Masaaki Imai biography, quotes and books

Masaaki Imai - Toolshero

Masaaki Imai (1930) is one of the founders and a very famous advisor in the field of the Kaizen, Gemba Kaizen, LEAN Manufacturing and quality philosophies. Especially the further development of continuous improvement within organizations in the form of a philosophy made Masaaki Imai a worldwide pioneer and leader.

Masaaki Imai biography

In 1955 Masaaki Imai obtained his BSc. degree from the University of Tokyo where he developed his fondness for continuous improvement.

In 1962 Masaaki Imai founded the Cambridge Corporation, the international management consulting and executive recruiting firm. Until 1976, in the capacity of advisor, he supported more than 200 organizations with recruitment and organizational issues. Between 1976 and 1986 Masaaki Imai was President of the Japanese Federation of Recruiting and Employment Agency Associations.

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In 1985 Masaaki Imai established the Kaizen Institute (also known as Kaizen Institute Consulting Group (KICG) to help Western organizations. In cooperation with his colleagues, Masaaki Imai developed all kinds of concepts, formats and system in which Kaizen (improving continuously) was the starting principle. Kaizen Institute now has offices in more than 30 countries around the world.

Masaaki Imai published in 1986 his book Kaizen, The Key to Japan’s Competitive Success. The book was an immediate global success because of which the ‘Kaizen’ concept was introduced internationally from Japan at corporate and management level. In the meantime, It has sold well over 300,000 copies and it has been translated into 16 languages.

In May, 1997 Gemba Kaizen, A Common sense, Low-cost Approach to Management, and a sequel to “Kaizen” was published by McGraw-Hill in New York. The French, Dutch, Portuguese and German translations were published simultaneously. The Spanish, Indonesian, and Chinese translations were published in 1998.

Today, organizations and companies all over the world use the ‘Gemba Kaizen’ philosophy to improve the productivity, speed, quality and profit at minimal costs, time and effort to achieve the desired results.

Masaaki Imai ’s organization KICG supports organizations of all sizes in Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Middle East and South America and in industries. They offer broad consultancy, training, certification (Kaizen College), and benchmarking services.

He is still active and he is both an ambassador and a visionary of the organization. He travels all over the world and takes part in all kinds of conferences to share his unique and convincing messages about Gemba Kaizen and LEAN Manufacturing. A convincing characteristic of the Kaizen philosophy is both top-down and bottom-up approach because of which a sustainable and stately culture arises and develops.


  • In November 1998 he received the Asia-Pacific Human Resource Development Award in recognition of his immense contribution to business efficiency and productivity through the application of the philosophy of step-by-step improvement.
  • In addition he received the grateful appreciation for the positive and revolutionary impact that his bestsellers – Kaizen and Gemba Kaizen have made on the lives of millions of people around the globe.
  • In June 1999 he received the Shingo Research and Professional Publication Prize for his book Gemba Kaizen.

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Masaaki Imai quotes

  1. “The starting point for improvement is to recognize the need.”
  2. “Don’t wait for the perfect solution.”
  3. Ask “why” five times.”
  4. “When you solve one problem, you will see ten more.”
  5. “Seek the wisdom of ten people rather than the knowledge of one.”
  6. “Be present with your co-workers and staff.”
  7. “Kaizen is everyday improvement, everybody improvement, everywhere improvement.”
  8. “The message of the Kaizen strategy is that not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere in the company.”

Publications and books by Masaaki Imai

  • 2012. Gemba Kaizen: A Common sense Approach to a Continuous Improvement Strategy. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • 2009. Kaizen key to success Japanese companies.
  • 1999. Gemba kaizen. Berrett-Koehler Communications.
  • 1997. Gemba Kaizen: a common sense, low-cost approach to management, McGraw-Hill.
  • 1986. Kaizen: The key to Japan’s competitive success. McGraw-Hill.
  • 1985. 16 Ways to Avoid Saying No
  • 1978. Never Take YES for an Answer – An Inside Look at Japanese Business for Foreign Businessmen. The Simul Press Inc.
  • 1975. The Japanese businessman: An introduction to his behaviour and business strategy.

How to cite this article:
Van Vliet, V. (2009). Masaaki Imai. Retrieved [insert date] from Toolshero:

Published on: 07/06/2018 | Last update: 03/16/2023

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Vincent van Vliet
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Vincent van Vliet

Vincent van Vliet is co-founder and responsible for the content and release management. Together with the team Vincent sets the strategy and manages the content planning, go-to-market, customer experience and corporate development aspects of the company.


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