Harvard Dream

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Notes from Toyota-Land

I did a short stint in Japan and I recently read the novel "Notes From Toyota Land".

Notes from Toyota-land" is based on the diary Darius Mehri kept for the three years ('96-'99) he was working at a Toyota group company (called "Nizumi" in the book, assumed to be "Hino") in Japan.

It starts out as a "day-in-the-life" of a rather naive - and terribly proud - American computer simulation engineer, and ends as a bitter statement against Toyota, and all that it stands for (the book cover calls it "social critic").

Mehri is shocked at the "culture of rules" and organizational structure that combine to create a profound control over the workers, aka group work, as compared to team work. Welcome to Japan, I'd say...

For all his personal excellence (and if the reader doesn't notice the many implicit references, then Mehri isn't too shy to give some explicit references as well) and supposedly excellent language ability, Mehri hasn't really been able to jump out of his home-sweet-home boots. So his perspective remains firmly rooted in his native American soil.
This takes away from many of the valid points he makes, such as the unhealthy work environment at Japanese companies and Japan's immature and rigged political system.
If you think this is enough of a reason for not reading this book, there is one more; Mehri sets out on a personal crusade against one of the most popular Japan related business book, "The machine that changed the world" (Womack, Roos and Jones). He makes the first reference to it on page 5, and continously attacks it throughout the remainder of his book. Sure, TMTCTW isn't perfect, and there might be more than a few factual inaccuracies in it; but there is still a huge quality difference between that reference book, and the work Mehri delivers here. It's all a bit petty, and sounds like sour grapes.

Nevertheless, it's worth reading for anybody who is working in Japan for a traditional Japanese manufacturer. If anything, it will make you feel better about your own situation!

New York City

I worked in a non-US McK site, which was a nice change since I grew up on the island of Manhattan in New York City. hen it comes to the art of seduction, New York has two cards up its sleeve: charm and spontaneity. People often fall in love with what they came looking for -- the Empire State Building, lit up in red, white, and blue; Central Park under a blanket of snow, its trees sparkling as if encased in crystal; or the Statue of Liberty, which neither cliché nor cheap souvenir can render common. For those who grew up with glossy magazine and soft-focus film images of New York, standing in front of one of its landmarks is still a moment of discovery. The remarkable thing is that New York looks even better up-close, in person. "It's just like the movies!" is a constant delighted refrain.

No matter how grandiose or beautiful New York's sights are, their combined scale may seem overwhelming, and that's when irrepressible human endeavor steps in to tame its environment. Whether you want to call it spontaneity or chaos, there are a million different New York moments that can catch you off-guard and sweep you off your feet. It could happen in Grand Central Terminal upon witnessing doo-wop harmonists stop rushing commuters in their tracks with a rich serenade. You could turn a corner and run into a full-blown Russian winter festival or a production assistant barking orders to clear the way for a film shoot. Your moment of enchantment could be Fellini-esque, when you catch sight of an old man in a suit slowly pedaling a multicolor, tinsel-wrapped Huffy bike the wrong way down Park Avenue. Anything can happen here -- stuff so strange, you couldn't make it up.

Change is a constant in this city, so when people ask with concern from afar, "How is New York doing?" the answer is both "moving on" and "the same as ever." The September 11, 2001 terrorist attack was the lowest of blows upon an icon of the city and all of its hard-working, wise-cracking, loving, and beloved people. The enormous loss of life, followed by a spate of anthrax scares, left normally tough-skinned and confident New Yorkers feeling vulnerable.

But New York is still the city that never sleeps. The Broadway shows are larger than life, the art exhibitions open your eyes to beauty and possibility, the orchestral concerts and ballets can move you to tears, and the shopping opportunities are amazing. Not to mention that the pizzas and bagels, available 24 hours throughout Manhattan, are the best in the nation.

A bit about my background

As I stated previously I am a first year HBS student. I am in my late 20's like many of my classmates, though we do have a few straight-out-of-college people (I don't like them, I'll probably post on that later).

Before coming to HBS I was a consultant at McKinsey & Co. My work was primarily in consumer products. Before starting at McK I was a math and biology major at Yale. Anybody that knows the consulting business knows that I am at HBS simply because I need my ticket punched, like a majority of my class mates. As for the hard facts of my background, that's probably all I'm going to give in order to protect my anonymity.

I'm not sure exactly how I'll use this blog. Will I be talking about the GMAT and HBS all the time? Maybe. Will I be talking about fast cars and plasma tv's? Probably. Will I be talking about the boring world of consulting? Probably not.

Off we go!


I am a 1st year HBS student and I'm jumping on the band wagon! Yee Haa!