It is widely accepted that, after their defeat in the Second World War, the Japanese were the first to embrace the ideal of ‘business is war’. This means that business uses the ideas of the battlefield and applies them to the world of business.
And it certainly worked for Japan: today, Japan is a major or dominant power in almost every world strategic industry including finance, communications, mass transit, semiconductors, motor vehicles and popular entertainment. The world’s largest banks are all Japanese. The largest record company in the United States is Japanese, and two of the three biggest movie and entertainment companies in the United States are Japanese. Many big companies in the US, like Loews Theatres, Firestone Tires and 7- Eleven, are also Japanese.
In fact, 7 of the 10 largest companies in the world are Japanese. Furthermore, Japan today is the world’s biggest manufacturer of cars, having surpassed the United States in the mid1980s. These were all US-dominated industries 25 years ago.
Believe it or not, this phenomenal success can be traced back to ancient China, in particular a great military general named Sun Tzu. It is reckoned that he lived from around 544 BC to 496 BC in the ancient state of Ch’i.
Sun Tzu wrote the earliest — and still the most revered — military strategy book in the world. This masterpiece is best known to most of us as The Art of War and can be found on the shelves of most good bookshops. Since naming a written work after its author was customary in ancient China, the text was originally referred to as simply ‘Sun Tzu’.
Skilled and experienced in warfare matters during a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Sun Tzu presented his treatise to King Ho-lu of the Wu state. The sovereign was impressed. When asked whether its principles could be applied to anyone, Sun Tzu replied, ‘Yes.’ As proof of his competency and to confirm the principles’ effectiveness, he successfully transformed 180 court women into trained soldiers in just one session.
With Sun Tzu as general, King Ho-lu captured the capital city of Ying to defeat the powerful Ch’u state in 506 BC. They then headed north and subdued Ch’i and Chin. Not surprisingly, Sun Tzu’s name quickly spread throughout the land and among the feudal lords.
How he later lived or died is unknown. However, it was declared that, ‘10 miles outside the city gate of Wu Hsieh, there is a large tomb of the great strategist Sun Tzu’. By the Han dynasty, his reputation as a wise and respected military leader was well known. Considering the countless texts lost or destroyed throughout China’s history, the remarkable survival and relevancy of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to this very day attests to its immeasurable value.
This fact was not lost on the Japanese. Sun Tzu was first introduced to Japan as early as 400BC. Japan’s leaders earnestly applied Sun Tzu to warfare: the samurai would peruse its contents before each battle. They were among the most diligent practitioners of the book’s concepts and came up with their own term to encapsulate its meaning: Sonshi.
I’m sure your business would like one day to be the same size as your average keiretsu (almost all the significant companies in Japan are aligned in one of about six keiretsus or business ‘groupings’. These are loosely linked ‘super-corporations’ for lack of a better term. Most of the Japanese companies whose brands we know and love are in these keiretsus. Several of these keiretsus have been around a very long time (before the Second World War) dating back to feudal-like family-run trading houses. Mitsubishi and Mitsui are two of the more famous ones. Famous companies like Nissan, Toshiba and Sumitomo Bank are all in keiretsus).