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Good luck or fine judgement? The growth and development of the Japanese electronics industry 1945-1995

Harvey, C. and Hayward, T. and Maclean, M. (2001) Good luck or fine judgement? The growth and development of the Japanese electronics industry 1945-1995. Asia Pacific Business Review, 8 (1). pp. 102-126. ISSN 1360-2381

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Japan's rise to prominence as a leading player within the global electronics industry is frequently cited as emblematic of the country's postwar economic miracle, yet our understanding of why this phenomenon is far from complete. Conventional wisdom is divided, attributing the success of the industry on the one hand to the systematic deployment of management and strategic competencies, and on the other, less charitably, to Japanese firms enjoying 'good luck' in finding themselves in the right place at the right time. The present article suggests that any such either/or approach is likely to prove deficient. Conspicuous by its absence from the existing literature is due recognition of the protean nature of Japanese electronics: the tendency has been to view the industry piece by piece rather than as a dynamic whole. It is the authors' contention that the industry's capacity to respond swiftly to new opportunities stems from a widespread determination to innovate with respect to products, processes, systems, technologies, strategies and organizational design. Following a period-by-period review of the development of the industry, a synthesis is developed that brings together the main determinants of corporate and industrial performance. It is concluded that 'fine judgement' on the part of managers was vitally necessary in the exploitation of a uniquely favourable set of national and international economic circumstances.