Beacon of hope

September 2009, LDP, the party that had ruled Japan for 55 years, was defeated in the election and had to surrender the power to DPJ, marking the first ever, and indeed the only change of government in Japan's post-war history. The DPJ government collapsed in December 2012, followed by the party's total disintegration.

The DPJ government that saw three different prime ministers in three years, ruled at a time Japan was struck by the massive Tohoku earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale on March 11, 2011, followed by a monster tsunami that triggered the nuclear disaster.

That was way too much for an inexperienced government which expectedly handled the catastrophe in a disarray, causing much grumbling among the people.

As a matter of fact, the DPJ government also came into problem with defiant bureaucrats who dealt a fatal blow on the government by deliberately holding up government matters.

DPJ was not without its merits at all. At least they did something the previous LDP administration had not dared to do: allowing the national carrier JAL, with its astronomical debt of 2,322.1 billion yen and a share face value of barely 1 yen, to file for bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, the 78-year-old Kazuo Inamori was tasked with the mission of completely overhauling the ailing carrier. Inamori only took 1,155 days to turn a losing business around. JAL was re-listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in September 2012, and the JAL rebirth became an international corporate legend of the year.

Such a dramatic turnaround was made possible because of the pressingly critical situation that had galvanized people into affirmatively decisive action. Of course, both the DPJ administration and Inamori had seized the opportunity of such a “perfect crisis”.

Inamori had earlier depicted JAL as Japan's worst post-war corporate bankruptcy instance with only 7% chance of resurrection. Nonetheless, he did not give up and asserted that in seeking a breakthrough for the ailing airline, the Japanese people could deliver their country out of the economic gloom it was then facing.

How on earth could JAL, a customary recipient of generous government aid, have brought itself so deeply in debt?

Like the government, the union-controlled JAL management was a disorganized mess, with minimal internal communication and practically non-existent interdepartmental coordinations. Their handsome salaries did not correspond to the quality of their input: no job reports, no performance sheets. As if that was not enough, deficiencies within the organization were knowingly covered up.

The first thing Inamori did after taking over the helm was to drastically trim the workforce by over 20,000, retaining only some 32,000 who were made to accept conditional remodeling that would entail unbelievably long hours of retraining in groups of 3 to 10, whereby the group members were further charged with the responsibility of managing the operation of various routes, discussions and strategy planning, and were wholly responsible for the route's performance.

With strong support from the DPJ government, Inamori incorporated elements of his Ameba style of operation into JAL and the outcome has been extraordinarily impressive.

On the contrary, our very own Malaysia Airlines brought in a foreign CEO under the pressure from Najib's BN government, but failed to implement the essential reforms. Needless to say, it has once again missed the unique opportunity from the current pandemic to give itself a meaningful rebirth.

In 2018, Apple Vacations gave up an opportunity for a listing on the ACE Market but set its sight on a listing on the Main Board later, in 2021.

As a consequence, the company embarked on an ambitious and bold development master plan in 2019, significantly boosting its workforce, launching inter-industry collaborations and contemplating corporate alliances with some of the largest travel agencies in Japan and Taiwan through equity swap agreements. Unfortunately just as everything was well on the way, we were hit by the coronavirus pandemic that has had a deep psychological impact and wreaked tremendous havoc on our business. However, we have also picked up some valuable lessons from this crisis. At least we have come to the realization that in the midst of crisis there are chances for win-win deals!

15 months since the onset of the pandemic, Apple Vacations has emerged afresh, thoroughly purged. Didn't Inamori say we should draw inspiration from Minamoto no Yoshitsune's Hiyodorigoe attacks to turn the tide around? If they did it, so can we Applenians, right?

As such, despite the successive cuts in our workforce from 165 to 96 and down to 55 from this July on, we swear to fight the storms fearlessly and in full spirits, and are taking steps to relive Inamori's Ameba modus operandi, managing our finances discreetly and giving our best shot to put the company back on its feet again. Thanks to your undivided support, we are now taking Tool Apple Marketo to unprecedented heights with expanded confidence!

Notably, Apple Vacations could very well be the one and only travel agency in this country that has never shut its doors throughout the pandemic, and will continue to cling on to this business as dedicated travel workers.

Instead of taking pride in our commitment, it is more apt to say that Apple Vacations aspires to keep this flame, no matter how feeble it may be, to serve as a beacon of hope for all!

(Lee San is Founder and Group Executive Chairman of Apple Vacations. He has traveled to 132 countries, six continents, and enjoys sharing his travel stories and insights. He has also authored five books.)

Read More