(Bloomberg Markets) — Cocooned in the mountains of Nagano, Japan, employees at Ina Food Industry Co. begin the day by tidying the garden around their office and factory buildings. The smell of freshly cut grass perfumes the summer air as loudspeakers pipe out the company song: “… surrounded by the green of pines, showered by the happiness of the morning sun, the gathering of our comrades. … ”
As usual, the company’s patriarch, Hiroshi Tsukakoshi, who turns 83 in October, greets his employees, reinforcing the sense of community and security he’s created over more than six decades of running the business while never cutting a single job. And he doesn’t plan on doing so now, even as the Covid-19 pandemic causes the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Tsukakoshi has told his workforce of 500 or so that all their jobs are safe. Even though sales are forecast to be down about 15% this year, he says, Ina Food’s employees will still get modest annual raises and their traditional summer bonuses. “If a company grows in volatile fits and starts,” he says, “people are increasingly gripped by fear and fret over when they will be fired. You have to maintain incremental growth to keep your people happy.”
That approach to doing business has made Ina Food, which produces a gelatinlike substance called agar from algae, something of a poster child for success in Japan’s low-growth economy. Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp., has toured the company and touts a book Tsukakoshi wrote on management. In the reception area where Tsukakoshi greets visitors, a photo on display commemorates the time Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda stopped by in 2015.
Ina Food represents a sepia-toned, somewhat idealized side of the world’s third-biggest economy—one that offers a dose