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Businesses Displays Japan

Sharp Overwhelmed By Volunteers For Early Retirement 103

Posted by timothy
from the every-lifeboat-needs-a-cox dept.
jfruh writes "Sharp, the Japanese LCD supplier in dire financial straits, is trying to cut staffing by offering an early retirement package. Unfortunately, it seems Sharp employees are eager to abandon a sinking ship. The company was planning on cutting its headcount by about 2,000 employees with the move; instead, it had to cut short the program after getting nearly 3,000 applicants."
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Sharp Overwhelmed By Volunteers For Early Retirement

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  • a very bad sign.
    • by Penguinisto (415985) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:07PM (#42044187) Journal

      ...pretty smart for the employees who applied, though.

      Japan's demographics (older than most other countries as an average) do tend to skew things upward a bit on their own, but think about it - instead of getting laid off or cut off, you get a steady income and go work somewhere else at the same time (and even while searching for another job, it's at least something to subsist from).

      Beats the hell out of getting a pink slip and nothing from the deal.

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:15PM (#42044293)

        Beats the hell out of getting a pink slip and nothing from the deal.

        So you're saying that Sharp has...sharp employees?

      • Maybe it's good for them. Kodak's retirees are getting the short end of the stick in the form of reduced payments so creditors get more money...

    • by Vlad_the_Inhaler (32958) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:15PM (#42044271) Homepage

      Why is this a bad sign?
      Why should people in their mid 50's or older not be perfectly happy to stop working while still being paid? The company I work with is closing down the IBM mainframes and a lot of people are leaving rather than re-training. That comment about a "sinking ship" is totally missing the point, the ship may or may not be sinking but people who have 30 years of working no longer feel they have something to prove. Of course the retirement package on offer has to be adequate but this one certainly seems to be that!

      • by alexander_686 (957440) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:23PM (#42044373)

        Early retirement is one way to cut the work force – however, if done poorly it can lead to a brain drain. The more oversubscribed it is the more likely this will happen.

        Also, you want to downsize as efficiently / cheaply as possible. The oversubscription suggests that the HR people could have gotten the size reduction they needed with less generous terms.

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Early retirement is one way to cut the work force – however, if done poorly it can lead to a brain drain.

          I'd say it almost always does, because the people most likely to volunteer are the ones most likely to find another job quickly.

          One company I worked for decided to lay off about a third of the staff, and half of the staff volunteered to go. They got rid of the third they thought they needed the least, which pissed off the remaining volunteers enough that most of us just found new jobs and quit.

        • by whoever57 (658626)

          Also, you want to downsize as efficiently / cheaply as possible. The oversubscription suggests that the HR people could have gotten the size reduction they needed with less generous terms.

          They should use an auction model where everyone gets the same benefit irrespective of when they sign up for early retirement.

          The company offers a package, tells people the package will get better every day. Individuals can sign up for the early retirement and everyone who signes up will get the package offered at the

          • Dutch auction IIRC. Also, more or less, how power pools auction load to generators.

            Good luck patenting that.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          The Quebec Government did this in 1997 in the healthcare sector (since healthcare is public) granting retirement 10 years early to 4000 nurses and 1500 doctors, which became an *immediate* problem. We are *still* recovering from this. An entire industry was built around this catch-up knowledge transfer required to fill the gap. It will take another 10-15 years to fill the gap and massive healthcare issues it has created, and will have cost more than the money saved.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          Japanese companies exist firstly to provide employment and look after their workforce. Sounds strange I know. Because of that the workforce feels they are part of a family and it isn't uncommon for them to work unpaid when things get really bad.

          I remember when the Nova language school chain collapsed. All the foreign teachers expected to be paid right up until the end, even though the most of the Japanese staff had not been receiving wages for a couple of months at that point. Similarly when Nissan was havi

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Early retirement is one way to cut the work force â" however, if done poorly it can lead to a brain drain. The more oversubscribed it is the more likely this will happen.

          Only if they granted early retirement on a first-come, first-served basis. They may well have done it on a poorest-reviews, first-served basis. In fact, if you have less applicants than you were looking for, and you let them all go, that is far more likely to eliminate desired talent than even FIFO.

      • Maybe there's something else that isn't public knowledge yet like a free 42" TV deal as severance or even a rumor of that.
      • it is a bad sign when a company has to eliminate positions and an even worse sign when there is a rush to take them up on the offer.
      • by ccguy (1116865)

        Why is this a bad sign? Why should people in their mid 50's or older not be perfectly happy to stop working while still being paid?

        They can be happy of course. I'm sure it's great for them. I would take that option in a heartbeat, just so I could continue doing the stuff I'm interested in.
        But for the company, it means the veterans would rather be doing something else. And it implies that it's not a great place to work.

    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:35PM (#42044579) Journal

      A lot has been written about Sony, especially in Japan where it was THEIR giant taking on the world. Sony USED to be a tech company run by techs. Googles 20% work on your own project sound nice? Pah! At Sony entire teams could work 100% on stuff that nobody knew could ever work. Then around the millennium a new guy was put in charge and he did not come up through the company as a tech but was strictly management. He too wanted to streamline the business and get rid of dead wood old engineers. It worked BRILLIANTLY. Not only was the package VERY attractive so all who could, took it but new jobs were waiting with little upstart companies like Samsung but I don't suppose you ever heard of them. Oh wait, isn't that the dingy Korean company that makes cheap Japanese knock-offs. Well, they can never compete because Japan has all the know-how locked up in job contracts... OOOOPS!

      It was an epic brain drain and one Sony never really recovered from. It wasn't their only mistake but it was a hell of a nail in the coffin. Sharp did better, Sharp still has a reputation for Japanese made (and for the very old and very young, there was a time when Japanese made meant quality of an insane degree even the swiss found hard to beat. A Sony TV just worked, yes it was expensive but it just worked. And then management took over, streamlined the business and that stopped. Samsung quality is catching up but only because Japanese quality is going down.

      Note that the asian giants on the rise are NOT streamlining their business and all the western ex-giants have streamlined themselves to dead. The simple fact is that pure managers can't see the next hit, the Walkman and the PS were things no manager could have seen. For sony to enter the console industry against the giants in that sector was considered insane.

      When the techs left and management took over, Sony lost its edge. In the west people only know Sony the electronics giant same as say Nintendo. Did you know Nintendo once made a vacuum cleaner? Post WW2 Japan grew a tradition of little workplaces were people were busy trying to come up with anything to produce and export. Because with no natural resources and a devastated economy, that was the only way Japan was going to make money. Building thingies, firs cheap and crap, then cheap and okay and finally expensive and bloody good. And they did this at the cost of western companies that were to busy stream lining their businesses.

      If your young, name a WESTERN TV maker. That actually still makes TV's. Every western household has a TV but who supplies them? The asians. Yeah, that worked out well, for the asians but the likes of Philips? Shadows of their former self as they focussed on their core compentency in existing shareholder meetings. PIty that it turned out loosing money is their core compentency.

      You can see it with Hostess. I said it before, as a EU person I can't see the big deal, their snacks just ain't that good. When was the last time they extended their product range in a significant way? And I don't mean a chocolate twinkie but as a TV company, making a walkman, producing a game console. Look at how much flack MS is getting for daring to go into hardware. Streamlining your business is just another way of saying "we are closing down". In tech, the next big thing needs to be researched yesterday if you want to launch it tomorrow. Except the real time line is measured in decades and you will have many failed research projects in the mean time. But you got to do that if you want that massive hit.

      Another reason that racing to the bottom never works is because there is always someone at the bottom waiting to take your place. Sharp can't keep in the display race, that just means the next iPad's displays will be all Samsung, now boosted by the free to hire Sharp engineers.

      Surely Sharp knows the history of its major rival. Things must be dire indeed to follow the path of certain doom.

      • by Synerg1y (2169962)
        Well said... and you're probably right, the TV market looks like Sony vs. Samsung right now, with Panasonic holding down plasmas, but with LED... Sharp had Aquos running good for a while, decent picture, good price, and way thinner than it's counter parts, but it's been almost a decade since those days, not much has changed with Sharp, Sony & Samsung have features that Sharp doesn't. Sharp now sits somewhere between budget and high end tvs, which doesn't have much of a market. Also, Samsung & Sony
      • I am not worried about Asian dominance in business. I hear they are sending all their best and brightest to American business schools.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        If your young, name a WESTERN TV maker. That actually still makes TV's.

        Element Electronics

      • Googles 20% work on your own project sound nice? Pah! At Sony entire teams could work 100% on stuff that nobody knew could ever work.

        I think this is the norm in any innovative company. I don't know anyone who does science and doesn't spend a third or a half of his or her time developing personal projects.

      • by sdguero (1112795)
        FWIW, I think you are making some over generalizations about Sony, Japan, and the history of tech innovation.
      • by Dan East (318230)

        and for the very old and very young, there was a time when Japanese made meant quality of an insane degree even the swiss found hard to beat.

        My grandfather has told me on a number of occasions how Made in Japan indicated that products were complete and total junk prior to 1980 or so. Essentially the same stigma that "Made in China" bears today. So I'm not sure which era for the "very old" you're talking about - perhaps prior to WW2 or something?

      • by umghhh (965931)
        this is true also when you look from management perspective - overoptimised organisation is not capable to adapt to change in environment because it can only do what it does well. This said - not all of optimizing is bad. Companies grow fat and this fat need to be cut somehow from time to time. I have been working motly in big corporations and there is another thing that they do not have - easy way to change. In fact in some situations it was easier to fire the whole dep and hire a new (usually but not alwa
      • Every western household has a TV but who supplies them? The asians. Yeah, that worked out well, for the asians but the likes of Philips?

        Overrated. Most Philips consumer electronics like TVs or VCRs two decades ago had labels saying: manufactured in Japan by Matsushita. Most Philips devices were in fact manufactured by Asian brands. Other times it was Blaupunkt or Grundig doing the manufacturing in Germany. Philips did manufacture lightbulbs and shaving machines but little else. Most was relabeled.

        I bou

      • by debrain (29228) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @09:58PM (#42050603) Journal

        This is a fascinating post. Thank you for posting it. Not enough is written about the fall of Sony.

        Incidentally, from a previous post I wrote [slashdot.org]:

        The history of Sony's management is quite fascinating. I've lost the link, but I recall there being an article about Sony's decision over who to replace their then-CEO around 1999 (Norio Ohga), who had been CEO for ages and brought Sony to new economic heights. The choice of his successor was either the head of Sony Entertainment (i.e. the copyright/media side of Sony) or the head of Sony Computer (i.e. the head of the electronics side). They ended up choosing the head of the copyright/media side of Sony, Nobuyuki Idei.

        Anecdotally, since that decision, I've noticed that Sony's technology shine has dropped completely off my radar (i.e. I don't even turn to them to find out what the latest and greatest tech is, whereas at one point they were certainly a contender for something that I'd consider cool), while their foray into rent-seeking for their copyright has also gone off the deep end.

        I might be wrong about the details of the history - I'd be interested in finding the article again, or having the background.

        If it's true, I believe the change in the "personality" or "culture" of Sony reflects the decision that they made to make the head of their copyright/media division the head of the company. I believe their shareholders have been paying for that decision ever since.

        • That was his name: Nobuyuki Idei, wasn't sure and to lazy to google.

          Pure management who basically payed his knowledge workers to give their knowledge to his competitors.

          To me it remains funny every time MS or Google is blasted for having to many side projects. I hate MS with a passion too but their attempts with the Zune were bad BUT necessary. Sure, it is fun to laugh at their failures but that they tried shows they still got the right idea, just the wrong execution.

      • Sony's woes also stem from the fact that it essentially got too big for it's own good and ended up competing with itself and eating itself from within. The company that practically invented the portable music market lost most of it's market share, even at home, to companies like Apple because their music arm was constantly fighting with their manufacturing arm trying to hamstring the mobile devices they sold. The result was stagnation.... I see Samsung going down a very similar path, for instance they se
        • Your right, Sony SHOULD have created the iPod. In fact, during the Samsung/Apple trial it became clear BOTH had been looking at work Sony was doing for inspiration. So... where did these Sony phones that inspired the iPhone end up?

          Sony had done their own tech before the management take over but they did because they thought they had the superior system. Afterwards they did it for pure lockin reasons, like the mini-disc fiasco. It should have just supported MP3, I had one that I purely used with selfmade dis

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Thing is Sharp's problems are all financial. The high value of the Yen makes their products expensive to export so it is hard to compete with Korean and Chinese companies. It is hard to understate just how bad it is. In 2006-2007 you get about 230 Yen to the Pound, now it is about 130 Yen to the Pound. Back then I was rich when I visited Japan, now everything costs twice as much and I have to be frugal.

        They also invested a lot of money in developing their business right before the Yen went up, so while they

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        You had me until you brought up Microsoft going into hardware. They're not "going into hardware", they have been into hardware for as long as I can remember. Partly that's because I'm younger than some around here and I come from the PC era, but that only drives home my point; really old PCs were outfitted with Microsoft mice, often bus mice. Much much later Microsoft put out game controllers and they've even made two game consoles! Microsoft is not "go[ing] into hardware". They're competing directly with t

    • we do not know how significant 1000 extra employees are (other than a 50% increase in expected numbers). What would make it more meaningful would be to know the size of the population of employees who were given the offer (what if 5000 employees were given the offer, what if 500,000?).

      so there is not enough info in the summary to make that statement.
  • Aww (Score:4, Funny)

    by AwesomeMcgee (2437070) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:04PM (#42044145)
    Let's just hope this doesn't make Sharp dull...
  • Is this article trying to point out that the company having to offer retirement packages is going to hurt them financially or talent wise?

    • by Tridus (79566) on Tuesday November 20, 2012 @01:50PM (#42044805) Homepage

      When you offer an early retirement package and there's a mad scramble of people trying to take you up on it, the real danger is that you lose your best and brighttest. While it does get rid of headcount, it runs a real risk of losing people that you can't actually afford to lose.

      Plus if the employees all want out, it doesn't say good things about their faith in the future of the company.

      • If Sharp suffers from a Dead Sea Effect [slashdot.org] wouldn't that give them a way out without losing face and thus the mass egress? So why not clear the slate and start fresh then?
        • by Ravaldy (2621787)

          It's not that simple. The company is still alive and selling/developping new products. You can't just stop and start over. What you want is a cleanup.

          I have a feeling this article doesn't include enough information to understand the actual issue at hand. Getting 3000 applications doesn't mean they actually qualify. Then again, we don't know what qualifies a person for early retirement at Sharp. If there's a union is gets even trickier.

      • by radtea (464814)

        While it does get rid of headcount, it runs a real risk of losing people that you can't actually afford to lose.

        Other the CEO and their highly-paid cronies, who exactly can't a company afford to lose? As near as I can tell the modern "I can manage anything without knowing anything about it" manager thinks only THEY are indispensable. Everyone else--you know, the people who actually know stuff about the industry and technology the company depends on--is just a replaceable cog in the machine.

        So while the point you make is obviously true there is ample evidence that CEOs are heavily selected to be the kind of person w

  • I can two types of people who would jump at the chance for early retirement:

    1) People actually close to retirement
    2) People who are not close to retirement, but know they have the skills to get another job

    The person who is barely scraping by at their job? Not going to jump ship (unless they are planning on changing careers). I see this as a fine way to lose some of the best and brightest really quickly.

    Hell, every time our management talks about reductions or outsourcing my hand goes up. A nice pac
    • by Virtucon (127420)

      Or companies offer buy outs. I've seen it a lot lately in the US and it's usually the smarter ones who take the packages because after the offers for early retirement or buy-outs close, then you're left with the folks Couldn't find a job because of multiple factors (too lazy, no ambition, no skills etc.) or are not financially secure in doing a job transition. Then eventually, layoffs occur and you start to get into "survivor syndrome" [appelbaumconsultants.com] where the rest of the people left start to resemble something out of

  • Oh My!! [youtube.com]

    I have two Sharp TVs, both less than 3 years old.. Oh well, I shoulda bought a Zenith! ;-)

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein

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