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That's why we work for NEC: CHRO Daisuke Horikawa weighs in on NEC and its transformation following multiple crises to become an employer of choice

How do we work? In this era of rapidly evolving attitudes toward work, NEC is also undergoing drastic changes. To lay the groundwork for these changes, NEC began increasing the number of mid-career hires it brings on board and engaging in full-scale implementation of job-based human resource management. Its aims in all of this are to develop human resources who can choose their careers and to become an employer of choice. Having been mired in a number of crises, NEC appointed Daisuke Horikawa as Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) in April 2023. We sat down with him to discuss where NEC is currently at with its transformation as well as its plans going forward. 

Choosing to work for NEC despite wanting to call it quits

──You were simultaneously appointed CHRO and Managing Director of the People and Culture Division, formerly known as the Human Resources and General Affairs Division. Under the Mid-term Management Plan 2025, NEC declared its intention to become an employer of choice with the aim of transforming people and culture. What was it that led you to work for NEC?

I wanted to work for a globally competitive company. That was the number one reason I pursued a career at NEC. When I first joined the company in 1992, NEC was not only one of the world’s top five companies in several fields, including semiconductors, but also one of the most popular companies among new university graduates seeking employment. 

While working as a sales representative in charge of government agencies had been rewarding, there came a turning point in 1998 when NEC found itself faced with a major compliance issue.

This was the first time I had felt the urge to quit, but in the end chose not to. There were two reasons for my decision. The first was something my boss—who was spearheading the response effort at the time—told me, “I want to see our young employees take the lead in rebuilding.” The other was a comment made by one of our customers, who said to me, “I thought we were working together with NEC to ensure the safety and security of the people of Japan.”

This admonishment by our customer filled me with regret while at the same time reminding me that NEC had a role to fulfill—that is, to ensure the safety and security of Japan and society. It also made me realize that NEC was the only company where I could find a job as rewarding as my own.  

This is when I made the choice to continue working for NEC and vowed to do everything in my power to change NEC.

The need for both NEC and its employees to change

──What sort of changes did you initiate when you shifted from sales to planning for the division in charge of government and public solutions?

We carefully listened to feedback from those on the frontlines and started working on developing an evaluation system. To encourage a drastic change of awareness in the consciousness of our employees, we offered an outdoor training program in which participants learned while rafting that “unless every team member thinks for themselves and cooperates with one another to move the raft, it won’t move forward.” 

It was a formidable challenge. Looking back, however, I may have grown somewhat arrogant. I know that because I was taken down a notch as soon as I got transferred. Once I moved to another business division, I found that my old ways of doing things no longer worked. The work processes and cultures were completely different. At the time, NEC was like a consortium of small- and medium-sized companies with different systems and structures.     

Working with know-how accumulated by different organizations in a fragmented market had been perfectly fine in the past. However, it was becoming clear that this type of approach would no longer help us to prevail. Times were changing, and those unable to change began losing momentum and ended up being left behind. 

──In the 21st century, NEC’s performance continued to steadily decline. And in 2012, NEC’s stock price fell below 100 yen. At this time you were a member of the Strategy Division, weren’t you? 

“Why does NEC exist?” This is the question our management team needed to discuss exhaustively before it started revising our business portfolio. This marked a major shift in our business model from manufacturing to the creation of services. It was also at this point that NEC coined the phrase “social value creation,” which ultimately led to our current Purpose: “NEC creates the social values of safety, security, fairness and efficiency to promote a more sustainable world where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential.”   

However, this transformation did not happen overnight and it was not an immediate success. In fact, it wasn’t until 2018 that we started seeing signs of a turnaround, which is when we began restructuring our execution capabilities through what we dubbed “Major Reforms in our 119th Year.” Based on employee feedback, NEC established the three pillars of “personnel reform,” “work-style reform,” and “communication reform,” as well as developed a system to maximize employee potential, which included the creation of our Code of Values, the review of NEC’s employee evaluation system, and the improvement of workplace environments. Realizing that change needed to start at the top-management level, NEC began proactively recruiting external personnel. To swiftly execute this strategy, we bolstered recruitment of mid-career hires at all levels rather than just at the top-management level. As a result, the ratio of mid-career hires has now risen to a level on par with that of new graduate hires. Our diverse talent pool has clearly driven our transformation.     

We are now at the midway point of the Mid-term Management Plan 2025. In terms of transforming people and culture, the foundation for change is being steadily established and starting to take root. In the next phase, it will be our employees who take the leading role in making change happen.

Balancing a history of trust with the acceleration of transformation keeps things interesting

──The introduction of job-based human resource management has now reached its final stage, and plans are slated for it to be rolled out to all NEC employees in April 2024.

For an organization, job-based human resource management makes it possible to improve its ability to execute strategies through the flexible allocation of personnel. Meanwhile, from an employee perspective, it enables individuals to choose a career based on their strengths and life plans. We are now entering an era in which people capable of not only thinking, making decisions, and taking action independently but also embracing new challenges will be valued more than ever before. Of course, job-based human resource management isn’t about expecting employees to put on a one-person show. The importance of contributing to the performance of your team will remain unchanged.     

There has been a lot of excitement over the past year with numerous international tournaments being held, including the World Baseball Classic and the Rugby World Cup. While the athletes comprising Japan’s national teams hail from different geographical and career backgrounds, they all act autonomously while recognizing and capitalizing on one another’s individuality to achieve the best results as a team. I believe Japan’s national teams are an excellent example of how results can be produced on the global stage. 

──What do you view as the value of working for the NEC Group as it aspires to be a company that people choose and an employer of choice?

The first thing that comes to mind for me is the word “trust.” The trust placed in NEC for its dedication to ensuring safety and security that I once sensed through the words spoken by one of our customers remains with me to this day. There are business and scales that can be entrusted to us thanks to our history dating back more than 120 years. 

The foundation we have built based on this history of trust enables us to take on the challenge of shaping innovation for the future. This is where NEC’s strength lies. I am confident that the actions taken by each of us will serve as the driving force for NEC to become a company capable of winning on the global stage and an employer of choice.