Unlocking hidden value: Meet the entrepreneur bringing ‘Kaizen’ to Saudi Arabia

Feature from Thompson Reuter’s Zawya (zawya.com)

Four Principles Co-Founder and Managing Partner Seif Shieshakly outline’s his extraordinary career and why he is so determined to spread the Japanese philosophy of ‘Kaizen’ – or Lean Management – across Saudi Arabia and the wider MENAT region. 

From an early age, Riyadh-born entrepreneur Seif Shieshakly has always challenged himself to achieve more. After studying in the United States and becoming fluent in English and German, alongside his native Arabic, he then decided to learn an Asian language.

It was a decision that changed the course of his life. Two years studying Japanese, and a six-week immersion course in Tokyo sparked a love affair with Japan that played a major part in him securing a job with Abdul Latif Jameel – his first after leaving full-time education.

Shieshakly said: “With me being a Japanese-speaking Saudi national, and Abdul Latif Jameel being one of Toyota Motor Corporation’s leading independent distributor in the world, there was immediate interest.  I started my career on January 1, 2004, as a management trainee in the marketing department.”

At the same time, Shieshakly became a keen advocate of the methods explained in the book ‘The Toyota Way’. His results were impressive, and he was promptly nominated for an inter-company training assignment at Toyota Motor Corporation’s Tokyo office.

In August 2005, just 18 months after starting his role with Abdul Latif Jameel, he arrived at Toyota’s offices in Suidobashi, Tokyo.  “Every day I scribbled in my little notebook things I’d learned about the Toyota Way,” he said.

A year later, Shieshakly found himself working in Stuttgart for a globally respected German company in its Lean Management Consulting division, helping to apply Kaizen principles in companies across Germany before spending 2009, studying for an MBA in Switzerland. With a combination of real-world experience and detailed theoretical knowledge, Shieshakly and Patrick Wiebusch, a former colleague in Germany, set up Four Principles as a Lean Management consulting firm operating out of Dubai.

 

Shieshakly said: “Saudi Arabia was always the main market because of its size and growth potential.  Over the years our client base, as well as the size of our projects, were growing.  Then in 2016 we signed up Abdul Latif Jameel as a client, and through our work with them we realized that we both share the same passion for spreading the Toyota Way / Lean Management culture.  We started talks of a formal partnership, and they culminated in the joint venture agreement announced in December 2017.

Currently we’re busy expanding our team and generally taking Four Principles to a new level, with new trends such as a Lean Digitalization, building a Kaizen Lab in Riyadh, professionalizing our communications, and setting up the Four Principles Kaizen Awards competition.”

For those unfamiliar with the concept, Shieshakly insists Lean Management is simple to understand.  Its central aims, of boosting efficiency and performance, eliminating waste, and maximizing resources, are attractive to every business in the world.  “It’s all about having and implementing a continuous improvement mindset to reduce wasteful processes that use time and effort, and which do not add any value to an organization’s external and internal customers.”

I learned the Toyota Way in its purest, most undiluted form.  In the West, you have books and courses on Lean, but learning it in the place where it is part of the organization’s DNA is something else.”

The Toyota Way has two main pillars: the Toyota Production System, and Respect for People.  It’s been credited for doing wonders for Toyota’s productivity and overall performance over the decades.  However, the Western definition of Lean has deviated from the Toyota Way.  Western companies look only at the processes in the production system, not the soft elements under the Respect for People pillar which are equally important.  One saying from the founding Toyoda family is that employees are giving the precious hours of their lives to the company, and if we don’t use it effectively, i.e., to add value, then we are wasting their lives.”

Lean Management is also not just for large organizations. Shieshakly insists SMEs can also use Lean principles to increase their product quality, reduce lead time, and sustainably reduce their costs.

With that in mind, what is Four Principles’ overriding mission? Why did Shieshakly and Wiebusch decide to set up an independent Lean Management consulting firm? “We wanted to help our clients in the region become the Toyota of their respective industries in terms of the adoption and implementation of the Lean Management mindset, and we want to help our clients become Lean in their processes, organizations, and products and services.”

Shieshakly admits he has an unremitting focus.  He said: “We do nothing else but Lean Management, but within the world of Lean Management, we do everything.  We have the know-how and experience to apply it across all sectors and functions, going from two-week blitz Kaizen workshops to multi-year company transformations, as well as the ability to implement Lean digitalisation with our IT partners.”

We also hope to have our own Four Principles Kaizen Lab that develops custom trainings for our corporate clients, as well as our R&D hub for creating Lean simulations and applications to further support our clients and the dissimilation of the Lean Management culture in general.”

It is an approach that has certainly proved successful. In 2010, Four Principles launched with two employees – Shieshakly and Wiebusch. Today, it has more than 50 consultants and ambitious plans to continue growing in the coming years. Shieshakly is determined to create a global firm that is “the partner of choice” in both the private and public sectors.

We want to become the global think tank of the Toyota Way / Lean Management and Kaizen mindset, and we want to help our clients find better and less wasteful ways to serve their own customers and benefit their own societies.  Those are ambitious goals, but we have to start somewhere – and where better than in one’s own country? That is why Saudi Arabia is our focus market.”

We are confident that with the experiences we’ve accumulated, and the backing and support of our joint venture partners, Abdul Latif Jameel, we can achieve our ambitions and help more organizations in their Lean transformations to better serve their customers.”

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