Changing the Landscape of Mass Production and International Business | Kiyoshi Hamada

Modern advances in communication have resulted in unprecedented global connectivity. With the advent of the internet, the entire world has become a marketplace for the free flow of information and technology. The difficulty of such a feat is easy to overlook. Even as a young man, Kiyoshi Hamada was determined to develop and implement novel approaches to mass manufacturing and business.

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Kiyoshi Hamada Toshiba

Hamada opened Toshiba’s first office in the United States and worked tirelessly to introduce the company’s cutting-edge technologies into his workplace and beyond. His efforts helped propel Toshiba to the household name it is today.

Kiyoshi was born in the Yanaka neighborhood of Tokyo, widely regarded as the city’s most traditional neighborhood. The area is home to numerous Buddhist temples.

“There are many temples, and my grandfather and my father were the superior priests who managed the grand temple, which is a Zen-based temple. So naturally, I was born in the temple, and I was the last of four children.”

Kiyoshi says that he had a pleasant early childhood, with many people in the community supporting his family with chores and helping tend to the children. However, this was all disrupted when World War II started.

“There was a lot of hardship during the air raids, food shortages, many different things. After all that, my parents were struggling because our whole situation had changed.”

His parents struggled financially. Still, despite the hardships they endured, they never lost sight of the value of education for their children.

“They really tried to make sure all of us could finish our education. I’m really grateful that they had that kind of desire. I graduated from Keio University, and so did my brother.”

Kiyoshi received a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Keio University in 1957. His brother extended his education and earned a doctorate in economics from Keio University before becoming a professor there.

“I was more interested in the actual application of that knowledge to product manufacturing. It related production management to cost control in an accounting system. It was a different way to approach production control.”

Kiyoshi’s ambitions led him to Toshiba. He says he chose Toshiba because “Toshiba was a leading manufacturing company in mass production.”

An approach bridging investment, cost control, accounting and production began to grow in Japan, but there were still many hurdles. For instance, there was no widespread use of a computer system.

“We were still using the traditional way of handling that data. We were using things like the abacus in our accounting department. I was interested in using the data and trying to do something more.”

“Toshiba applied all kinds of knowledge to the domestic market” after embracing new mass production techniques and technologies. They created many groundbreaking electrical/electronic innovations, including Japan’s first color television.

During all this growth, Kiyoshi was placed in the lamp and tube division of the company.

“Things like lighting and electron tubes were typical to mass produce at the time, so I wanted to get in there. I was recruited there for that division and was happy to be there.”

After some time, upper management at Toshiba had different ideas for Kiyoshi. They moved him over to the company’s export department. Then one day, management told him that he and another manager would be sent to the United States to open up the first Toshiba office in New York City.

Toshiba wanted to increase its presence in the American market but was hindered by the time it took to coordinate internationally with its headquarters in Japan. They wanted to set up a base in America so U.S. clients and government regulators could contact Toshiba directly and locally for any needed information. They also wanted “to develop the company to be capable of marketing their own product directly in the U.S.”

So, Mr. Hamada came to the United States in 1962 to introduce Toshiba products to a broader international market. Toshiba America, Inc. was formally established and could do business in the states. As his career progressed, he was promoted to positions in New York City as a liaison, manager, director of electronic data processing, and eventually vice president of information systems.

At this point, the company realized that it could not keep managing data by hand. So, they asked Kiyoshi to introduce computer systems for accounting and for marketing merchandise effectively.

“We didn’t have a computer in the company for business use at the time. Even Tokyo headquarters had it only for engineering use. I had to start from scratch. First, I had to start preparing coding systems for merchandise, customers, accounting and any function that had to be coded to lead database management later. I also attended the IBM class for a computer accounting machine, which covered wiring on the board to handle electrical pulse for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, as well as storing data without memory with punched cards as a source of data.”

IBM continued to upgrade its computers as technology advanced. “We practically replaced our computers every two years to gain more functionalities and capabilities,” Kiyoshi adds.

When he initially installed the memory-based computer from IBM, it only had around 32,000 bits (4KB) of memory.

“That was the first memory-based computer. It was so limited that when you processed keypunched cards as source programs to compile object programs, it often came back with a ‘lack of memory” error. After the advancement of the computer, we started to benefit from it and travel around the country installing online terminals connected to centralized headquarters computers via telecommunication for branch operation. ”

Data communication became essential as Toshiba America, Inc. grew and branched out across the country.

“We were able to serve PC-based communications. So then we went into the client-server operation in order to handle employee and customer access to our computer systems. We were upgrading our operation all the time. The staff had to always be updated in their knowledge, not only technically, but also on the necessary things to do and how we can accomplish them.”

His pursuit evolved from “batch processing to online operation utilizing dial-up, Tl, packet network, frame-relay and internet as well as client-server with application programs developed mostly in-house and system implementation suitable to those technologies and demand from internal/external users (domestic and international).”

Kiyoshi’s quest to find the most efficient, productive methods led him to study the best ways to work together as a team with his co-workers.

Kiyoshi Hamada Toshiba

“Each person had a different skill or a different idea. Teamwork was essential, and the responsible person in each group needed to understand what is required to deliver applications to system users.”

Kiyoshi Hamada Toshiba

Kiyoshi attended many industry seminars to stay abreast of developments in the field and to confirm whether or not Toshiba America Consumer Products, Inc. was progressing in the right direction.

“It was valuable to have some kind of incident or unexpected problem because we would know what to do in the future to solve it.”

Now, he has a unique understanding of modern technology issues due to his extensive education. Kiyoshi suggests that modern security systems add new complications, coupled with the vast data needed to run today’s companies.

“Anything that requires a company to depend on an outside service organization creates a difficult situation. However, the conventional way of handling data is not enough anymore because of the size of data and its complexities.”

Kiyoshi is fascinated by how we adapt to and use technology. The real challenge, he says, is figuring out “how we can be harmonized” as the digital landscape continues to evolve.

“We are humans, and our natural ways are analog. Just for convenience, we are doing everything by digital-based computer. You can’t digitize how to handle how humans feel. A machine may make the right or wrong decision by applying AI based on algorithms handling mega data. Someday we may come up with an analog way of handling things. Until then, what we have is not close to human behavior.”

Due to the widespread quarantine imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak, many office workers were forced to work from home, which, according to Kiyoshi, caused a communication breakdown. When the quarantine was lifted, some businesses continued to use the old system.

“It’s the most necessary thing for humans to communicate with each other face to face. Online communication may be one way, but that is limited.”

Even in this digital age, Kiyoshi argues, many analog activities bring people a unique and genuine kind of joy.

“I had a lot of vinyl records, and I started to listen to them again. It’s so different. It’s much different from listening to a CD, almost as if I were attending a concert. If you really enjoy it, playing a record to create an atmosphere is still analog.”

After retiring, Kiyoshi has been involved with several organizations in his community. He became a trustee of the Sussex County Historical Society in New Jersey for five years. During his time there, he penned the Sussex County Historical Sites map, which covered 24 municipalities. The entire process took him three years since he had to start from scratch. Not long after that, he joined the Vernon Township Rotary Club, which carries out philanthropic activities throughout his community.

He also likes to listen to classical music and says he has been doing so since he was a young boy. Even though he has always considered himself a city boy at heart, he and his wife of over 50 years settled down in rural New Jersey.

“I was always a city boy and didn’t have much to do in a natural environment. When planning for retirement, we decided to establish our own way of life by buying a house here.”

Later, Kiyoshi took up woodworking to finish various projects around the house and seasonal outdoor work. He also wrote a book, which his wife encouraged him to have published. Initially, Kiyoshi was just journaling his memories and experiences on paper; he had no plans to share his writings with anyone.

“She realized that I was doing it, but I wasn’t doing it to make a book or anything. She just asked why don’t you write an autobiography?”

His wife Charlotte, originally from upstate NY, was a poet and had written her own manuscript for a book. When she passed away, Kiyoshi got her book published following his book “K.H. in Seven Decades.” Both books and the Sussex County Historical Site Map are now in the Library of Congress.

“That time was very difficult. I have good friends here and in Japan. They really helped me widen my life by taking part in different areas of society, even now. When dealing with perfectionism, it’s nice to have friends.”

He credits an appreciation for individuality for many of his successes. Though Kiyoshi has been an Episcopalian for decades, while growing up, his father believed in that same concept of individuality, which is tied to Zen Buddhism.

“So that was the kind of atmosphere I was raised in. I was often left alone because my sisters and brother had their own worlds and friends. So that probably helped, and I was also the youngest. I did everything by myself.”

He appreciates the “individuality in this country” since “Everybody has the capacity to be unique and individual.”

Self-reliance and uniqueness, while admirable, can occasionally cause conflict.

“I believe democracy can swing from one extreme to the other and then come into the middle sometimes. You know, McCarthyism came up with the accusations of intellectual people being communists, which destroyed many people at that time. Here and there, that comes out. There are many people with different ideas. This country still has a big capacity. So I like to be here, to enjoy individuality.”

Kiyoshi worries about today’s youth and their ability to “develop a productive way of living their lives dependent on their profession and environment.” Since the shared human condition persists through the ages, he maintains hope they will thrive.

“Humans have to face many tough times. You get sad. You feel pain. You can’t let those things take over you. Some things will remain the same in future generations. Technology has changed and contributed so much to human life. We are not the creator. We are just getting the benefits from things created before us. And when we make mistakes moving forward, we must find another way. We can’t just close our eyes and stick our heads in the sand.”

Kiyoshi says that he wants to instill the belief that everyone has the capacity to do extraordinary things. We are all connected in our humanity.

“If anyone can do it, why can’t you? Some people may be specially trained, but that is different. It is not related to ability.”

In this way, technology can serve as a driving force for progress. As he puts it, “It is the purview of humans to use what exists because those things exist because of human ability.” As time goes on, human ambition for improvement becomes more crucial than any technological achievement.

“There were always challenges in history. We had wars. We had plagues. We had earthquakes and natural disasters. Revolutions. Nothing is different. It’s just a different kind of challenge. Especially if it’s a human-made problem, humans can fix it. We all have to struggle together. We can greatly contribute to society if we put our minds together.”