hinder the achievement of kyosei. Hiroshi explained there are five stages of kyosei.
· In the first stage, work to secure a predictable stream of profits and to establish strong market positions.
· From this foundation of strength, the company moves on to stage two, where management and labor agree to cooperate by recognizing that both are essential to the company’s success.
· In the third stage, the cooperative internal relationships are extended beyond the workplace to encompass customers, suppliers, community groups, thought leaders, the media and even competitors.
· At stage four, a company takes the cooperative spirit beyond national boundaries and seeks to address global imbalances that plague the world.
· In the fifth and final stage – and rarely achieved — a company urges and inspires its national government to work toward solving global imbalances.
Addressing global imbalance is an ongoing mission for many corporations. Truly global companies must foster good relations, not only with their customers and the communities in which they operate, but also with nations and the environment. They must also bear the responsibility for the impact of their activities on society. One may think globally, but to be most effective, one must first act locally.
Hiroshi also introduced me to the Caux Round Table (CRT), a unique collaboration of international thought leaders working at “moral capitalism.” CRT leaders meet to discuss and influence corporations, institutions and governments in hope of resolving critical issues that affect quality of life everywhere. The CRT was founded in 1986 by Frits Philips, president of Philips, and Ryuzaburo Kaku, president of Canon. These men saw the need for building greater trust between international CEOs and for greater emphasis and definition of the role of corporate social responsibility practices. Kaku brought the kyosei philosophy to the table and it heavily influenced the thinking of the collaborative.
The CRT’s Principles for Business were published in 1994, incorporating western philosophical concepts surrounding human dignity and the Japanese tradition of working for the common good. Kyosei heavily influences the thinking and the programs of the CRT.
For many, kyosei guides a tradition of commitment protecting and preserving the most precious of resources – the world we share, the communities we serve and the lives we touch. Dedicated to these principles corporate leaders can do this through environmental, conservation, recycling and sustainability initiatives. In the boardroom, they focus on transparency and accountability in all fiduciary matters, establishing proactive disclosure in bookkeeping, inventory, logistics, workplace safety, personal dignity and other areas of business administration and management. Many corporations also practice kyosei through human services and educational programs on behalf of young people and people in need – offering charitable giving and volunteerism on a strategic scale with partners such as United Way Worldwide – who just this summer rolled out their new “Campaign for the Common Good.”
I learned much from Hiroshi in the week or so we spent together. He taught me that the Japanese tradition of kyosei strengthens more than a company’s reputation and brand. It works every day to build livable, sustainable and dignified communities where people can make homes, prosper at work and enjoy the joys of family & friends.
Inspired by Hiroshi, I have studied kyosei closely for more than 15 years, examining the relationship of contemporary business and working for the common good. It is the primary reason I now work for United Way – the global brand leader of bringing corporations into the world of community impact work.
As he was soon to board his plane back to LA and then on to Tokyo, we shared a last sake together at the airport bar. It was then Hiroshi revealed his name held a fascinating dual meaning: generosity and prosperity. We toasted to friendship, the ultimate reality of generosity and prosperity. And then he was gone.
This was long before there was ubiquitous email, Facebook, Twitter, texting or LinkedIn, we just never connected again. I truly regret losing touch with a man named Hiroshi.
That long lost friend still inspires me every day through my professional creed and touches my personal brand: generous companies prosper.
Douglas Arnold is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for United Way of Tampa Bay where he directs the strategic marketing that advances the common good through education, family financial security ,vibrant neighborhoods and safety net programs. He contributes to AscendCSR, a business think tank and consultancy. He blogs about many things, including corporate social responsibility and marketing on Twitter @douglasarnold
Douglas will be presenting in a panel discussion at the AMA Tampa Bay luncheon November 10, 2010. The program is on Increasing Brand Loyalty through CSR and you are encouraged to attend. For more information on this panel go to this link at AMA Tampa Bay.