We had the good fortune of connecting with Samuel (Sammy) Obara and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Samuel (Sammy), we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Thinking back to 2003, I was an overworked corporate director for a company in the Silicon Valley with a mission to improve the company’s operational performance like quality, cost, delivery, and service. Many weeks were longer than 70 hours, and that rhythm for a few years can really take a toll on you. The stress level finally forced me to rest, for a couple of days, in a hospital bed.
After I left the hospital, I became more aware that I should do a better job at balancing my life, reconnecting with friends, working on my health, and learning new skills.
That was the turning point and when the perfect storm started to form, a good storm this time. Some friends I reconnected with became interested in the type of work I was doing since they were doing similar work in their own organizations. Other friends had just lost their jobs and wanted to learn about my type of work. And while all that was happening, the superintendent of the California Community Colleges called me for an opportunity to teach a few workshops during my time off and vacation.
When I least expected I had requests to teach classes for other organizations, too, like APICS, AME, Stanford University and the Japanese companies Olympus and Hitachi in the Bay Area.
With this new type of demand just waiting for my availability, I decided to leave the corporate responsibilities and experiment teaching. The problem with the teaching was that it was not a full-time job with a full income and the risk of not making ends meet was frightening. I had to rethink this decision over and over.
Fortunately, my teaching job attracted companies interested in applying the learning. Some of them were already asking me for help as a consultant, which I would have declined as a way to avoid that same spiraling cycle of ever-growing busyness.
But I did not decline the new work, I saw that starting Honsha.ORG was just a logical next step. What a better way to channel that demand to friends who were looking for work. That gave me the opportunity to help friends and clients and by doing that Honsha.ORG quickly became known in the industry as one of the most reputable consulting firm in the world.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Honsha.ORG has done operational consulting in several hundred organizations, typically large multinational companies with thousands of employees. We’ve done projects in over 30 countries, in places as far as Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and all the Americas.
We were born and organically grew out of former Toyota professionals who understood deeply how to do Kaizen. Kaizen is a methodology for continuous improvement that has been attributed as the reason for competitive excellence in many of the Fortune 500 organizations.
Honsha is Japanese for headquarters, and that is where many of our associates received their training, at Toyota Motors headquarters in Japan. I got my training while living in Toyota City myself for a few years in my early 20’s.
As the word of mouth traveled around the world, bigger companies with bigger problems found us and demand grew consistently for over 17 years now. Problems are still varied degrees of improving production capacity, reducing cost, increasing customer satisfaction, improving productivity, etc, etc. And the segments that we have helped range from hospitals to banks, from amusement parks to government agencies, from retail to manufacturing.
I still get amazed by the multitude of industries that can benefit from these same concepts, no matter the type of business. And it brings me joy that we can even extend our support without cost to communities that would not be able to afford the cost of a consulting firm. We had memorable experiences bringing Kaizen to East Timor, Amazonian villages, Mombasa, Ethiopia and several disadvantaged communities.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The list of must see and must do is so long, after more than a decade living here I am still discovering the city. But a city tour would definitely include Balboa Park, Seaport Village, La Jolla, Coronado Island, Embarcadero, Old Town, USS Midway, Cabrillo Mountain, and some of these places you can spend the entire day exploring. I would block a few days to see San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, Sea World, Legoland and to bike in Pacific Beach. Also, most of these places have plenty of good food options like Fogo de Chao steakhouse in the Gaslamp or Jake’s in Del Mar. If you want more options for great food check out dozens of restaurants in the Gaslamp Quarter or Little Italy. Just 15 minutes from downtown and you can also be in Convoy, Kensington, Kearny Mesa, Mission Bay, etc.. with another hundreds of amazing food options, my favorites are Kura sushi and Raki Raki Ramen, both in Kearny Mesa. If we are up for the drive, and depending on the season, you can do a same day trip to Disneyland, California Adventure, Universal Studios, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Little Tokyo (where the famous Shabu Shabu House is), Temecula Vineyards, Big Bear Mountain and various beaches along PCH (Pacific Coast Highway).
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I have been blessed with the most patient and didactic teachers, coaches and friends throughout my life for sure. Many of them were my bosses in Toyota, since I started my internship there at the age of 17. After over 30 years many of them are still my mentors and some work with me at Honsha.ORG. I also got a great deal of support from family members and close friends, who shaped my views and influenced me positively. I wish I had a way to name them all but they are too many for this quick interview. But besides my wife Miki, I can list a few like Miriam Carvalho, Chris and Kellen Tadano, Priscila Shimizu, Marcos Abe, Gerson Damiani, Darril Wilburn, Sergio Niyama, Makoto Ono, John Shook. More names in the next edition, haha.
1st photo: Sammy teaching Kaizen to surf instructors at Pacific Beach Surf School. 2nd photo: Sammy explaining how to find root cause of problems to executives in Seattle, WA.