Koichi Shimizu - obituary

Date: 
20/07/2017

It is with great sorrow that we learned Koichi Shimizu’s sudden passing this summer. At the beginning of March he was with us in Paris, introducing us to the latest developments at Toyota, at one of the sessions of Gerpisa’s monthly seminar. For some months he had been keeping us informed of his cancer and the course of treatment he was following, without ever complaining, depressing or pestering. The last time we saw him, he was rather confident – and so were we – the disease having not altered his energy and lucidity. He was passionate about research and he often regretted not being able to devote more time to it. Nevertheless, he assumed his academic position with conviction, notably that of Dean of the Faculty of Economics at the University of Okayama for some years. He was counting on retirement to carry out the work on Toyota he had undertaken. The disease did not grant him with enough time.
 
Not only do we lose a true friend (who was not struck by his extreme kindness and availability?), but also an eminent researcher, what his discretion and modesty could conceal in the eyes of many. Yet his contribution has been key for Gerpisa’s thinking and the development of the “productive models” framework. Koichi Shimizu made us discover and understand the complex wage formula at the basis of the Toyota Production System and the historical conditions that made it possible. He thus deprived this system of the almost miraculous characteristic, (too) rapidly universalised,which had been attributed to it. He provided us with an essential argument to formulate and support the theory of the diversity of productive models. It was he who first drew our attention to Toyota's labor crisis in Japan in 1990 and the changes being implemented in the system to deal with it. His book Le toyotisme is an indispensable reference, unfortunately published only in French. These are the latest Toyota transformations that Koichi came to present in March, raising many interesting questions, both from researchers and professionals.
 
Born in 1950, he had come to Paris to write a thesis in Economics under the supervision of Marc Guillaume. He defended it in 1989 at Paris-IX Dauphine University with the title: "Social reproduction of capital and computerization of society". He became a member of the Labor and Society Laboratory at the IRIS-Dauphine, and followed the seminar of Robert Boyer, who proposed to him join Gerpisa's "Emerging New Industrial Models" program. The first work done by Koichi in this framework was published in issue no.8 of the Acts of Gerpisa in 1993 in the form of two articles: "Trajectory of Toyota. Wage Nexus and Production System" with the collaboration of Masami Nomura, and "Toyota in twenty themes" with the collaboration of members of a Japanese network that he had formed, the GEMIC. He further developed his analysis in issue no.13 of the Acts in 1995 with "Kaïzen and labor management at Toyota Motor and Toyota Kiushu: a problem in the Toyota trajectory". He synthesised his previous surveys in The Toyotism in 1999, which remains the reference work. He co-edited: One Best Way? The Trajectories and Industrial Models of World Automobile Producers (1998), and its updated French version: What productive model? (2000), as well as the twin books: Globalization or Regionalization of American Car Industry and Globalization or Regionalization of European Car Industry (2003). He contributed to: The Second Automobile Revolution (2009) with his chapter: "The Uncertainty of Toyota as the New World Number One Carmaker." He translated into Japanese at his initiative, and he wrote the preface for a series of three articles, in the Keizai Seminar review, "The World That Changed the Machine" by Robert Boyer and Michel Freyssenet.
He was a member of the International Steering Committee of Gerpisa and he participated in almost all the colloquium and several work days. Each time he has presented what his researches could bring to the Gerpisa programs. He had the opportunity to explain what the Toyota Production System really was, at a conference organized by Annie Beretti, to more than 300 senior managers at Peugeot’s headquarters in Paris, provoking great astonishment, as well as at seminars to trade unionists in Germany, Italy, Spain. He co-signed two articles in the daily newspaper Le Monde: "Is Toyota abandoning toyotaism?” (1997), "How was the Toyota fairy tale shattered? Social compromise and productive model to be reconstructed" (2010). He has published 24 articles in Okayama Economic Review, the last two entitled "Evolution of the EU Regional Policy and European Regional Cooperation" (2016) and "Evolution of the Production System at FAW Car co. A Case of Application and Adaptation of Foreign Production Systems in China" (2015). He wrote a last book in Japanese on the implementation of the 35 hours-week in France at Peugeot, Renault and Toyota, for which he received an important prize. The review of all his publications and interventions is still to be done. In the near future, his main texts will be found on the GERPISA website.
 
We think of Yayoi, his wife, with whom he rejoiced at finally occupying their new house together, after years of life between distant places of work, forcing them to see each other only the week-end. He was also delighted to finally have more time to listen to his jazz records of which he had constituted an impressive collection. Last summer, Koichi invited Yayoï to visit the south of France, from Avignon to Bordeaux via Carcassonne, before returning to Paris where they can be seen in the picture below.
 
July 2017
 
Robert Boyer, Michel Freyssenet, Patrick Fridenson, Bernard Jullien, Yannick Lung, Tommaso Pardi
 
 
 
 

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