Jul 02, 2021


Seconded to a startup.And challenges to reform the organization of DENSO

Creating a corporate culture that enables employees to enjoy their own working style

  • Solution Planning for Smart City DeptNaoto Oki

    He joined DENSO in 2009 as a fresh university graduate and was engaged in tribology component design and development. In 2017, he won the first prize in a DENSO value creation contest, was transferred to the N ew Business Creation Dept., and assigned to a start-up company for the first time in DENSO. He later founded a project and a volunteer group to foster human resources capable of creating new business. In addition to his position at DENSO, he is the CSO of TOWING Inc.

Naoto Oki is not content with the status quo and continues to take on challenges as he moves forward. After winning the top prize in an in-house value-creation contest, he volunteered for secondment to a venture company for a year. Upon returning to DENSO, he worked on business creation and culture reform. He faces himself every day as he confronts various obstacles. How does he define his own principles that he holds dear?

Contents of this article

    Overcoming obstacles, evolving, and discovering my core values through experience at a start-up company, new business creation, and DENSO organizational improvements

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    Ten years after joining DENSO as a fresh university graduate, I was assigned to work for a startup, where I learned about creating new business through on-the-job experience. Now, following my return, I am involved in a wide range of activities to improve the company.

    Although people often comment on how active and energetic I am, what drives me is not only the desire to contribute to others, but also my weakness that I cannot accept myself who have not contributed enough to others. Though I have such a weakness and have hit many walls, I have my own important thoughts.

    These lead me to my next step.

    Driven by a desire to contribute

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    The year 2015 was a tumultuous one for the auto industry, with a major automaker scandal and new entry of software companies to the market. This made me feel nervous, but it also made me realize that DENSO needed to pursue business in new areas rather than just relying on what it had always done, and I wanted to help out the company through my work.

    So, I proposed a new business idea to the company and set out to make it a reality. With the support of fellow associates and others around me who shared my vision, I tried to operationalize the idea seriously, but due to my poor management-related insights and insufficient experience in starting a new business, unfortunately the attempt failed.

    But rather than letting this get me down, I wanted to use the failure to start improving my weaknesses, so I volunteered for reassignment to a start-up company for one year. I gained a lot of experience working alongside veteran managers as I learned the ropes of setting up a new business—including the approaches and know-how of good leaders—and utilized this to launch three new projects there.

    The experience taught me that not only new ideas, but also an organization and its people are very important for starting a new business. This inspired me to focus on organization reforms to create a new business, rather than on creating new business by myself. That’s why, upon returning to DENSO, I began the organizational culture reform to pursue the new business.

    DENSO’s associates have a wide range of knowledge, skills, ideas and approaches in various fields, and my goal was to utilize the knowledge and experience I had gained at the start-up company to break down barriers between different sections of the company and make innovative changes in the workplace culture together with everyone.

    I have some impressive memories in my careers in DENSO. I worked in a very passionate department in which there were no barriers among hierarchy and sections, and all members there tirelessly took on even the sports festival of the company together as one. I have my friends who shared the same thoughts and were always together with me throughout my careers from the value creation contest to the start-up company. I wanted to give back what I gained in my careers to them.

    Of course, I could have quit DENSO and started my own company, but before considering that option I wanted to contribute to my fellows by utilizing my experience in the start-up company, because I valued those relationships. To this end, I founded a project called DIVE, DENSO Innovative VENTURES, to foster human resources who could create new business, as well as the D-CRAFT volunteer organization to help forge interpersonal relationships across organizational boundaries, and these activities are to establish ties between associates who possess strong drive and ambition, and cultivate an in-house atmosphere that encourages people to pursue new business creation.

    Many obstacles remain

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    When I first began to promote the activities, the company and I were divided about the approach. They said I should focus on not the organization reform but the business itself as the mission of the division.

    I realized that my thoughts and experience were not enough to move the company with my associates convinced. It was also necessary to accumulate more achievements and to build the logic acceptable for the people concerned in the company.

    I am now in the Solution Planning for Smart City Dept. to accumulate more achievements and to build up the logic from the company’s perspective, and I aim to reform the organizations for the new business creation on the big stage in the near future.

    While logical approaches and concrete results are clearly important, it’s also vital to provide individualized support for each member throughout the organization.

    I know several associates who have outstanding ability, strong ideas and drive, yet are unable to work in their own way and thus unable to realize their full potentials on the job.
    I’d like to change the organizations to those in which everyone respects each other’s humanity, understand and recognize each other’s personality not as the one of the DENSO’s employee or managers but as the individuals, and as a result everyone will be able to fully use their own skills and enjoy their work more.

    Enabling people to express their individuality in this way will make others want to work with them and do their best when asked. My vision is for an organization that lets people express their individual assets and character based on their own personal values.

    I am gaining new experience every day as I work toward this ideal.

    In order to pursue my work based on my own personal values, I am trying to respond more quickly and ensure I can accept any request. I also try to follow my own principles and values while constantly reflecting them on my efforts and results.

    Moreover, when developing interpersonal relationships, I always identify my own weaknesses and be more open about them to others. A certain person whom I’ve known and respected for some time now said his private weakness without hesitation when we had just met, and I respected that trait. I want to be more like that person, who is able to let my guard down and open myself up to others.

    What I recognize when contributing to others

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    I like connecting and working with other people, and I’m glad when they feel they can depend on me.

    However, I often feel that I’m unworthy when I do not contribute someone. I think that I cannot accept myself because I have not fully let my guard down yet.

    Despite this shortcoming, I have been lucky with well-timed opportunities for growth and new challenges which helped me to overcome failures and obstacles, as well as my fellows who rely on and support me.

    No matter how many times I have made mistakes, I have not stopped contributing to others in my own way, and thus my fellows have empathized me and I can continue to go forward.

    I’d like to continue to taking on new challenges.

    It’s very important to me.


    In order to make his company better, Naoto Oki took the initiative and began learning and training on his own while making contributions to those around him. He proactively shaped his own career by going to work for a start-up company and departments within DENSO. DENSO also felt that it was necessary to improve further, which was why it originally sent Oki to work for the start-up company.

    His powerful, self-motivated, trial-and-error approach toward improving himself, regardless of the environment and conditions, as well as his ability to consider people around him, can truly bring warmth to a corporate culture that used to be rational and somehow cold.


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