Hybridising Kaizen with Jugaad
Guillaume Sicard, president of Nissan India on the powerful combination of Japanese foundation and the positive influence of Indian frugality.
It’s all about ‘Give and Take’ from the viewpoint of advantages and challenges for India. Global carmakers have established their presence in India because of the rising importance of this fastgrowing market. India’s growing society, economy and the increased purchasing power of the burgeoning middle class are advantages for this country. India’s bright future is one reason why Nissan is committed to ‘Make in India’. But India is also a complex and exciting market that has many challenges. In this column I’d like to explain what Nissan brings to India as a Japanese company and what we take in from India as a global organisation.
I am French. I grew up in France and have worked in several countries over the years. I was posted to Turkey before I came to India about two-and-a-half years ago. I enjoy observing and absorbing lessons from the various experiences I have had. They shape my personal and professional thinking, and the more experience I acquire, the more it helps me form business strategies. I believe what separates Nissan from our competitors in India is the powerful combination of our Japanese foundation and heritage, and the positive influence of Indian frugality that has contributed to our development in India and overseas.
How Nissan’s Japanese heritage contributes to India (give)
Japanese automobile companies operating in India not only help to build the economy of both countries, but also bring their intrinsic business practices to India. Nissan is at heart a Japanese company.
Based on my experience, I have observed that Japanese people tend to make very analytical decisions. This logical prism tends to be very efficient in business, but it may offer less room for innovative thinking – and slows down the decision process. Moreover, in Japan decisions should emerge from a consensus which often leads to a more conservative decision-making model. Indeed, many say the only surprises that happen in Japan come from uncontrollable forces of nature such as earthquakes! But adherence to structure and fact-based decisions for the Japanese is a national trait that stems from societal norms.
Another ‘give’ from Japanese companies to India is the culture of ‘kaizen’, meaning ‘continuous improvement’. It is also what we call the PDCA – Plan, Do, Check and Act – approach. It is a never-ending circle that is always behind the desire for better performance. When speaking with my Japanese colleagues, as part of my quest to have a little humour in the workplace, I sometimes call it a state of continuous dissatisfaction.
But in Japan, the quest for improvement is a deep-rooted cultural value. This continuous dissatisfaction approach – or looking for perfection approach – is what ensures that we are consistently working towards better quality and performance. Since engineering and manufacturing excellence are at the core of what we do at Nissan, a great deal of the success of our Indian-made cars lies in these global practices that we have brought here.
Kaizen has helped us build our production base, the Renault-Nissan Automotive plant in Oragadam, near Chennai. This plant builds vehicles for both Nissan and Renault, and has exported more than 620,000 vehicles to over 100 countries since inception in 2010. It is through kaizen that we have achieved 90 percent localisation in our cars and helped develop over 200 suppliers. I have seen tremendous progress being made in our operations due to the positive impact of the kaizen mindset.
Another contribution to India is that Japanese automakers have brought their long experience and work culture to India. Take Nissan – we have over 80 years of automotive history and a rich culture of design and advanced technology. We have invested more than Rs 6,000 crore in Chennai to build a world-class manufacturing plant with a capacity of up to 480,000 cars per year. But, more importantly, it is our R&D facility I wish to highlight – we employ approximately 5,000 people, mainly engineers who are focusing on localisation and vehicle development for India as well as for the rest of the world. We have transferred this Made-in-Japan knowledge to our employees in India which has enabled them to make significant global models like the Nissan Micra and Nissan Sunny, and brought about the return of the Datsun brand to the marketplace since 2014.
The opportunity to learn from India (take)
As the leader of Nissan in India, I value the diversity of thought among Indians. I enjoy the emotional and instinctive character of people here. This is a practical characteristic when working in one of the fastest-growing economies in the world among volatile market conditions — you become conditioned to act and react quickly!
On a personal level, what has impressed me most is the vibrancy of the country. There is pervasive energy, enthusiasm and positive thinking. I feel that everyone is saying “Tomorrow will be better than today.” When people are positive about the future, they buy cars! So I think this sentiment of a brighter tomorrow certainly is a very powerful engine for growth and development.
The local penchant for decisions that are based on ‘gut feelings’ or instincts are a quick way to move forward. But that speed sometimes leads to decisions made too quickly, resulting in mistakes or less stability in the organisation. So, the other side of the coin from fact-based, analytical decision making is this kind of charismatic leadership. I have seen this kind of passionate management style; it can be faster and practical – “doing the needful” – when innovation is necessary, and is a handy tool when you are doing business in India, the land of the unexpected.
Another local form of attitude translating into action is the unique ‘jugaad’ approach, which I believe is creative, unconventional thinking which can solve mechanical problems and turn adversity into an opportunity. Jugaad is certainly something that Nissan is leveraging to its global benefit. We have learned from our Indian engineers the kind of manufacturing techniques that we believe is the code to help further understand and grow in emerging markets.
The mixture of work cultures in Nissan India is the basis for its future success. The ‘give-and- take’ model which I have outlined shows how the exchange between two impressive cultures and processes has benefited the development of Nissan as well as the economies of two countries: India and Japan.
What Nissan has achieved in India so far in such a short time would not have been possible without the unique fusion of Japanese kaizen and Indian jugaad. And it is this mix that will further propel our business forward, maximising our advantages to overcome the challenges we might encounter in the years to come.
This exclusive column was first published in Autocar Professional's 12th Anniversary issue. Subscribe to our magazine to get exclusive news, features and analysis.
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