Comment Home / Reviews

Yes, Canadian Workers Can Export to Japan

It used to be that the Mayo Forest Products sawmill in Nanaimo, B C. was run like so many other companies; that is, workers put in time but they had no real attachment to or interest in their work. The result was predictable: less than sterling performance and a product that was no better than average. Consequently, when competition in the forest products industry became more severe, the company saw its future threatened.

When Mike Low became general manager of this sawmill three years ago, he sensed that unless the company became more successful in cutting costs and improving its product, it would be in serious trouble. Jointly owned by Mitsubishi Corporation of Japan and Canadian Pacific Forest Products Limited, the company was keen on improving its reputation in a flourishing Japanese market. But the Japanese are extremely demanding buyers. They want the kind of quality products that cannot be achieved with traditional labour-management relations. Low decided to hire a consulting firm that specialized in productivity improvement to help change the style of management at the mill. The consultants insisted that what was needed was not just some tinkering with a few procedures but a transformation of the way employees thought about their jobs.

Traditional management tells employees what to do, and that is that. In a sawmill this means that the skills of sawyers and other production people are not used to their maximum, and new equipment is not being utilized to get the best and the most economical product. Under the new style of management at the Mayo mill, employees are now invited to use their skills in solving problems and improving production. For example, Len Colibaba is a highly skilled sawyer with many years of experience who became an advisor to the management of another Canadian Pacific Forest Products mill when it ran into problems. Colibaba can hardly believe that he is now spending half his time advising management. He said: "It's a concept that is still unheard of in the rest of the industry. Many of our local union officers are becoming quite astute businessmen who understand that if this company doesn't make a profit, we aren't going to have a job."

Other employees are similarly challenged and have begun to do their work with much more interest and satisfaction. The result is evident in the increased quality of the products, so much so that the Mayo mill may become the first of its kind in Canada to be awarded the highly desirable Japanese Agricultural Standards (JAS) seal of approval. This would give the Nanaimo mill the same status in Japan as a Japanese sawmill, and its lumber would be accepted in Japan without the usual inspection on arrival. Said Reg Lauscher, the mill's head of the saw filing department whose skills are vital for the success of the mill, "In a tight market we will sell lumber while others are sitting on the dock."

It isn't that everyone is proclaiming the situation at the Mayo mill to be perfect. There are still grumblings of dissatisfaction, but even the local (IWA) union president says, "I've worked in three other mills and this one is far superior. Another mill here on the island just shut down for a month but we're still firing away. This mill has a great future." (Daniel Stoffinan, "A Cut Above," Report on Business, November 1990, pp. 98-106)

Help us spread the word:
Harry Antonides Harry Antonides
Harry Antonides is the founding editor of Comment. ... read more »
Subscribe to the Comment Weekly Newsletter
Comment's online articles serve as bridges between print issues. Get an email in your inbox every Friday, so you don't miss out.
  • Stay up-to-date and informed
  • Only one concise digest email per week
  • We will never share your email address. No Spam!
We will never sell or rent your email address. Your privacy is important to us

Related Articles

We'd love to hear your comments. Tell us what you think of this article! We'll use the best comments in Comment's print edition, and top commenters each month will receive a free, signed copy of our editor's recent book: Discipleship in the Present Tense.

Copyright © 1974-2014 Cardus. All Rights Reserved.

Features

  1. Contemporary Fiction and a Longing for the Miraculous

    September 25, 2014 | Deborah Bowen

    "I don't want realism! I want magic!"—Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Reviews

  1. Beyond "Engagement": The Next Conversation We Need About Politics

    May 1, 2014 | James K.A. Smith

    Looking elsewhere for the robust embrace of politics that will speak today—to our time and place and audience.
  2. Getting Back to Place

    April 24, 2014 | Doug Sikkema

    Because place has such a power to shape, we must be mindful of how we shape our places.

Cardus Blog

  1. A Publisher Who Took a Stand

    September 26, 2014 | Peter Stockland

    As is so often the case in Canadian politics these days, Preston Manning said it most eloquently. "You integrated faith with things the world tries to keep separate," the for...
  2. The Art of Faithful Persuasion

    September 23, 2014 | Ray Pennings

    When ought we to share what we believe, and when are we just picking a fight? At the Transatlantic Christian Council in Washington, D.C., this month, Ray Pennings asked Os Guinn...

Print Issue

  1. September 2014: Cracks in the Secular
    Comment Magazine - Cracks in the Secular An injection of hope: the fall issue of Comment will seriously challenge and confront the attempt of some to reconfigure North American public life in a way that diminishes and ...
Comment on iPad