Murakami Manufacturing U.S.A. Inc. has been hard at work to incorporate both Japanese and American cultures into one business. Over the past two-and-a-half years, its Campbellsville, Ky.-based plant has focused heavily on team building and bridging the gap to create a successful workplace.  

Murakami-Kaimeido is headquartered in Shizuoka, Japan, and was founded in 1882 by members of the Murakami family. “Our early roots began with metallic decorative fixtures that spread into lanterns for the train industry and mirror glass for furniture,” President Michael Rodenberg says. “In the 1950s we were approached by our glass supplier and Toyota Motor Co. to see if we would be interested in doing side-view mirrors for automobiles and that’s how we got started in what is now our core business.” 

Murakami’s plant in Kentucky was built in 2000 and employs about 320 team members who manufacture exterior mirrors for Lexus, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi vehicles. “We pride ourselves on being able to serve a wide range of customers with distinguished brands that require us to always focus on continuous improvement,” Rodenberg adds. 

The first priority of Murakami USA is to have a safe work environment, followed by continuously manufacturing and delivering quality products that exceed customer expectations, Rodenberg explains. The company’s key competencies include injection molding and painting, as well as assembly of key subcomponents and complete exterior mirrors.

Becoming One

Before a standalone operation in the United States could be possible, Murakami needed to mesh two cultures together in Kentucky. “Up until 2011, we struggled like many Japanese companies that come to the United States because of a significant gap in both language and mutual cultural understanding,” Rodenberg says.

The mindset of “If you don’t succeed, try and try again” in the United States doesn’t always translate well in a Japanese company. “We don’t have a fear of failure, but at the same time, we aren’t always the best about attention to details and making it perfect – we get the job done,” Rodenberg explains. “In the Japanese culture, they look at something and say ‘How can we make it better?’ The concept of ‘Kaizen’ or continuous improvement is a very detailed process.” Since coming to Murakami in 2011, Rodenberg’s mission has been to combine the two mindsets. “Once you do that and both sides get it – you begin to experience great things,” he adds. 

When Rodenberg arrived, morale was low, turnover was high and the American management didn’t have full responsibility for the business in their designated roles.  “After identifying the gaps, we began to focus on improving communication between both groups, giving local management the right tools, responsibility and authority to make improvements and allowing coordinators to do their job, which is to teach and guide us to improve the business,” he explains. “The culture in the plant has changed significantly. The management team, which is made up of both American and Japanese team members, is leading the business together and are aware of what needs to be done.”

The “Murakami Transformation,” as the company calls it, changed the mindset of what employees think about the business and how it’s managed. 

Achieving Benchmarks

Data and key performance indicators are now essential components of Murakami’s business operation in determining the most efficient way to run its processes. “There wasn’t a good understanding that you have to run a business based on data,” Rodenberg explains.

Once the data became relied upon and the local management took responsibility for the plant in Kentucky, the Japanese coordinators helped to work lean manufacturing into the daily practices. This helped increase morale among management because it was now also responsible for overseeing these practices.

The plant was primed for efficiency, but Murakami needed to build a solid team and ensure employees had the right skills required for critical positions. “We spent time identifying who those people are, what we are going to do to maintain and develop them, and provide them with a growth path,” Rodenberg says. “It was critical to stabilize that process.” 

To continue hiring local and finding the best team members, Murakami partners with technical colleges and high schools in the area to develop the next generation of mission-critical positions. “We can grow grassroots,” Rodenberg says. “Even though we are in a small community, if we take the right approach we will be able to find and develop team members for years to come.” 

Murakami knows that its transformation is an on-going process.  “We know now that we can try, try again and not fear failure while we pursue perfection,” Rodenberg says. “It is something we must do if we are going to make our vision a reality.” 

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