At the end of 1978, Jose Yamamoto was still very worried about the problems that had arisen over the last year in his company, the Compañia de Muebles Shimizu. Nevertheless, he was slightly more optimistic because he believed that h had discovered the root of the problems and that he had made some good decisions.
The previous month he had taken back on two of hisoldest craftsmen who had been dismissed six months earlier as a result of the problems that had arisen in the company is production system; problems characterized by products being returned due to poor quality, cancellation of orders due to delays in meeting delivery dates and the resulting decreased in sales turnover.
Jose was convinced that the reasons for those occurrences would basically lid inchanges he himself had introduced in the product line and in the production system rather than in any sabotage by his oldest employees.
The compañia de Muebles Shimizu was founded in 1948 by Hodeo Yamamoto, a Japonese emigrant and skilled cabinet-maker, with the aim of meeting the needs of the wealthier classes of the city of Sao Paulo which were rapidly growing as a result ofthe onset of the country is industrialization. These people showed an avid interest in sophisticated and custom-built furniture. Shimizu promptly became well known for his high quality furniture. In its early years, the Compañia prospered under the sound management of the excellent cabinet-maker. Hideo Yamamoto and it grew considerably as profit was reinvested. In 1972 old Yamamoto handed downthe company management to his son Jose who had graduated in Mechanical Engineering in the Technological management University of San Paulo. In addition to his academic qualifications he was also a skilled cabinet-maker like his fatherÑ who had taught his children the profession so that each could have a job in his furniture business.
Despite the high prices charged by Shimizu, when Jose took overthe management, demand for high quality furniture had grown to such an extent that factory capacity was not enough for meeting all the possible orders.
In 1972, the company had established a reputation as a producer of made to order, high quality furniture for wealthy people. For example, a customer could order a 17th century piece of furniture, used in France during the reign of Louis XIV, bytaking them a picture or a diagram of the desired piece. Another customer could take along part of an antique to have replica made, or one of a similar style to make up a set. The pieces of furniture were made according to the design brought along by the customer or they were designed by the factory designers themselves. The designs were then passed on the masters who made the manufacturingdecisions.
The factory continued to grow under Jose Yamamoto is management up to a total of 39 specialist cabinet-makers. At the same time, manual tools and more basic machinery were gradually replaced by more modern equipment which could be used on a larger scale production. The biggest step towards mechanization was taken by the purchase of a carving-mill with 12 head-pieces which was able to carveout 12 identical pieces set up on a mould.
Despite that mechanization, the company continued to meet individual orders under the jop shop system. The number of employees was maintained but production increased slightly due to the introduction of modern machinery. For example, a single experienced woodcarver was needed to work the 12 head-pieces carving-mill, but productivity was multiplied by 12.And this was the case for a whole series of new machines. Despite a substantial increase in overhead costs, on a short term, the company became more profitable due to the increased in productivity. Moreover, the company realized that it was able to meet the increased demand without sacrificing the skilled cabinet-makers. Any basic operation which required simple craftwork was assigned to any...