New Search

Kazuo Inamori

Courtesy of Kazuo Inamori
  • Born: January 30, 1932, Kagoshima City, Japan

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0664
Interview Date: April 19, 2010
Location: Kyocera International, Inc., San Diego, California
Interviewers: Thomas R. Tritton, Hyungsub Choi and Richard Ulrych
No. of pages: 135
Minutes: 501

  Abstract of Interview

Kazuo Inamori was born in 1932 in Kagoshima, Japan, which lies on the southern tip of Kyushu Island—the southernmost of Japan’s four largest islands. He was one of seven children. During elementary school, he was a very spirited child who loved science and also showed an interest in the machines that were in his father’s printing shop. When he was in the 6th grade, he contracted tuberculosis. During his illness he read a book by a Buddhist monk, and this sparked his interest in religion. 

During World War II, his family’s home was destroyed by an air raid and the family afterward had to live very modestly. Though he had a scholarship, in order to afford high school and supplement his family’s income, Inamori made and sold paper bags. 

Inamori had high grades in high school in both physics and mathematics. His mathematics teacher, who had previously been the principal of his junior high, was much impressed. This teacher not only persuaded Inamori to continue on with his studies beyond high school, but he also visited Inamori’s parents and convinced them to allow Inamori to go to a university. Inamori enrolled at Kagoshima University, where he majored in organic chemistry. 

Graduating from Kagoshima University, Inamori’s first job was in research and development at Shofu Industries in Kyoto, Japan, where he quickly demonstrated enormous skill. He developed fosterite, the first person in Japan to do so, to serve as an insulator for high frequency radio waves. He then designed the mass production of high frequency insulator components made of fosterite. This led him to invent the electric tunnel kiln, used in sintering, which was then widely adopted in the industry. 

Despite these successes at Shofu, after a strong difference of opinion with his superior, he decided to leave the company. Learning this, several of his co-workers joined him. In 1959, together with seven other colleagues, Inamori established Kyoto Ceramic, which later became known as Kyocera. 

Inamori quickly secured for his company a contract from Matsushita Electronics Industries (now Panasonic), which called for Kyoto Ceramic to manufacture U-shaped Kelcimas (high-frequency insulator components for TV picture tubes). However, worried that his company was too dependent on Matsushita, Inamori sought orders from established Japanese manufacturers. Unfortunately, at that time his efforts did not meet with success, largely due to the Keiretsu (company affiliation) business network system. This led him to seek opportunities in the open markets of the United States. His first U.S. customer was Fairchild Semiconductor, which placed orders for silicon transistor headers. Then IBM placed large-volume orders for ceramic substrates. Inamori continued to develop and refine Cerdip packages and multilayer packages for the U.S. market. Kyocera’s fine ceramics business continued to grow and contributed greatly to the development of the U.S. semiconductor industry. 

To avoid dependence on the semiconductor market, Inamori diversified Kyocera. Initially he turned Kyocera to the manufacture of photovoltaic cells, cutting tools, and bioceramics—all employing fine ceramics technologies. Later, however, through various mergers and acquisitions, he moved Kyocera into other areas—especially the manufacture of electronic information equipment, e.g. laptops, peripheral equipment, and telecommunications equipment. 

When Japan’s telecommunications industry was deregulated in 1984, Inamori decided to establish DDI Corporation (Daini Denden) to compete against NTT (Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation), which up to then had monopolized the Japanese telecommunications market. Not having any infrastructure in place, DDI was forced to rely on microwave communications to establish long distance telecommunication networks.

Several years later, the Japanese government opened mobile communications to competition, and Inamori decided that DDI should enter into the cell phone business. This further contributed to DDI’s growth and evolution. In 2000 DDI merged with KDD (Kokusai Denshin Denwa) and IDO (Nippn Idou Tsushin Corporation, which had been started by Toyota), to form KDDI, which today is the second largest comprehensive telecommunications company in Japan.

In 1984 Inamori also established the Inamori Foundation based on his rationale that we have no higher calling than to serve the greater good of humankind and society. One of the main functions of the foundation is awarding the annual Kyoto Prize, which honors those who have made extraordinary contributions to science, civilization, and the spirituality of humankind.

Inamori has also established the Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio), which awards the Inamori Ethics Prize to those who practice model ethical leadership and have contributed significantly to the betterment of global society and mankind.

In 2010, the Japanese government asked Inamori to take the helm of JAL (Japan Airlines) and reconstruct this bankrupt firm. Responding to this special request, Inamori became chairman of JAL. In this capacity, he has focused considerable effort on educating JAL employees, changing their attitudes toward work and customers, as well as on instilling the ailing airline with his innovative management philosophy. By his actions he has been able to strengthen customer service and has quickly turned around and improved JAL’s business performance.

Inamori attributes his overall success to his philosophy of love and caring. His motto is ―Respect the Divine and Love People. In the end, he gives this advice to global leaders who face many challenges: ―Disregard personal egos and act for the greater good and happiness of humanity based on your conscience.

  Education

1955 Bachelor of Engineering, Applied Chemistry, Kagoshima University

  Professional Experience

Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd.

1959

Established Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd. (present Kyocera Corporation); Appointed to the Board of Directors

Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd.

1966

Appointed President of Kyoto Ceramic Co., Ltd.

Kyocera International, Inc.

1969

Established Kyocera International, Inc., CA, U.S.A.; Appointed to the Board of Directors

Inamori Foundation

1984

Established Inamori Foundation; Assumed Presidency

DDI Corporation

1984

Established DDI Corporation; Appointed Chairman of the Board

Kyocera Corporation

1985

Appointed Chairman of the Board of Kyocera Corporation

Kansai Cellular Telephone Co., Ltd.

1987

Established Kansai Cellular Telephone Co., Ltd. (present au
Corporation—a subsidiary of KDDI); Appointed Chairman of
the Board

DDI Pocket Telephone Inc.

1994

Established DDI Pocket Telephone Inc.; Appointed Chairman of
the Board

Hotel Kyocera Corporation

1994

Established Hotel Kyocera Corporation; Appointed Chairman of
the Board

Kyocera Corporation

1997

Resigned Chairman of Kyocera Corporation; Retained the position of Non Representative Director and appointed Founder and Chairman Emeritus

DDI Corporation

1997

Resigned Chairman of the Board and Representative Director of DDI
Corporation; Retained the position of Non Representative Director and appointed Founder and Chairman Emeritus

Kansai Cellular Telephone Co., Ltd.

1997

Resigned Chairman of the Board and Representative Director of Kansai Cellular Telephone Co., Ltd. (present au Corporation); Retained the position of Non Representative Director and appointed Chairman Emeritus

DDI Corporation

2000

DDI Corp. merged with IDO and KDD; The title was changed from
Founder and Chairman Emeritus to Chairman Emeritus

KDDI Corporation

2001

DDI Corporation changed the name to KDDI Corporation

KDDI Corporation

2001

Resigned Chairman Emeritus and appointed an Honorary Adviser of
KDDI Corporation

Seiwa Social Welfare Association

2003

Established Seiwa Social Welfare Association; Assumed Presidency

Inamori Social Welfare Foundation

2003

Established Inamori Social Welfare Foundation; Assumed Presidency

Japan Airlines Corporation

2010

Appointed Chairman of Japan Airlines Corporation; Assumed special
adviser to the Cabinet

Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.

2011

Japan Airlines International Co., Ltd changed its trade name to Japan
Airlines Co., Ltd.; The title was changed from Chairman to
Representative Director, Chairman

Kyocera Corporation

present

Founder and Chairman Emeritus, Kyocera Corporation

KDDI Corporation

present

Honorary Advisor, KDDI Corporation

Inamori Foundation

present

President, Inamori Foundation

Seiwa Social Welfare Association

present

President, Seiwa Social Welfare Association

Inamori Social Welfare Foundation

present

President, Inamori Social Welfare Foundation

Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.

present

Representative Director, Chairman, Japan Airlines Co., Ltd.

  Honors

1972

The 18th Okochi Memorial Grand Production Prize

1974

The 16th Commendation by the Director of State for Science
and Technology

1979

Honorary Citizen of San Diego County, California, U.S.A.

1984

National Medals of Honor with Purple Ribbon

1984

Foreign Member, Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, Sweden

1988

The Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs, Babson College, U.S.A.

1988

Honorary Doctorate, Science, University of Denver, U.S.A.

1988

Honorary Doctorate, Humane Letters, Alfred University, U.S.A.

1990

Honorary Citizenship of Shilong Town, Dongguan City, Guangdong Province, China

1991

Jason Ammons Free Enterprise Award, Coastal Carolina College, U.S.A.

1995

T. Keith Glennan Lecturer, Case Western Reserve University, U.S.A.

1995

Henry Townley Heald Award, Illinois Institute of Technology, U.S.A.

1995

Honorary Doctorate, Science, Cranfield University, U.K.

1996

Honorary Citizen of Dongguan City, China

1996

Doctor of Humane Letters, University of San Diego, U.S.A.

1997

The 1997 Distinguished Leadership Award in Japan Society of
Boston, U.S.A.

1998

Lifetime of Innovation Award of the International Union of Materials
Research Societies, U.S.A.

1999

Honorary Citizen of Asuncion, Paraguay

1999

Frontiers of Science-Rustum Roy Lecture, The American Ceramic
Society, U.S.A.

1999

John Francis McMahon Lecturer, Alfred University, U.S.A.

1999

Person of the Year, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Japan, Japan

1999

Honorary Doctorate, Kagoshima University, Japan

1999

Visiting Professor, Nankai University, China

1999

Distinguished Lifetime Member, The American Ceramic Society, U.S.A.

2000

National Order of the Southern Cross, Brazil

2000

Honorary Professor, Xinjiang University, China

2000

Visiting Professor, Sun Yat-Sen University, China

2000

Foreign Associate, National Academy of Engineering, U.S.A.

2001

Honorary Citizenship of Guiyang City, Guizhou Province, China

2001

Honorary Doctorate, Science, The Pennsylvania State University, U.S.A.

2001

Honorary Professor, Northeast Normal University, China

2001

Honorary Chairman, the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and Industry

2001

Senior Advisor, China Friendship Foundation for Peace and Development (Inamori-Kyocera Western Development Scholarship Fund), China

2001

Economic Advisor for the Tianjin Municipal Government, China

2002

Concurrent Professorship, Nanjin University, China

2002

Trustee Emeritus, Carnegie Institution of Washington, U.S.A. (Trustee, 1990-2002)

2002

Honorary Consul, Republic of Paraguay

2003

The 2003 Andrew Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy, U.S.A.

2004

Honorary President, Honorary Professor, Jingdezhen Ceramic
Institute, China

2004

Envoy of Sino-Japanese Friendship, China-Japan Friendship Association, China

2005

Honorary Citizenship of Jingdezhen, China

2006

Honorary Doctorate, Engineering, Kyushu University, Japan

2006

Honorary Doctorate, Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, U.S.A.

2007

Herb Klein Civic Leadership Award, U.S.A.

2009

The "Entrepreneur for the World" Award, France

2010

Honorary Doctorate, Kyoto Institute of Technology, Japan

2010

Chairman of the board of directors, Kyoto International Conference Center

2011

International Citizens Award, Japan America Society of Southern
California, U.S.A.

2011

Othmer Gold Medal, Chemical Heritage Foundation, U.S.A.

2011

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science, San Diego State University, U.S.A.

  Table of Contents

Title and Description Page

Early Years 1

Born in Kagoshima, on Kyushu Island, Japan, one of seven children. Father’s printing business. End of Great Depression and devastation of World War II. Competitiveness emerges during career at Nishida Elementary School. Begins to study seriously while in junior high school. Enthusiasm for chemistry experiment. High school brings love of baseball. Bout of tuberculosis awakens spiritual longing; begins study of Buddhist thought. Excels in mathematics and physics at Gyokuryu High School. Wins scholarship for both high school and college. Sells paper bags to pay for schooling and supplement the family income. 

College Years 13

Attends Kagoshima University on scholarship. Majors in organic chemistry, wanting to develop drugs to cure disease, so majors in chemistry. Burgeoning petrochemical industry could also provide job for organic chemist, so he could help impoverished family. Three influential professors. Writes thesis on ceramics, with guidance from Professor Shimada.

First Job Years 16

Accepts job with Shofu Industries in Kyoto, Japan. City prosperous, not damaged by war. Assigned to develop high-frequency insulators using ceramics. Invents tunnel kiln for sintering metal oxides. Develops kiln for Pakistani friend. Thinks of going to Pakistan when trouble with Shofu management surfaces. Instead leaves Shofu.

Beginning Kyoto Ceramics 26

Starts his own company, Kyoto Ceramics, with seven friends who also left Shofu. Persuades Panasonic to be first customer for U-shaped Kelcimas for cathode ray tubes. Competitors already members of keiretsu, so Inamori turns to American market. First customer is Fairchild Semiconductor. Kyoto Ceramics makes headers for silicon transistors. Integrated circuits replace transistors, so Kyoto Ceramics makes CerDIP. Makes ceramic substrates for International Business Machines. Business booms.

Diversification Brings Name Change 53

Solar battery research. Many merger and acquisitions. Begins laptop production, but stops. Company name changed to Kyocera to reflect different products. Twenty-five year anniversary trip for employees.

Expansion Years 70

Japan deregulates telecommunications industry. Kyocera establishes DDI Corporation to compete, using microwave technology. Leads into early entry into mobile telephone business. Competes with IDOfor mobile telephone permits. Inspired by ancient warrior code, Inamori gets regional electric companies to join. Merges DDI with Toyota’s IDO and KDD to form KDDI. Unsuccessful foray into satellite telephones with Motorola.

Philanthropy and Philosophy 105

Motto: "Respect the Divine and love people." Inamori Foundation. The Kyoto Prize is an international award to honor those who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural, and spiritual betterment of mankind. Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University gives Inamori Ethics Prize. Final advice to world leaders is to act for the good of all the world’s people.

Index 108

  About the Interviewer

Thomas R. Tritton

Thomas R. Tritton is president and CEO of the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Prior to CHF, Tritton served as the twelfth president of Haverford College. His academic field is cancer chemotherapy and his work is represented in over 150 publications. Before Haverford, he was a professor of pharmacology for twelve years each at Yale University and the University of Vermont. At the University of Vermont he also served as deputy director of the Vermont Comprehensive Cancer Center and as vice provost of the university. Tritton currently serves on the boards of the Fox Chase Cancer Center, Ohio Wesleyan University, and the Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress. He is also a member of the Corporation of Haverford College. In 2007, before assuming the CHF presidency, Tritton was at Harvard University, where he held the title of "President in Residence" at the Graduate School of Education. He worked with graduate students in higher education, wrote and taught about leadership and the college presidency, and also designed a new course on social justice.

Hyungsub Choi

Hyungsub Choi is manager of the emerging technologies program at the Center for Contemporary History and Policy. His training is in the history of science and technology, with specialties in recent developments in the fields of semiconductors, materials science, and nanotechnology. He has received degrees from Seoul National University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) postdoctoral fellow at the University of Tokyo, Japan.

Choi’s works have appeared in leading professional journals, such as Technology and Culture and Social Studies of Science. Currently, he is preparing a book examining the history of the semiconductor industry in the United States and Japan. He also directs the Robert W. Gore Materials Innovation project.

Richard Ulrych

Richard Ulrych is the director of institutional grants and strategic projects at the Chemical Heritage Foundation.

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@
chemheritage.org
.

Support CHF

Help us preserve and share the history of chemistry and related sciences. Make a tax-deductible donation online.