“Learning from the Japanese Experience”

Established in 1890, The Kanoo Group is one of the largest, independent, family-owned groups of companies in the Gulf region.

It has diversified business industries in shipping, travel, machinery, engineering, logistics, property, oil & gas, power, industrial chemicals, training, joint ventures, retail and commercial activities. The Group has a joint venture partnership with Japanese shipping giant, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, Ltd. and TLV Co. Ltd., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of steam engineering products.

Bridges spoke with Mishal Hamed Kanoo, Chairman of The Kanoo Group about the values he has learned from working with Japanese partners.

What have you learned while working with Japanese companies over the years?

One important thing I have learned from interacting with Japanese companies within the shipping and heavy machinery industries is that they take their time when making a decision and everyone has to be in agreement. However, once they give their word, and this is a very rare thing in the world today, they always fulfill their side of an agreement.

Most people will cut their losses and find excuses to get out of an agreement that is not to their liking but this is not the case with the Japanese. I love Japanese companies and my experience with them has been positive.

In which areas have you worked most closely with the Japanese?

I have been working with Japanese companies since the nineties in shipping, heavy machinery, construction and oil and gas. We have also served the Japanese Self Defense Forces here in the UAE.

What similarities exist between your family-owned business and Japanese companies?

The question of honor is very high in our mind as it is in Japan. The question of living up to one’s word is founded in Japanese culture and it is also very much in our mindset. We take it slow but make sure we get ‘our ducks in a row’. We don’t like being rushed. Our culture, our position and our interactions matters a great deal and these facets are very important in Japanese society too.

These similarities in culture and values are the reasons we find it easy to work with Japanese companies. We do not have a ‘quick-buck mentality’ and neither do the smaller Japanese companies or larger conglomerates. The mentality seems to be ‘slowly but surely’ and approach with caution until we strike a deal and move forward. This is very similar to the mentality within our family business.

I love Japanese companies and my experience with them has been positive.

Mishal Hamed Kanoo, Chairman of The Kanoo Group

How has the Kaizen method of ‘continuous improvement’ resonated with you?

One of the things that is very important for human growth, irrespective of where a person is from, is education. I don’t necessarily mean formal education. Formal education provides a grounding in certain disciplines, but education in terms of continued to reading, research and investigation allows us to go beyond our comfort zone. For instance, just because I do not drink alcoholic beverages does not mean I am not interested in the process of how people work in that particular industry — it is a fascinating sector.

It may be useless information for me personally, but it is fascinating because I can understand concepts such as why you need a barrel to be aged in that manner and why do you need to store products at a particular humidity. The idea for me is to constantly find ways to educate myself and I recommend the same to others.

This way of thinking is prevalent in Japan as Japanese people are constantly educating themselves and this is a very positive thing. It is important to go out and continuously educate yourself and not stop because you think you know everything right now.

These similarities in culture and values are the reasons we find it easy to work with Japanese companies.

Mishal Hamed Kanoo, Chairman of The Kanoo Group

People need to constantly educate themselves to constantly look at new things. Toyota is one of the world’s leading companies in hydrogen engine development and they are working on environmental solutions and alternatives to the internal combustion engine.

Who would have thought that hydrogen would have been used as a fuel 20 years ago? But someone did and that’s the idea. You’re taking something that’s outside of your comfort zone and trying to integrate it into a business. The more you can do this, the better you will become as a person. Finding people who can constantly, help me and improve my way of thinking and my knowledge base is important.

I look forward to learning and I encourage others to do the same. The smartest people are the ones who surround themselves with genius. People can be great in specific fields, and smart people benefit from the expertise of others.


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