Tomio Taki, author of “Zennovation,” grew up in WWII-era Japan, and at age 26 took over his family’s 200-year-old textile manufacturing company. In 1973, he purchased a 50 percent stake in the Anne Klein Co. Four months later he selected design assistant Donna Karan to join him after Klein died unexpectedly. Taki and Karan went on to create the successful DKNY diffusion line.
What shaped your business philosophy?
Playing basketball at Keio University in Tokyo. I’m reminded that you must bend your knees before you jump. In business , be careful, do the preparation work and sometimes to accomplish your objectives, you may have to step backward to get it done. If your interests become too aggressive, when the time comes to make a decision you cannot do it. Also, know your opponent, otherwise you’ll never win. In business your opponent is your competitor and your market. You must know both. In basketball there’s always a winner and a loser. In business sometimes you play very hard but still the other party may be better so you lose. Lose honorably. Do your best and take pride in what you’ve done.
What‘s behind the successes of Anne Klein Co.?
Here’s one thing of many. Consumers want to have individuality. They want to wear something different, so I tried to find out a method to satisfy mass production and individuality. The concept of American designer brand sportswear is color coordination and multiple combinations. With probability theory you can have seven tops and seven bottoms that can result in 5,000 combinations. I thought I found the answer, but when I explained this to Anne Klein, she thought I was strange. I was bringing in mathematics to the fashion business. She came to like my ideas, and I was asked to be a partner in 1973.
Describe your leadership insights.
Business is connected by people. I always say there are four types of employees. If you order something he will understand and do it. Or, he understands but he doesn’t want to do it. Or he does not understand so he won’t do it. The most dangerous is the man who does not understand and does it. The problem is we assume he understood, so we give another order and another and another, and there will be bad mistakes. It’s difficult to rewind the clock and start all over. It takes a long time to repair.
Explain differences between Eastern and Western business philosophies.
Everyone has almost exactly the same hopes and wishes. We want to have a beautiful home, wonderful family, well-educated children and be financially stable. Whether East or West, human nature is the same. In business, the Eastern way is that we try to let subordinates come up with their own ideas while the big shots sit around and encourage others to come up with creative ideas. The big shots make the final decision, but they involve people in a team effort. In the West it’s top down. If the chairman wants to do something, everyone has to do it. Another person’s idea might be terrific, or lots of employees’ ideas might not be terrific, but everything is top down. Western style is a military effort. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not good. Same with the East. It depends on the project. Either way, employees must understand why they are doing something.
— Dawn House
Tomio Taki, entrepreneur