Former Japan Airlines CEO Reminds Us Of What a Great Boss Should Really Be Like

nishimatsu

Once in a while, employees, entrepreneurs and CEOs alike could use a reminder of what a real business leader looks like.

A dusted-off CNN video from 2009 highlights Haruka Nishimatsu, the then-CEO of Japan Airlines. Nishimatsu was a real boss — and maybe that word has lost some meaning over the years — but in this case it references a leader who fights alongside his troops in the thick of battle. The video says it all:

Nishimatsu wasn’t some elite exec who wore suits that cost more than his employees’ monthly salaries — he bought his suits at a discount store. He took the bus to work — no private chauffeurs there. He worked in an open office with his employees where everyone had access to him. He waited in line for food, paid for his meals and ate his lunch in the cafeteria with his employees so they could share ideas and ask him questions.

But in 2006, Japan Airlines began suffering financial hardships despite being Asia’s leading airline in terms of revenue. Nishimatsu knew that cut-backs and layoffs would be necessary, so he chose to eliminate all of his corporate perks as a CEO to start.

When Japan Airlines eventually had to lay off employees and force others into early retirement, Nishimatsu took a pay cut that had him earning less than the company’s pilots made — in 2007, Nishimatsu, the then-CEO of the world’s tenth-largest airline, made only $90,000.

When his company and his employees suffered because of hard financial times, he decided to live with the same hardships, because a real boss lives and works in the same boat as the people they are responsible for.

Nishimatsu was known for believing that businesses (and people) who pursue money first fail — a belief popular in Japanese business ethics and practices. Leaders are supposed to sacrifice and share work with his employees. If a customer had a problem with the company’s service, Nishimatsu believed they should blame the person in charge.

Another lesson U.S. companies may one day be forced to follow regards the pay gap between its leaders and employees, which is much smaller in Japan. To give you some perspective, McDonald’s soon-to-be ex-CEO, Donald Thompson, raked in at least $9.5 million if you include his bonus and stock option awards, according to Salary — the minimum wage of the average McDonald’s employee falls below $9.00 an hour.

Unfortunately, like several other airlines during the global recession, Japan Airlines was forced to file for bankruptcy and Nishimatsu resigned in 2010 as Kyocera founder, entrepreneur and philanthropist Kazuo Inamori stepped in to rebuild the company.

How many bosses do you know that could learn a thing or two from Nishimatsu?

For the longer, more detailed profile on Nishimatsu, watch below:

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