Feb 5, 2024


Like a wild warrior, he inspires himself with the words, "If not me, then who?"

Semiconductor Supply Chain Structural Reform Promotion Leader Speaks of His “Aspiration”

Keiichi Kawachino is promoting a project to review the supply chain structure of semiconductors to create an environment where their supply and demand are not constricted, and stable procurement is possible. Kawachino, who has been selected to play an influential role in the future of DENSO as a promotion leader of the activity, talks about the essence of who he is and his outlook, which he discovered through in-house management training.

Contents of this article

    Changing "business practices" throughout the supply chain

    ─ First of all, please tell us about your current work.

    In the Software and Electronics Components Purchasing Div., I am a buyer of ICs and sensors used in electrification systems, thermal systems, and powertrain systems while leading activities to promote semiconductor supply chain structure reform.

    The project has six working groups, and we work on the project throughout the procurement divisions. While primarily responsible for one of these activities, my role is to coordinate the six activities to promote reform throughout the supply chain.

    ─ Please tell us more about your project to reform the semiconductor supply chain structure.

    I believe that the shortage of semiconductors is a major problem in all industries, and naturally, the supply-demand situation is also tight for us, automotive parts manufacturers. The objective of this project is not only to turn around this situation but also to promote "reform of business practices" involving semiconductor manufacturers as business partners and automobile manufacturers as customers, to build an environment that enables stable procurement of semiconductors permanently.

    ─ Could you explain how the conventional business practices worked?

    For example, in terms of ordering, the automobile industry has minimized the amount of inventory by adopting a system to supply "what is needed, when it is needed, and in the amount needed”.
    From the perspective of suppliers, this system meant that the number of orders could not be guaranteed until the very last minute, creating an environment in which suppliers had no choice but to make arrangements on a projection basis for semiconductors, which have a long manufacturing lead time. On the other hand, consumer companies, such as those represented by telecommunications equipment, order large quantities of semiconductors at a time based on medium- to long-term plans.

    Then, under conditions of semiconductor shortages, semiconductor manufacturers are forced to give priority to customers who are committed to placing orders, and the supply of semiconductors for automotive applications tends to be put on the back burner. Thus, the stable supply issues come down to "differences in business practices”. Unless we understand on our automotive industry side the situation of the semiconductor manufacturers throughout the supply chain, we will not be able to achieve stable procurement.

    ─ What are you currently doing to achieve it?

    I have started to reform the entire supply chain by visiting various auto manufacturers of our customers with the cooperation of our sales staff to share and recognize the challenges we are facing in the entire automobile industry.

    In this activity, we must change the conventional way we think of work and approach it. And I think there is significance in our playing a central role in the activity because we are a Tier 1(a direct supplier to auto manufacturers), which deals with a wide range of auto manufacturers.

    ─ Is there anything you keep in mind when promoting the project?

    "I must get results now." That is what I always keep in mind.

    This situation, where the supply and demand for semiconductors are tight, may happen again in the future. To realize the stable procurement of semiconductors in such a situation now is the time to take action to change the "conventions" that we have been sticking to. We must avoid the situation “when pain is gone, it’s soon forgotten.” I would like to optimize the current supply chain and see everyone in this industry happy.

    The reason why he can keep pushing forward.

    ─ Have you been involved in this type of project-based work so far?

    Previously, I worked in the Toyota Sales Div., a sales division for Toyota Motor Corporation, where I also participated in company-wide activities to build a stronger organization against price increases and other variable factors.

    However, I think that I have been assigned to the project for the structure reform of the semiconductor supply chain in the procurement division, I have never belonged to, because I’m the type that goes headlong at what I have decided to do, rather than because I have ever participated in the activities mentioned above.

    ─ The type that goes headlong at what you have decided to do?

    Yes, people around me often tell me that I usually go forward with what I think is right even if it is a hard road, regardless of precedents. Even in my 20s, a client once told me, "You think that you say the most correct thing in the world, don’t you?” I was full of confidence that my perspective was right.

    This personality of mine may seem to be a driving force and a very good thing. However, upon closer examination of myself, I feel that I was driven by feelings like anger and frustration that arise when someone denies what I believe to be right, and that has led me to rush headlong toward my objectives.

    ─ I heard that you participated in an in-house management training program before your transfer to the Procurement Div. What was the training like?

    The project was to create an output by repeatedly discussing a specific issue with several members. Because they were talented and of diverse experiences, they often asked me some severe questions or argued strongly against me. I felt many times that I was immature as I faced various ideas and perspectives in their opinions. In a good way, my pride was humbled.

    And I was impressed the most by the phrase of my members, “You always take it all on yourself”. Indeed, I had been aware of it, but it was the first time someone had told me that.

    I did not have the flexibility to listen to the advice of others, and even if I could not do something myself, I did not ask others for their opinions or let them do it for me. I may have been rather reluctant to do so.

    Through this training, I have had many conversations with my colleagues, and this has helped me realize my true self, which I had not been able to see clearly.

    Acknowledge the fear of failure and push beyond the boundaries.

    ─ You must have realized many things through the dialogue. Were there any other lessons learned or memorable words in the training?

    The training program included opportunities to have our output critiqued by external managers. I think that a manager helped me expand my boundaries through his words there.

    He said,” It is a mistake to cheat your mind by enduring something. If you have your principles, you are sure to conflict with others. Challenge it, make positive mistakes, and learn from them. If you have set your limit low because you are afraid of failing, then you are failing.”

    I may look strong for people around me. But it’s the opposite. My true self is a tremendous "jumpy, wimpy guy”. I am afraid of failing. When I faced difficulties, I tried to get through them by enduring them on my own, cheating my fears, and "rushing in" to put it all together.

    The words were unforgettable with strong pain because I felt as if they got to the core of my weakness of being afraid of failure.

    ─ Do you feel that your behavior has changed after completing the training?

    Once I realized that it's okay to be afraid of what I'm afraid of, I felt much better, and I was able to share with those around me the problems I thought I had to deal with on my own.

    I used to take action after I had given myself some answers, but now I can honestly think that I would like to listen to others’ opinions first before proceeding to the point of certainty. I feel that this training was an opportunity for me to take off a kind of armor that I had put on myself.

    In the past, I used to intervene as a player even in team efforts where each member took the initiative, but recently I have been trying to leave it to the members and support them in their roles.

    I want to overlap my work with my fulfillment and make many people happy.

    ─ I think that the experience you gained through the training program has helped you to tackle the difficult task of structural reform of the semiconductor supply chain. Can you tell us about your future goals?

    First, I would like to lay the groundwork for partnerships with semiconductor manufacturers. And I would like to change the way of partnership among the three parties, including DENSO’s customers. I believe that it is indispensable for someone from DENSO to take the initiative in listening to the opinions or thoughts of semiconductor manufacturers and our customers to organize a partnership in the future. So, I would like to take the lead in creating such a new system as one of my challenges.

    ─ I feel your strong enthusiasm for taking the initiative in thinking about the future of DENSO. Do you feel that you are getting closer to your vision of what you think a leader should be?

    I am not quite there yet. It is not easy to change my character of rushing headlong even if I fall. I believe I have learned the importance of relying on others, but my weakness sometimes appears. I feel that I lack enough sense of responsibility and determination to "realize what I want to realize with my own will”. Conversely, I have not overlapped what I want to realize at work with my self-actualization yet.

    ─ So, you mean you are now trying to overlap what you want to realize at work with your self-actualization. What inspires you when you are troubled?

    One is to agonize over "what kind of future awaits DENSO if I don't do this," and to have a sense of urgency about it again. I start my mental engine again with a sense of responsibility that the future of DENSO depends on me.

    Another would be the feeling that work is about making someone happy. My work at DENSO is connected to the happiness of the immeasurably many people in immeasurably far places. It's such a huge scale that we don't even know how many thousands of kilometers radius away it is.

    This is not a job that can be done at any given time, nor is it a job that everyone can do. Because I have been allowed to do such a job, I can tackle them like a wild warrior, inspiring myself with the words, "If not me, then who?" and it may act as a stepping stone to developing a stronger will of my own.

    Also, looking back, I have had no experience of really working hard since my childhood. I haven’t had any proud experience of doing my best, even studying for entrance exams. So, when I started working, I set my mindset to “I will do my best at work”. Even now, I still want to have something to be proud of. Because I have begun to see my path forward now, I am sure that these thoughts will provide solid support as I continue to take on further challenges.

    *The contents presented in this article are as of September 2023.


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