December 8, 2023

Kazuo Inamori, Major Industrialist in Postwar Japan, Dies at 90

Kazuo Inamori was born on Jan. 30, 1932, in Kagoshima, a seaside city on Japan’s Kyushu Island, the second of seven children of Keiichi and Kimi Inamori. As the story is told in Japan, when Kazuo was a child, his father’s printing shop was firebombed in the last days of World War II. When the boy, at 13, was bedridden with tuberculosis, a neighbor lent him a book that sparked his interest in religion.

After earning a chemical engineering degree from Kagoshima University, Mr. Inamori joined a small ceramics company in Kyoto as a researcher, but left to begin his own concern after a disagreement with management. He started the business with just $10,000, armed with his own formula for a material to make ceramic insulators for televisions. He soon had his employees swear a blood oath that they would “work for the benefit of the world’s people,” he recounted in the book “From Zero to Kyocera: A Company Philosophy to Grow People and Organizations” (2020).

The business, then called Kyoto Ceramic Company, got its first big break when it received an order to make resistor rods for the Apollo space program. It went on to become one of the world’s top suppliers of high-tech ceramics, making everything from razor sharp knives to casings for Intel computer chips and expanding into other products, including solar panels and mobile phones.

While the business never made Kyocera a household name outside of Japan, it did make Mr. Inamori fabulously wealthy and brought him a level of prestige and influence in his country that few could equal.

In 1984, after Japan ended the government monopoly on the telecommunications industry, he founded a second firm, DDI, a long-distance carrier that quickly broke the market dominance of formerly state-owned NTT.

Around the same time, reaching beyond the world of industry, Mr. Inamori devoted more than $80 million to establishing the Kyoto Prize, an award recognizing the most important advancement in the sciences, arts, technology and philosophy.

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