Special Interview


We invited Ms. Tomoko Kurabayashi, a freelance announcer who also has a great deal of insight into education, to interview President Fujiwara on the theme of human resources, and discuss his thoughts about employees, and the future he envisions through personnel development.

Shift New Business Creation Into High Gear through Both Planning and Teamwork
Cultivate “Human Ability” in a Horizontal Organization that Breaks Stereotypes

Kurabayashi I was surprised that Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd. products play an active role in various industries and daily life. Can you tell us about what type of people a company needs to create new businesses in a wide range of fields?

Fujiwara Our Group sees people as our most important asset. You need to have a high level of expertise, but I think that people with planning skills will be in high demand from now on as well. We always encourage our employees to make proposals. These don’t have to be grand ideas or anything. The experience of coming up with a plan on your own, and taking responsibility to see it through, as opposed to merely carrying out the company’s orders, is something that allows people to grow a lot. We are investing liberally in such people.

Kurabayashi Planning skills are certainly essential for creating new businesses. Is there anything else that you consider vital in terms of personnel?

Fujiwara There are countless processes involved in commercializing a product proposal and bringing it to market. It is important that your team be able to effectively allocate personnel with mastery in each field, including R&D, production, and marketing. You need (1) growth-oriented types that are motivated to acquire new knowledge and skills, (2) change-oriented types who constantly aim to improve their skills, (3) team players who can harmonize with others, and (4) professionals with outstanding knowledge and skills who can produce results both in Japan and abroad.

Kurabayashi What kind of initiatives do you have to cultivate such people?

Fujiwara In 2007, we opened the SB School to provide all employees with educational opportunities. We have systematic programs that allow employees to develop competencies that match their level and job description. These programs carefully provide opportunities for growth aligned to each stage in their career, such as training for new hires and employees in their second year at the company.
On top of this, employees have recently spontaneously engaged in activities such as inter-departmental exchange meetings that are intended to strengthen our internal network. We also have an overseas trainee system that allows employees to gain around two years of experience working at Group companies overseas. Overseas sales currently account for approximately 60% of Group revenue. We are also focused on training people who are passionate about taking on the challenge of doing business overseas.

Cultivate “Human Ability” in a Horizontal Organization that Breaks Stereotypes

Kurabayashi You have repeatedly said that it is important to increase “human ability.” What exactly is “human ability”?

Fujiwara What I think of when I use the term “human ability” is the cumulative effect obtained from multiplying motivation, capability, personality, and character. After all, it is important to have motivation for your work. Concerning capability, I believe that the latent capabilities of the employees in our Group are high to begin with.
As far as personality and character are concerned, it is important to be yourself. They are strongly affected by differences in the environment and value system in which you were raised. There are times when it is necessary to restrain yourself in the course of your work, but you must not lose your own identity. Individuality is very important. I want our employees to cultivate it. If work is too uniform, it stops being interesting. I believe that improving “human ability” will lead to a more resilient business.

Kurabayashi I think that it is wonderful to be recognized and to be able to express your personality. As a company, do you have any initiatives to support people in improving “human ability”?

Fujiwara I feel that the “One Sumibe activities” that we are currently rolling out globally have a positive effect on improving “human ability.” Their aim has been to eliminate the conventional vertical organizational framework, and expand operations with a more horizontal organizational structure. They have dramatically increased the opportunities to learn about products from other departments and interact with people with whom you previously had no point of contact. This facilitates self-improvement, and expands community with fellow employees. For example, I recently received a written proposal from several young employees requesting creation of a space that can be used for free communication. Of course, I adopted the proposal immediately. We set to creating the space right away, and have already completed it. I am very happy to see these kinds of ideas come from the bottom up.

Kurabayashi It looks like you enjoy having new ideas. Your “One Sumibe activities” have already brought results in unexpected ways.

Fujiwara As part of our “One Sumibe activities,” we hold an annual meeting to report results. This gives people a chance to thank those in other departments who have helped them, and we have started to share these letters of thanks in the company newsletter. It is great to help someone outside of your regular job. The habit of thanking and praising each other is starting to take root, and I think it is a result of our “One Sumibe activities.”

Kurabayashi In a vertically structured organization, you often do not even know what other departments are doing. New projects that transcend organizational boundaries are likely to emerge by getting to know them.

Failure is Proof You Have Taken On Challenges Toward the Next Step
A Personnel Evaluation System that Encourages Taking On Challenges


President and Representative Director,
Sumitomo Bakelite Co., Ltd.

Kazuhiko Fujiwara

Joined the Company in 1980. Became Team Leader of the Biotechnology-related Product Development Project in 2003, Department Manager of S-Bio Development Department in 2007, General Manager of S-Bio Business Division and Executive Offcer in 2009, Managing Executive Offcer in 2013, Director in 2014, Director and Senior Managing Executive Offcer in 2016, and President and Representative Director in 2018.

Kurabayashi You overhauled your personnel evaluation system in 2021. Can you tell us about what has changed and what new things you brought in?

Fujiwara The key point of the revised personnel evaluation system is that we have changed to a merit-based system that is not linked to age.
One thing we kept in mind when changing the personnel system, was that failure should be viewed as proof of taking on challenges and should be evaluated more highly than not doing anything at all. With regard to compensation and other treatment as well, responsibilities, actions, and achievements carry more weight than years in the job.

Kurabayashi What points in particular did you stress as the basis for performance evaluation?
Fujiwara One thing that we were particular about was adding the concept of “taking on challenges” as a factor in evaluation. This has made it possible for people who have taken on big goals to be highly evaluated.

Kurabayashi This kind of evaluation system would seem to encourage even those who are relatively new to the company to take on challenges without fear of failure. I think it helped to motivate young people. Can you actually feel new changes taking place within the company?

Fujiwara I think that we are starting to have a more lively exchange of opinions. The pace of change is rapidly accelerating. The only way to respond is to change ourselves. While we should preserve the things that have made our Group great, we must drastically change aspects that are out of step with the times. Our personnel evaluation system was one such aspect.

Becoming a Company where People Experience Happiness in an Open Environment Full of Diversity

Kurabayashi DE&I is now an integral part of corporate philosophy. How are you engaging with this at Sumitomo Bakelite?

Fujiwara In April 2023, we established the DE&I Promotion Offce. We aim to create a workplace that allows a diverse variety of people, including women, non-Japanese nationals, and people with disabilities, to fully demonstrate their human ability, regardless of gender or age. We also encourage men to take childcare leave to support women’s participation in the workplace The ratio of female employees in our Group currently stands at about 10%, but we are strengthening our efforts to support a balance between career and life events.

Kurabayashi As a working woman, I am happy to hear that your company supports both life events and career development for women. This creates a sense of security that makes people want to join the company and work there for a long time.


Freelance Announcer Communication Specialist
Tomoko Kurabayashi

Broadcaster, journalist and communication specialist. Tomoko is a news and sports anchor and reporter, with 15 years of experience in television and radio journalism covering news, business and sports. She has reported on a wide range of news and sports for media in Japan and other countries. In addition to her journalism activities, Tomoko started working for international organizations as a communication specialist in 2020. She is a graduate of Essex University in England and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering and travelling.

Fujiwara I have also heard that the number of women looking for jobs is steadily rising. We have also recently appointed two new female executive offcers.

Kurabayashi I think that many people looking for jobs pay attention to senior employees’ working styles. The presence of female executives should be a big encouragement. In the past few years we have seen active promotion of institutional reforms in response to changes in the social environment.

We Want to Continue to Take on the Challenge of Cutting-edge Manufacturing While Boosting the Well-Being of Every Employee

Fujiwara All of our Group’s activities are rooted in the purpose of “creating a sustainable society by expanding the possibilities of plastics.” Plastics are currently facing headwinds, but research is underway to replace petroleum-based materials with plant-based materials. We contribute to society by improving functionality that can only be provided by plastics, such as developing automobile parts that result in lower CO2 emissions.

Kurabayashi What kinds of expertise do you think your personnel will need to have to engage in business based on your Basic Policy from here on out? Is there are any areas you want to focus on?

Fujiwara As for areas, I want to hire people who can proactively take on new challenges in addition to expertise in chemistry, machinery, and electricity. Right now, within the company, we are focusing on training data scientists. There is a greater call for data utilization than ever before, and we need to leverage MI to increase the speed of research and development. We are training data scientists who are distinct to our Group, and who have a manufacturing mindset.

Kurabayashi What do you think “happiness” means as an employee? And what do you believe is necessary in order to achieve this?

Fujiwara If you can wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “I want to try this out at work today,” then I think you will have fun every day. It is important to be able to approach your work with eagerness, and without feeling anxious, but we also need to devise ways to prevent anyone from becoming isolated.
In most work, stress and pressure come with the territory. But I think the most important thing is cultivating an open atmosphere in which people immediately can consult someone when they face a problem, instead of having to deal with it by themselves. We aim to be a company with a high level of psychological safety, where members support each other, and can take on new challenges with a comfortable sense of tension.

Kurabayashi What kind of company do you want Sumitomo Bakelite to become?

Fujiwara I want it to be a rewarding place to work, and to be proftable. It is important that we have plenty of resources to take on new challenges. I believe that the key to growth in a company brimming with growth potential is its people. I want to make it a company that people will be glad to have joined.

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